Traditionally we have had a master-slave relationship with our machines, with humans in control. But we are increasingly prompted by GPS systems, alerted by beeping sounds from our mobile phones, conditioned by traffic lights and surveillance cameras, whilst our media are subliminally generating our desires and emotions. Muscles / Motors is a performance where neither human nor machine is fully in control and where each exerts its influence on the other.
Stelarc performs with a cutting-edge research robot known as Baxter, made by Boston-based Rethink Robotics. One of a new generation of intelligent manufacturing and research robots, Baxter is designed to work safely alongside, and in close contact with, its human counterparts. Baxter’s arms are attached to Stelarc’s and both move together. However, neither is fully in control. The right side of the performance is under machine control. The left is under human control. Stelarc’s right arm, under machine control, is fitted with sensors that produce sounds in response to motion. Baxter’s left arm, under human control, is fitted with contact microphones to pick up the sounds of its mechanisms and telemetry feeds a synthesizer that produces sounds in reaction to movement. Thus human and machine simultaneously play each other as musical instruments, collaboratively in control of the composition.
The Intelligent Robots Group is developing techniques that allow machines to not only learn from their environment and task, but to also explain their actions and justify their decisions. While more practical applications are the focus, such an ability may also allow intelligent robots and systems to learn the components behind artistic expression. Eventually it is anticipated that this will allow Baxter to genuinely choreograph its side of the performance.
A Collaboration with the
Intelligent Robots Group
Department of Computing
Alternate Anatomies Lab
School of Design and Art (SODA)