An event such as Robotronica, in Brisbane on the 18th of August 2013, reveals how popular robots are with the general public. QUT’s new Science and Engineering Centre was packed with curious families, shuffling from exhibition to demonstration.
Ars Electronica presented an overview of development of the Linz, Austria new media arts centre. They previewed the ‘Spaxels’ performance that would occur later in the evening. Spaxels are moving pixels in space, formed from thirty quadcopter drones with script-controlled lights.
I chose to go to some demos including Paro, a well-known seal-shaped robot used with dementia patients. The way it moves and engages with those around it do seem to make it more than a cuddly toy. Currently in its eighth generation, Paro can sense touch, light, sound, temperature and posture. Each Paro has its own name.
Cheap and cheerful
Another demo was a new robot called the Weaver, a simple three-wheeled, wifi connected vehicle that aspires to be a very economical introduction to robotic principles. The hardware includes a sensors for distance, light, temperature, rotation, microphone and speaker and compass. It features an 8×8 LED matrix and a lamp. Its wheels can turn in any direction. The developers are planning to put the project into Kickstarter within months.
Nao and then
The Nao robot was also there, although the one that I was watching was not working. This happened to me once before, when I first saw the Nao in Korea that had a broken leg. Nao seems somewhat fragile. I understand that faulty robots need to be returned to France for repair. Still, the Nao is an impressive little humanoid.
I went to the talk by Hiroshi Ishiguro. He was in Japan, but his dopelganger, the Geminoid android, was able to give body to his voice. While there was no sense in which the Gemonoid was indistinguishable from the human speaker, it did serve as a focus of attention. There was a kind of fetish value to the android that attracted people at the end of the talk (including me).
In question time it became clear he had a sense of humour. When asked about how he travelled, he said that his head was in the hand luggage, and his body and legs travelled as checked luggage.
It is apparent that Ishiguro has aspirations for his research to become pragmatically valuable, and not simply art practice.
The Diamandini Age
In Old Government House, David and David were trying to get the porcelain-like robot
Diamandini to function properly again. While some visitors were frustrated by her lack of responsiveness, she served quite well as a sculpture until she was back in action. When I returned, she was working — gliding around the parquet floor, underneath the elegant chandelier. She sometimes seemed to be attracted to visitors, while at other times she was repelled.
Finally, I waited for the closing performance by the Spaxels, hosted by Geminoid HI-4, with music by 8-bit hero. The formation of quadcopters appeared in the sky, like some miniature choppers from Apocalypse Now. It was an experimental demonstration of possibilities for multiple quadcopters. Apparently this performance was the first in which the computers running the scripts were on-board the vehicles, rather than remotely operated.
Robotronica was a great success, with many visitors, and a wide array of robots on display.