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S+T+ARTS Talk: Cyberspecies Proximity

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Artists Anna Dumitriu and Alex May present their research and robotic works on the sociability of robots.

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ONLINE EVENT - register for information on how to join this meetup on Thursday 2 July at 19:30 hrs. This meeting is a replacement for the STARTS talk on March 19th that was cancelled due to corona crisis.

Artists Anna Dumitriu and Alex May recently completed a S+T+ARTS Residency to develop their project Cyberspecies Proximity, in collaboration with Schindler and Lucas Evers of Waag.

The artists worked with the New Technologies team at Schindler at their headquarters in Luzern and at their lab at EPFL Innovation Park in Lausanne in Switzerland. The project focussed on Schindler’s Human Robot Co-Mobility project which inspired their explorations of what it might mean to share our cities, sidewalks, and transport systems with intelligent embodied robots. The Cyberspecies Proximity robot combines the way-finding technologies used in delivery- and maintenance robots, with an ability to communicate and manipulate our emotions through body-language, embodied in a delicate humanoid form. The work challenges audiences to confront the technological, ethical, and societal questions raised by the advent of urban socially-aware robots.

Dumitriu and May are pioneers in creating robotic artworks that performatively explore our relationships to new technologies. From HARR1, their constantly moving humanoid robot which exhibits body language and boredom, to Antisocial Swarm Robots which make explicit the human need to project life-like behaviour on robots and explore our audience’s inability to deconstruct even the simplest algorithms. Since 2011, the artists have worked collaboratively on digital and robotics projects (alongside their extensive solo careers) and have an international exhibition profile at galleries and museums including ZKM, Ars Electronica and HeK Basel.


The Cyberspecies Proximity robot is able to move around an exhibition space using a predefined map, created using SLAM technology combined with an Intel RealSense Tracking Camera sensor. It reacts and responds to the body language of audience members through a multi-layered face, skeleton, body and movement tracking algorithm, connected to an Intel RealSense Depth Camera sensor. The artwork was programmed in C++ and FUGIO, the Open Source Visual Programming System created by Alex May.

The artists have also been inspired by the methodologies of the construction industry and have developed a ‘digital twin’ of the robot, a virtual screen/wall-based version that can be exhibited in settings where a mobile robot is not practical. The digital twin is an accurate virtual model of the physical robot, created using the same 3D CAD assets used to build the robot, including precision models of all the motors in their various forms, the metal frame underpinning the form and the 3D designs of the head and hands.

The project forces Anna Dumitriu and Alex May to consider issues of ownership of public space, as well as the broader ethical implications of how we design robots and behave towards them. The work challenges audiences to confront the technological, ethical, and societal questions raised by the advent of urban socially-aware robots.

During their S+T+ARTS Talk at Waag on 2 July, both artists will explain their research in collaboration with Schindler and present their robotic works.

After the presentation there is a Q&A moderated by Lucas Evers.

Image by Anna Dumitriu and Alex May, 2020 (c).

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