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CRAFTING NARRATIVE:: STORYTELLING THROUGH OBJECTS AND MAKING

September 10, 2014 at 11:45am
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Crafts Council show is now open…

Crafting Narrative explores how contemporary designers and makers use objects as mediums to tell stories. The exhibition will focus on practitioners who challenge and investigate the narrative potential of objects and making to convey and reflect on themes as diverse as history, culture, society and technology.

Real Prediction Machines (Auger-Loizeau with Alan Murray and Subramanian Ramamoorthy)

(see project description below)


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Real Prediction Machines

July 7, 2014 at 6:26pm
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New project to be exhibited at the Crafts Council London this september:

Modern day fortune-telling is far-removed from the mystical readings of natural and celestial phenomena it once was.

Today it is all about data.

Emerging from research into artificial intelligence and cybernetics post-WW2 and increasingly made possible by an exponential growth of available data via digital networks and sophisticated sensors, prediction is fast becoming a life-changing science. The institutions of finance, such as trading, insurance and gambling are already inexorably linked to prediction algorithms. More recently we have seen a shift into online retail - Amazon.com for example has just gained a patent for ‘anticipatory shipping,’ this initiates the delivery process before the customer has clicked the purchase button. All of these systems routinely use data provided by people going about their normal (and sometimes private) business.

This project explores how data and algorithms could be reclaimed for personal use - individuals can select a specific event to be predicted such as a domestic argument; the likelihood of ones own death or the chances of a meteor strike. A service provider then determines the necessary data/sensory inputs required for an algorithm to predict the event. The output from the algorithm controls a visual display on the prediction machine, informing the owner if the chosen event is approaching, receding or impending.

 


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May 29, 2014 at 9:12am
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New project - Cuckoo clock

May 26, 2014 at 1:08pm
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Not speculative design, not critical design. Just a clock… commissioned by HEAD, Geneva for D’Days Paris - Musée des arts et métiers.

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The taxidermic Finch (Cuckoos are a bit big and less pretty) makes one rotation on the hour, passing through the window at a fast speed.

Taxidermy by Kathryn Fleming

Electronics by Mike Vanis


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March 11, 2014 at 8:50pm
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The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science presented on Resonance104.4fm, London&#8217;s favourite radio art station, is aired tomorrow Wednesday afternoon at 4pm. (12/03/2014)

The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science presented on Resonance104.4fm, London’s favourite radio art station, is aired tomorrow Wednesday afternoon at 4pm. (12/03/2014)




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Living with Robots: A speculative design approach

March 7, 2014 at 8:04am
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New essay just published in the Journal of Human-Robot Interaction

Abstract

This article begins by asking: “Why are robots not becoming domestic products?” In addressing this question the author borrows from the science of ecology and biological concepts of evolution and domestication to make an analogy between the shift of habitats that occurs when an organism successfully goes through the process of artificial selection (from natural to domestic). In addition, this paper explores the transition an emerging technology makes when coming out of the laboratory and becoming a suitable product for domestic use, concluding that the majority of proposed domestic robots are essentially maladapted to everyday life.

The article then shifts the focus onto design research, primarily speculative design, to ask, “how could robots become domestic products?” The author uses a variety of design projects to describe how alternative approaches to robots can provide new perspectives on technological research and development.

Link


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Digital Creativity special issue on Design Fictions

June 25, 2013 at 11:26am
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My first paper - Speculative design: crafting the speculation has been published. There are a number of free access downloads to be found here:

http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/a5fybqcJxTKSFGsffJFC/full

JA


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Definition of speculative design

June 21, 2013 at 5:30pm
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Speculative design combines informed, hypothetical extrapolations of an emerging technology’s development with a deep consideration of the cultural landscape into which it might be deployed, to speculate on future products, systems and services. These speculations are then used to examine and encourage dialogue on the impact a specific technology may have on our everyday lives. The familiar and engaging nature of the designed output is intended to facilitate discourse with a broad audience: from experts in the field such as scientists, engineers and designers to the consumers and users of technological products and systems. 


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Best ever critique of the Audio Tooth Implant

January 15, 2013 at 9:31pm
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"This weapon uses no actual phone, or earphone or headphones or dial pad. It is designed under the plausible deniability satanic phenomenon where evil crimes are plotted and implemented based on denying the evidence. Despite all refutes, the real evidence is in the implant and the dental visit."


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Google’s future.

December 15, 2012 at 12:30pm
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The high of the completed PhD is met by the dark news that Ray Kurzweil has been appointed by Google as engineering director.

For an excellant appraisal of Kurzweil’s ‘considered future’ see the Wired article: Why the future doesn’t need us by the co-founder of Sun Microsystems Bill Joy.


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PhD viva presentation

December 13, 2012 at 12:52pm
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Now that it’s all over I thought I’d post the slides from 15 minute presentation I gave as part of the viva. It’s extremely difficult to distill 4 years of work into 15 minutes but I think it reasonably sums up the thesis.

JA

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In a thesis about robots it is necessary to begin with a definition of the subject. This is by no means an easy task. The noun robot does not refer to one specific object; it is not based on a singular technology, context or function, and whilst certain stereotypical robot forms such as anthropomorphic pervade, other diverse and surprising configurations of technology can also be considered a robot. The definition for such a broad range of possibility is by necessity vague. 


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Many robots, both historical and contemporary, allude to becoming a part of our domestic lives, but the examples that served to fuel our desires and whet our appetites turned out to be mostly red herrings; products of complex motivations and hidden agendas never actually intended for application in our homes. Applying an ecological approach will help to demystify the existence of these robots. The word ‘ecology’ is derived from the Greek oikos, meaning ‘house’ or ‘place to live’. Literally, ecology is the study of organisms ‘at home’ (Odum, 1971, p.3). What is of particular relevance here is this notion of ‘home’; of studying the organism not in isolation but in the environment in which it exists.


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This leads to the concepts of habitat and functional niche. This advice from Charles Elton, one of the pioneers of natural ecology, is particularly helpful as it features both natural and cultural habitats, hinting at how observations might be applied to both domains.


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An expanded view of the habitat leads to the ecosystem and its sublime complexity, here described by the writer John Steinbeck.

Steinbeck’s description of marine life poetically captures the complexity of scales, timeframes and interactions that operate in a natural ecosystem, a complexity that is echoed in technological and cultural systems. Factors within the system and the habitat itself are instrumental in shaping the evolution of the organism (and the artefact), defining its form and behaviour and ultimately its chances of survival in that habitat. These defining criteria apply equally to robots; the existential criteria for a robot in the academic domain are therefore completely different from those in the corporate world, in science fiction, and in everyday life. And it is by the last set of criteria that robots need to comply if they are to succeed in entering our homes. 


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Moving on from specific habitats the technological journey or how an organism or artefact can migrate between habitats.

For an emerging technology to successfully enter the home it effectively has to shift habits and in so doing create a new niche or functional role.

Here I propose and examine three possible technological journeys:

1. Technology does not become a product.

Technological concepts depart from the laboratory habitat potentially headed towards the domestic but never make it.

This suggests the existence of another habitat and the destination for the majority of spectacular robots - robot related imaginaries.

This habitat comprises technology fairs, laboratory open houses, media depictions and corporate publicity devices.

These are visions of technological futures based on hidden agendas with little thought or consideration for the reality of the domestic landscape.


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I describe seven reasons why many promised domestic robots are essentially maladapted for the home. These isn’t time to go into all of these now but I will describe three examples.


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1. Spectacular robots and the technological dream: Motivations of creation

An important issue is the motivation behind the creation of many robots and in particular the field of A.I. - the notion of technological dreams described by

George Basalla in the The evolution of technology:

‘Technological Dreams are the machines, proposals, and visions generated by the technical community, whether in the Renaissance or the present time. They epitomise the technologists’ propensity to go beyond what is technically feasible. Fanciful creations of this kind provide an entry into the richness of the imagination and into the sources of the novelty that is at the heart of Western technology.’

In the history of their development, many technologies go through an initial period of existing as a technological dream on route to either being discarded and forgotten or applied in useful machines and products. The fact that after countless years of development, iteration and promise robots are yet to make either transition leads to the conclusion that they are a recurring technological dream.

From the outset, the robots that emerge from technological dreams are simply motivated by pushing the limits of knowledge and the intellectual pleasures of an extreme challenge. At this time there appears to be little end to both the developmental potential of the techniques and therefore the sustainability of the quest.


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Importantly these technological dreams do have a value beyond the satisfying of technical challenges.

In 1927 the engineer Roy James Wensley presented his work on remote controlled substations to his superiors at Westinghouse Corporation,

who showed it to the publicity department who said, “Why you have a mechanical man here. That is a good story for the newspapers. I am sure we can get a few publicity articles in some of the New York papers.’ 

The story made the front page with the headline ‘Inventor shows mechanical servant solving all the housekeeping problems of the age.’ 

Quoting Wensley: “I found that my poor little electrical machine was going to sweep, clean, dust, take care of the baby and everything else that ever happened, but of course such was not the case. I have a dickens of a time explaining to ladies in audiences that this machine couldn’t do all those jobs.” (Schaut, n.d., p.23).


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Westinghouse’s robots evolved over the next few years to become the famous Electro.


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Presented to vast audiences at the 1939 New York World Fair.


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This promise perpetuates today, whilst the research continues unabated we are seemingly no closer to the robot futures today as we were when they were first promised in 1939.

what we have are mostly sublime technologies devoid of realistic or meaningful application. 

Fundamentally, technological speculations and dreams do not follow the rules of the domestic landscape rather the rules of spectacle and entertainment.


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Highlighting the latest technological advances and the skills and imagination of the company behind the spectacle: These robots are effectively highly successful marketing tools.


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2. Robotic research: My home is not a laboratory

Jumping to the habitat of research laboratory and fields such as social robots and care robots.

Directly installing a laboratory robot into the habitat of everyday life would expose it to the rules of domestic life, modern consumer culture and the vagaries of taste and fashion. Research culture has its own rules and expectations that define a robot’s form and behaviour, but fundamentally these are quite different from those in the home. 

In his influential book The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, James J Gibson stresses the value of moving out of the laboratory with regard to the study of natural vision and into the environment – the surroundings of those organisms that perceive and behave (1986, p.7). He suggests that “it is not true that ‘the laboratory can never be life like.’ The laboratory must be life like!” (Ibid, p.3). If robots are to enter our homes at some future point, roboticists would do well to heed Gibson’s advice - only then will the combined value of their form and function and the way we interact with them be desirable to potential consumers.


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5. The robot and the cinema: The subversion of the robot

One key difference between natural systems and domestic life is the role of a reputation in influencing the acceptability of a subject. 

The message communicated by the majority of Hollywood films is that emergent technology, in the hands of hubristic scientists or ruthless corporations, is simply bad. In science fiction, this emergent technology needs a vessel, a tangible embodied form through which it can express its profundity and communicate its dark potential. If we accept the lineage of the robot to have evolved from myth and legend, then in its fictional guise it has frequently and consistently been cast as villain. 


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The second journey is how technology does become a product.

This represents a successful migration between habitats - exploring this process and how the object can be adapted to exist comfortably in the domestic space.


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Here there is an obvious comparison to be made with domestication.

Over an approximate 12,000-15,000-year period, the wild dog successfully made a transition from its natural wild habitat to the domestic habitat.

I examine the stages of the domestication process particularly how the subject changes in terms of form, function, behaviour and modes of interaction.

The dog, perhaps more than any other recipient of domestication, represents the complex and sometimes whimsical desires of humans: dog breeds ebb and flow with social trends, Hollywood films and celebrity ownership; they are the second largest recipient of cosmetic enhancement surgery after humans, and are at the core of a multi-billion-dollar global industry. 


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This migration between systems has successfully been made by computer technology.  

Like the dog, the computer had a long migration; from its first conception, through various utilitarian stages, before finally evolving into the ubiquitous technology it is today, existing in numerous and diverse domestic products.

The key aim of this section is to understand how candidates for domestication are initially identified, what motivates, shapes and informs the domestication process, how the adaptations take place and what constitutes a successfully domesticated product/organism.


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It is necessary to briefly touch on domestication theory defined by Berker et al in Domestication of Media and Technology.

“Domestication, in the traditional sense, refers to the taming of a wild animal. At a metaphorical level we can observe a domestication process when users, in a variety of environments, are confronted with new technologies. These ‘strange’ and ‘wild’ technologies have to be ‘house-trained’; they have to be integrated into the structures, daily routines and values of users and their environments.”

Through the use of the term ‘house-trained’, Berker’s analogy specifically infers the time frame between the introduction of a puppy into the home and its complete integration with the rules, systems and behaviours laid down by its new owner. This definition ignores the journey made by that dog’s ancestors over the best part of 15,000 years, the journey that allowed for the dog to be an appropriate candidate for human co-habitation. By making a distinction between ‘technology’ and ‘product’, it becomes possible to see domestication as a dichotomy. Domestication studies, as described above, relates to the domestication of the ‘product’, and what is being examined in this thesis relates to the domestication of ‘technology’ - effectively the creation of a consumable product from technological potential.


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The third technological journey is ‘How technology could become a product.’ and describes the methods of speculative design.

By stepping out of the normative relationship that ties technological development to commercial markets and political notions of progress, speculative design opens up a space for alternative perspectives, critical reflection and examination into the implications of new technologies. The intention is to present high-resolution imaginaries of plausible technological futures - these encourage the audience to contemplate on what would be preferable - the considered future.


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Speculative design is not only about the future but is also a way of analysing, critiquing and re-thinking contemporary technology. The practice can be separated into two categories:

First, existing cultural systems, lineages and modes of technological development can inform future developments of an emerging technology: speculative futures imagine and depict near-future products and services. These are intended to act as a form of cultural litmus paper, testing potential products and services on both a mainstream audience and within the industry before they exist. 

Second, alternative presents are design proposals that utilise contemporary technology but apply different ideologies or configurations to those currently directing product development. This method is similar to the historiographical practice of counterfactual histories, and the literary genre of alternative histories, but with the emphasis on products and technological genealogy rather than historical and political events. Here we break free of a lineage at a certain historical point to question why things are the way they are.


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This chapter examines several methods used to craft the speculation.

If a speculative design proposal strays too far into the future to present clearly implausible concepts or describes a completely alien technological habitat, the audience will fail to relate to the proposal, resulting in a lack of engagement or connection. In effect a design speculation requires a ‘perceptual bridge’ between the audience and the concept. Inspiration and influence can be drawn from diverse fields such as observational comedy, psychology, horror films and illusion, for the insights they offer into the complex workings of human perception and how it can be consciously manipulated to elicit reaction. I will briefly describe two of these examples:


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1. Design for context: Where does the speculation exist

The designer must consider the environment and context in which the speculative products or services would exist; this could be a specific space such as the home or office or a cultural or political situation based on current developments or trends. This could be described as an ecological approach to speculative design and helps to ground the concept in a familiar or logical reality. Below are two descriptions of the Martian from The War of the Worlds. The first is an excerpt from H G Wells’ original novel of 1898; the second (and image) from Steven Spielberg’s film version of 2005. If we take the Martian to be a speculative object we can compare the two approaches to its design. 

“I think everyone expected to see a man emerge … But looking, I presently saw something stirring within the shadow: greyish billowy movements, one above another, and then two luminous discs – like eyes … A big greyish rounded hulk, the size, perhaps, of a bear, was rising slowly and painfully out of the cylinder … The incessant quivering of the mouth, the gorgon groups of tentacles, the tumultuous breathing of the lungs in a strange atmosphere, the evident heaviness and painfulness of movement due to the greater gravitational energy on earth … Suddenly the monster vanished. It had toppled over the brim of the cylinder and fallen into the pit, with a thud like the fall of a great mass of leather.” (H G Wells)

“I tried a bunch of different heads, but Steven Spielberg wanted to pay tribute to the shape of the spaceship in the original movie,’ Sims said. ‘No matter what I did with that head, we always went back to this shape. For the eyes, Spielberg kept saying they should be overly dilated, refracting with light almost like you’d see in a cat. Spielberg wanted one leg in the back and two in the front. At Stan Winston’s we did an animation of the alien crawling on the ceiling, showing how his legs would function as arms as well and pick stuff up while using the other leg to balance.” (Aaron Sims - designer of the martian)

The question I pose here is not which interpretation is the most compelling, engaging, terrifying or memorable, but which is the most likely. The celluloid version has a certain familiarity, resembling many other filmic depictions of disconcerting aliens in recent years. It displays its physical superiority to humans with a cat-like deftness, employing its several arms to move three-dimensionally around a room. It is without question captivating and terrifying and therefore perfect as a form of entertainment, which perhaps was the primary factor influencing its design. Wells’ Martian on the other hand is clearly suffering, ungainly, awkward and struggling to cope with Earth’s gravity. Wells trained as a biologist, so would have a good understanding of the concept of adaptation. Although this is pure supposition, logic suggests that Martians would be maladapted to life on Earth and his depiction applies this theory to inform the design of the creature. 


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2. The uncanny: Desirable discomfort

In order to elicit audience engagement and contemplation on a subject, it is sometimes helpful for a speculation to provoke. If a design proposal is too familiar it is easily assimilated into the normative progression of products and would pass unnoticed. However, proposals dealing with sensitive subjects such as sex or death can quite easily stray too far into provocative territory, resulting in repulsion or outright shock. The design solution is complex and contradictory, provocative whilst at the same time familiar. Sigmund Freud described the paradoxical reaction humans have - invoking a sense of familiarity whilst at the same time being foreign - as ‘uncanny’. 

Careful management of the uncanny is imperative when a project attempts to deal with subjects such as death or the invasion of the human body (for example technological implants). 


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The final section combines the knowledge generated during the investigations with the methods described above to inform the design of domestic robots.

This first project was responsible for establishing many of the core ideas that run through the thesis. It was part of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded research project Material Beliefs, and developed together with designer Jimmy Loizeau and engineer Alex Zivanovic. The starting point for Material Beliefs was collaboration between designers and scientists for public engagement with technology. We initially worked with Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL).

 The project provided an opportunity to experiment with how to migrate BRL’s technology into the home using a speculative design approach. The outcome of the project was a series of five robots, each feeding off living organisms for electrical energy and built as semi-operational prototypes.


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The approach was based on a questioning of stereotypical forms, functions and interactions through adapting the technology and concepts to meet the expectations of people in the domestic habitat - effectively domesticating robot technology.

We products five semi-functional prototypes exploring different interactions and possibilities.

This example is the Flypaper Robotic Clock:

A rubber belt revolves slowly around two rollers on a vertical plane. This belt is covered in honey, which attracts and captures various flying insects. At the base of the roller mechanism a blade is positioned, this removes any insects that have stuck to the belt and they fall into the MFC positioned below. This generates the electricity to power both the motor rotating the belt and a small LCD clock.

There is some basic sensing built into this robot related to seasonal change and its effect on the quantity of available insects. This means that the robot can partially hibernate during the winter months continuing to tell the time through energy harvested during the summer months, but not wasting energy through rotating the belt. 


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The Lampshade Robot

During the evening period this robot operates as a normal lampshade using household mains power supply. Flies and moths are naturally attracted to the light emitted by the lamp. The lampshade has holes based on the form of the pitcher plant; these allow the insect access to the interior of the lamp but no means of escape. Eventually they expire and fall into the microbial fuel cell housed underneath. This eventually generates sufficient electricity to power a series of U.V. LEDs located inside the shade. These are activated when the mains lights are turned off and in turn attract more insects. This robot lampshade has the potential to be energy autonomous.


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Fly Stealing Robot

This robot encourages spiders to build a web within its armature.

A camera mounted on a boom in front of the robot captures live images of the web. A vision system seeks out and extracts the position of dark patches on the web and monitors them. Through machine learning the robot learns to differentiate between flies trapped in the web and the spider patrolling it, should it conclude that a dark patch is a fly, a robotic arm, actuated by stepper motors moves over its location and a small grabber picks it up. The fly is then transported to the microbial fuel cell housed at the top of the robot. The arm then powers down and robot reverts to monitoring the spider web.

The fuel-cell in unlikely to generate enough energy to power the robotic arm (it is an energy intensive task) so this robot relies on the U.V. Flykiller Parasite robot to supplement its energy needs.


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U.V. Flykiller Parasite Robot.

A microbial fuel cell is housed underneath an off-the-shelf U.V. fly killer powered by the domestic electricity supply. The U.V. light attracts insects from up to 40 metres away; these are electrocuted and fall into the fuel cell generating electricity that is stored in the capacitor bank. Having no personal need for this electrical energy the U.V. Flykiller robot makes it available to the Fly Stealing Robot.


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And finally The Mousetrap Coffee Table Robot

A mechanised iris is built into the top of a coffee table. This is attached to an infrared motion sensor. Crumbs and food debris left on the table attract mice that gain access to the tabletop via a hole built into one over size leg. Their motion activates the iris and the mouse falls into the microbial fuel cell housed under the table. This generates the energy to power the iris motor, sensor and a LED graphic display on the front of the table–top.


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One of the big challenges with this project, and in retrospect one I’d suggest was not expertly handled, was the management of the sensational element raised through the use of living creatures as a source of energy. This behaviour, whilst helpful in creating intrigue and interest, tipped the balance towards the sensational or outright unpleasant rather than the desired uncanny. This hindered the project’s ability to draw an audience into deeper discussions beyond initial reactions. This is less of an issue in a conference presentation or exhibition - due to the audience’s interest in the subject and the possibility of a more thorough delivery of information - but on a blog or in a newspaper a sensational headline can rapidly lead to a cessation of genuine engagement, leading to facile comments or first-response negativity.

A more complex problem emerged when we presented the project to the robotic research community, either through academic papers or at conferences. The project challenged robot preconceptions on too many fronts, attempting at the same time to explore alternative ideas of form, methods of engagement and entertainment, modes of interaction and energy autonomy. This diluted the impact of the individual elements and made for a complex and problematic presentation.


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The second project was developed in collaboration with Aberystwyth University computer science department. 

The foundations of this project were similar to Material Beliefs. Happylife was commissioned as part of the ‘Impact!’ exhibition, a joint project between the RCA, EPSRC and Nesta, bringing together 16 EPSRC-funded research teams with designers from the Design Interactions department at the RCA.


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Aberystwyth University’s ongoing research utilises a high-resolution thermal image camera to detect malicious intent in people passing through border control areas.

Historically, many domestic technologies have their genesis in the field of military and national security research, Happylife pre-empts this transition by speculating on how AUCS’s research could be applied in the home. 


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The technology lent itself to a more oblique enquiry into robot futures, focusing less on practical functions and physical objects to examine how passive profiling techniques could display and mediate the most private and emotive aspects of home life. 


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The camera captures the thermal image of the individual as they pass by - this happens non-invasively in real time.

This information is sent to a computer running facial recognition software. The thermal information is fed into the database and compared to base settings. 


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An algorithm acts on this sensory information to rotate a physical dial on the Happylife display


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Designing the object - there are no literal descriptions like happiness or depression. Whilst this would have potentially made the project easier to engage with it would have been factually incorrect. Here the system merely detects change, you effectively calibrate the system yourself - get used to where it normally lies - when the dial rotates to somewhere unexpected it encourages contemplation as to why.


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To fully exploit the narrative potential of the technology, it was necessary for the device to be in a home for some time - allowing for the accumulation of data and its subsequent mining and analysis, and checking for the emergence of patterns or long-term shifts in status, both of which might go unnoticed by the occupants. This plays to the strengths of computer technology and facilitates new forms of interaction with technology.

To examine the consequences of Happylife, we speculated on the emotional impact of its deployment in the home of a traditional nuclear family over a 15-year period. These speculations exist as five narratives presented as vignettes, written in collaboration with poet Dr Richard Marggraf Turley. The aim of these was to highlight emotional real-life family scenarios that would somehow be modified or augmented by the Happylife technology. We were careful that these were not wholly dystopian in nature, but showed genuine and even poetic benefits of employing the technology in this context. 


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Teaching has played an important role in the development of the thesis. This project with the first year design interactions students represented a distilled version of the observations made during the research phase of the thesis. The brief directed the students towards the specific problems and opportunities raised by a design approach to domestic robots - specifically form, interaction and contextual considerations.


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Diego Trujillo’s project presents an interesting depiction of the robotic home not as the classic shiny white seamless vision of the future, but a version not too dissimilar to our own. 

He explored how the home might be adapted to the needs of robots such as marking on sheets that would assist the robot’s vision analysis when folding.


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Or two sets of handles on cups with marking to assist the dishwasher emptying robot.


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This project by Neil Usher presented a delicate blend of the technical with the poetic. The proposal used the traits of robots normally associated with production lines such as tirelessness, pattern recognition and repetition, but applied in original and thought-provoking natural contexts. The robot above searches for faces in clouds. 


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So, to conclude…actually there are two conclusions.

First on robots: A study of contemporary everyday life reveals the extent to which automation is becoming commonplace. This cultural acceptance, combined with ongoing technological developments such as advances in the science of informatics, ubiquitous computing and cloud computing, leads to the likelihood that robotic technologies will become increasingly pervasive - robots will enter the home, but through the side-door as existing products and environments are given agency and intelligence: they effectively become robots.

The second more important conclusion is on speculative design and how it can be used to examine both the impact of contemporary technology on our lives today, and how contemporary scientific research could impact on our future lives. At the core of the problem is the overused and out of date notion of progress, defined here by the Oxford English Dictionary.

Speculative design effectively facilitates the creation of high-resolution imaginaries of possible destinations - these can then be used to encourage contemplation and analysis on whether this is improved or not. Significantly this can be used to engage a broad variety of audiences.


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Perhaps most importantly is the possibility of shifting design activity upstream to engage with scientists at the beginning of the ‘domestication’ process.

Here design has the potential to identify research directions that are ‘orthogonal’ to the original research aims and more closely related to everyday life. It invites, through dialogue, a reflection on the relationship between possible and preferable futures, and examines not only new applications for a technology but also its potential implications. Speculative design effectively introduces scientific research to the complexities and whims of human character, usually only found at the end stages of a successful technological journey, providing a much more considered destination than the one we currently find ourselves heading towards. 


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Sublime Gadgets

November 26, 2012 at 5:01pm
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Now on website


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Sublime Gadgets opening

November 9, 2012 at 12:44pm
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We had the opening of Sublime Gadgets at HEAD Design Project room in Geneva on Wednesday night.

We produced seven new objects - above is the Bionic Requiem.

More information soon on the Auger-Loizeau website.

The show will run until 17th January 2013 at HAUTE ÉCOLE D’ART ET DE DESIGN – GENÈVE 

GENEVA UNIVERSITY OF ART AND DESIGN 
15 Boulevard James-Fazy 
1201 Geneva 
Switzerland.


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Project: Sublime Gadgets

August 8, 2012 at 8:56am
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Gadgets are the most ephemeral of domestic objects. Their dazzling but fleeting existence is a consequence of two combined factors:

1: From the experiential perspective gadgets, by definition, are based on novelty and spectacle.

2: This novelty is provided by the latest technological innovations and therefore exists in a state of constant flux.

In support of this observation we can refer to Arthur C. Clarke’s often quoted third law:

 

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

 

It is in this magical element that the spectacle resides but as a consequence it follows that just as the illusion dies when the magician reveals his slight of hand, so the gadget becomes distinguishable from magic when the technology is no longer advanced. This normalising of technology leads to the death of the gadget.

Sublime Gadgets aims to elevate the status and in turn expand the lifespan of these temporal objects through introducing notions of the sublime. This shifts the focus away from technological fetishism towards objectifying the ‘pleasures of the imagination’ (Addison), the infinity of time and space (Shaftesbury), agreeable kinds of horror (Addison), randomness found in nature and the management of life and death.


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A (rather longwinded) definition of a robot

December 16, 2011 at 7:49pm
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Defining a robot is by no means an easy task. The noun robot does not refer to one specific object; it is not based on a particular technology, activity or function and whilst certain stereotypical robot forms such as anthropomorphic pervade, other diverse and surprising configurations of technology can also be considered a robot. The definition for such a broad range of possibility is by necessity vague.

In ‘Philosophical Investigations,’ Wittgenstein approaches the subject of games: board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games, and so on. He asks, ‘what is common to them all? - Don’t say: “There must be something common, or they would not be called ‘games’” – but look and see whether there is anything common to all.’ He concludes that there is not something that is common to all but ‘a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing: sometimes overall similarities, sometimes similarities of detail.’ (Wittgenstein, 1998. P.31) Wittgenstein ultimately characterises these similarities as family resemblances.

This is helpful in terms of generating a practical understanding of robots, indeed we can begin by listing the family traits commonly associated with things robotic but still the problem of definition persists. First, unlike ‘game,’ when used as a noun in popular culture, ‘robot’ is commonly used without a qualifier, this suggests the existence of a generic notion: the mythical or iconic image of the robot. Second, unlike a game, the robot can exist simultaneously in diverse contexts and planes of reality: as a functional engineered machine operating autonomously on a production line such as an industrial robot; as a corporate vision of the future such as a humanoid robot; as a complex construct of fiction such as an android, or as a high-street product such as a robotic vacuum cleaner. And whilst the promiscuity of the generic concept of robots often leads to these worlds blurring together, the actual artefact is very poor at migrating between them: fictional robots rarely become products.

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