Monday, May 05, 2008

Robotic Ecologies 2008 Opening

Text from an article published in the Daily Progress: May 5, 2008 (By Jeremy Borden)

Inch a little closer and the robot will come toward you, too. Then it might even have something to say.
University of Virginia students on Sunday displayed moving, blinking, music-making robots, a culmination of a course that produced non-humanoid automata that filled gallery space at the School of Architecture. Some there suggested that the interdisciplinary approach in the “Robotic Ecologies 2008” class provides a window into the future.
Architecture, music, engineering and computer science students collaborated in small groups to create what they called “sonic spatial” instruments. For example, one of the instruments, called “Medusa,” would create drum-like sounds after its long tentacles were flicked. One tentacle would activate another tentacle nearby, and flashing lights corresponded as drum-like beats reverberated throughout. Other robots relied on motion and infrared sensors, and would respond with notes to touch or even proximity.
Jason Johnson, the UVa architecture professor who headed the class of 15 that produced the three robots in just a semester of work, said he wanted to combine students from seemingly disparate fields of study “and see what [happened].”
“The critical part was to get these guys to talk,” Johnson said. What emerged, he said, provides a window into a future that combines disciplines and makes the virtual a reality.
One such “cultural artifact” is Apple’s iPhone, he said. The phone, Johnson said, combines audio, visual and sensory items in a “beautiful object.” Two engineers sitting down to solve a problem wouldn’t have come up with it, Johnson said.
Students said the robots are more than just physical things that respond to simple computer programs. Yuri Spitsyn, a doctoral candidate in music, said the robots provide a new look at the idea of our surroundings. Though the students’ robots are just small prototypes, similar designs could be produced on a much larger scale to create a more immersive experience.
“For me, it’s more like an environment,” Spitsyn said.
Cammy Brothers, a UVa professor who teaches renaissance architecture, was impressed with how the disciplines gelled.
“It’s stretching each of the disciplines,” Brothers said. “They occupy this new category of object that’s between architecture and instrument. The point is that architecture now is barely engaging movement or robotics. The idea of sensitivity … responsiveness and robotics has a lot of potential.”

[Correction Note from Jason: Unfortunately this article does not mention that the seminar was co-taught with Prof. Matthew Burtner and we were assisted greatly by our T.A. Troy Rogers from the VCCM.]

Link to the Article: "Music of the Machines: Students Display Harmonic Robots"

Sunday, May 04, 2008

2008 R-Eco Project Descriptions

Click on the image to enlarge the project descriptions for the EXSO, Medusa, Panta Rhei and RAVE projects.