Week 8: Margo Apostolos : Exploring Robotics through Choreographed Dance

As a professional dancer and professor of dance, Margo K. Apostolos is fascinated by the similarities, differences, and ultimately the aesthetics, of robot motion and human motion. She is interested in the way that robot arms, while not as graceful and fluid as human motion, are still capable of performing intricate and smooth motions. Her works, like “Waves” as seen above, primarily deal with the choreographing of a single robot arm to a composed piece of music. Apostolos short videos feature this robot arm against a colored background, with its base covered by a tablecloth, and music playing while the robot arm showcases its 360 wrist motion and various other movements. She has also explored the possibilities and applications of discovering a more fluid and precise robot arm movement in her essay “Robot Choreography: Moving in a New Direction.”

“Just as in dance the human body moves through space efficiently and artistically, just as a dancer performs in seemingly effortless movement, so may a robot,” suggests Apostolos, “the graceful movement of the human form can provide a standard for the study of an aesthetic dimension of robotic movement” (Qtd. in Wilson 425). Here, Apostolos claims that by using dance as an influence and the mimicking of its movements can be the template in which robot arm movement can be progressed. Wilson states in this section that Apostolos’ essay also concerned itself with the interpretation of some modern dance choreographers and how they tend to “dehumanize” the dancers to create a more “robotic” motion. It is interesting to see the juxtaposition of how some dancers are attempting to move in an “inhuman” way, while robotics are now trying to mimic human movement.

So what are some of the applications for this exploration into robot dance? Well, for starters, this allows researchers to think of robotic movement in a different dimension and explore the possibilities of smoother robotic motions (which kind of sounds like an oxymoron). It is this exploration which led to Apostolos to begin researching for NASA on space telerobotics and working with the Annenberg Center for Communications on facial expression recognition and human-computer interactions. “Scientific discovery and artistic creation progress in various ways,” claims Apostolos, describing the connection between her dance background and the research she does now for NASA and ACC. “The integration of the two processes may result in exciting new discoveries,” and these discoveries can be found when viewed under a different perspective such as performance art. It is interesting to see how performance art can have a tremendous effect on the programming of technologies such as this robot arm; these arms are the kinds that can be found in factories, warehouses, and even in hospitals where robot-arm-assisted surgeries may be performed. Studying the fluidity and the precise motions of choreographed dance can help discover new levels of programming that could benefit the progress of this type of technology.




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