Week 8 Robotics: The Mechanical Limb of Humanity?

One of the themes discussed in class was technicity; technology isn’t simply a medium, but more like an extension, a tool for extending human processes. Technology isn’t a mass of wires and cables and a myriad number of computing.  It acts as a form of communication through different users, or as a prosthetic limb for amputees.  Whenever we see new inventions through our internet feeds about a new prototype, we don’t focus too heavily on the processes in creating the object but the abilities of it.  Therefore, I’ve focused on a particular artist, Nicholas Donaldson.  As an engineer and an artist, “Nick” has been part of different projects including hexapod robots and modified spray paint cars.

Copyright 1995-2001 Nick Donaldson

One of his personal projects are the hexapods, six-legged spider-like robots that moves and avoids objects based on the sonar-sensor on its “head”.  At the time of its creation, Ziggy was an innovative invention.  It wasn’t created with extensive and large funding, nor was it exceedingly difficult to code.  Nick used computations that used contemporary languages such as C/ Basic/ Java, and the materials were ordered online.

Ziggy, is programmed and modified to be able to walk through uneven terrain and has sonar senses that alerts the robot to things in front of it.  Thus, if a person were to put a hand in front of its sensors, Ziggy would continuously retreat until the hand is pulled back.  It’s interesting to note that the requirements for creating these machines is not too demanding.  It also leads to the question of whether Nicholas’s machines could have pioneered the military machines we see in news articles today.

Another one of Nicholas Donaldson’s inventions is the meka head.  It was a project collaborated by many engineers in San Francisco.  The robot was consisted of a head with eyes and eyelids that moved independently.  It also had a torso with two robotic arms.  The artists and engineers created the meka head in order to explore machine learning algorithms.  The robot head interacts with the audience by sorting different colored objects into their buckets with the same color.  For instance, if the robot was handed a blue book, it would drop it into a blue color bucket.  In the beginning, a person gives the object to the robot and tells it to put it in the correct bucket, and after a few more trials, the robot will automatically sort without any instruction.

I think the simple learning process displayed by meka head  can be a lead to a principle i mentioned last week, The Internet of Things.  Everyday things can be programmed and computerized to record your everyday actions and respond based on the information.

The third project Nicholas Donaldson had worked on was the paintball car.

Donaldson was tasked with modifying a Chevy Sonic with robotic devices for the graffiti artist, Jeff Soto.  The car was outfitted with a variety of gadgets, such as a small robotic arm that stuck out of the passenger window that sprayed a nozzle of paint (for detailed work), a “cannon” mounted on the roof of the car that shot paint balls or jars.  All these mechanisms were controlled by a simple control panel consisting of buttons, a joystick and dials (almost like an arcade game).

The car was tested on a wall by the artist Jeff Soto himself who piloted the car’s cannon and spray nozzle.  After creating a base layer of paint with the car, he then painted the mural’s details himself.

The interesting points about Donaldson’s inventions is how they illuminate the key points of technicity that we discussed in class.  “We must understand technology as integrated and enfolded into the domain of things that are human”  For example, the paint ball car with its gadgets is not simply a custom created car, but something more anthropomorphic in its utility and function.  It’s more like a gigantic arm holding a gigantic paintbrush.  It opens up bigger and different opportunities for humans with technology.

Elliot Yang

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