Robots Eating Apples

New Art Exhibitions Blur the Lines Between Human and Robot

Graphic Graeme Shorten Adams

When art meets technology, strange and wonderful things are created.

The works on display at the Maison des Arts de Laval for their newest show, Et si les robots mangeaient des pommes? are but a few examples.

In the Alfred Pellan gallery, home to the show curated by Ariane De Blois, metallic, plastic and glowing creatures hulk over the display floor.

One of the works, Art-Bot: Meccanismo, designed and built by Concordia creative electronics art instructor Morgan Rauscher, sits towards the back of the gallery, encased in a round plexiglass chamber. Hanging from the ceiling, it looks like an arm with metal tubing for bones and wires for tendons. But in place of a hand, the bot has a chainsaw.

Rauscher describes his creation as a “making” robot, but one that puts the creative power—the power, in this case, to carve wood with little effort—in the hands of the individual user as opposed to an automated factory machine.

Suspended in front of the chamber are the robot’s controls: an arcade-style console with five buttons on the left side in the shape of a hand—one large red button for a palm and four for fingers—and a trackball and two other buttons on the right.

What helps to set Meccanismo apart from other carving or production robots is the haptic—or tactile—feedback it provides.

“Sound is the process of vibrations going through things and transmitting force,” said Rauscher, explaining how the sound picked up from a microphone at the end of Meccanismo’s arm is processed and then converted back into vibrations projected into the users palm. This gives users a literal feel for the wood as they carve.

“What I feel this is going to do for making technology in general is that it’s going to allow us to keep the benefits of machines—strength, speed, accuracy—but it’s also going to allow us to immerse our body in a material interaction,” Rauscher continued.

“You […] have this bodily experience of what’s going on here. It’s an extension of [your] arm.”

Jasmine Colizza, museologist and the coordinator of Et si les robots mangeaient des pommes?, explained how the show is meant to reflect the ever-blurring lines between humankind and machine.

“This show […] is about robots, the frontier between where a robot tends to become human, and [where humans] tend to become more robot,” she said. “We lose a bit of our humanity every time we use a machine.”

Playing on this idea, the show invites visitors to call a phone number to hear information about each piece from a robotic female voice. Pulling out our phones is an automatic movement, as if the phone were already a part of our bodies.

Accessible Tech

New developments are constantly being made in the technology field, but perhaps the biggest advancement is the increasing accessibility of electronics and knowledge.

“Contemporary creative electronics [are] transforming our world, and not because the electronics themselves are particularly special,” said Rauscher.

“We’ve had these sensors since the ‘50s, some of them since the ‘20s, some of them since even before then. You know, back when Tesla was making stuff.

“But it’s by making those things available, accessible to people with a, you could say creative intent, or who have been trained as artists, that’s what the exciting thing is,” he continued.

Engineers and artists are taught very differently. An artist, Rauscher explained, is rewarded for creating something “wild” and “out-there,” while engineers are not. And making technology more widely available allows those without engineering backgrounds to follow paths that may not have been explored otherwise.

On the future of technological product innovations, Rauscher emphasized the importance of focusing on the self.

“This is something that we’ve done for pretty much the entire development of humankind,” he said.

This starts, he says, with the body. We will begin to see an influx of wearables, both artistic and functional, which will eventually evolve into items that give us insight into ourselves.

“For example, a heart rate monitor which shows me my heart rate,” he said.

This simple heart rate monitor, Rauscher said, could allow us to update our consciousness and tune into a part of our body we may have lost touch with. And a heart rate monitor could evolve into a device that allows us to feel the heartbeat of someone else as a way of connecting on a deeper level.

Et si les robots mangeaient des pommes? // Dec. 3 to Feb. 9 // Maison des Arts de Laval (1395 de la Concorde Blvd. W.) // Tuesdays to Saturdays 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.