R1: We are the workers. We are a digital product design studio based in London, and we’ve won the Tate IK prize 2014 for our idea, which is putting four robots in Tate Britain’s collections. After dark these robots can be controlled remotely via the web, and they’ll be moving round the galleries in complete darkness with spotlights.
When you come to the website, you will see the four video feeds of these robots. We’re also going to have commentators who are going to be talking through some of the works which come on the screen, and then you can request to take control; and this is where a lot of our effort is focused on at the moment. We want to digitally create the experience of being in the collection alone at night with all these amazing artworks. It’s a space which, during the day, you can go and be part of the public, but at night you get this space to yourself and experience it. It’s a place which you’re not supposed to be, and we want to capture that experience.
As soon as we won the prize, we were contacted by lots of different people, including RAL Space, who have been helping us with the chassis of the robot, and the different components.
There are going to be four of these robots, so we want to make sure that we capture the experience of, you might be in a room; you might turn around and just see another, sort of, creature moving across.
R2: The robots themselves are designed so that the base is the widest part. They are about 600mm diameter. The only part that can actually come into contact with anything is about 120mm off the ground, so it’s lower than skirting board height, and the higher parts of the robot with the cameras on them are within that 600mm circumference, so they can’t touch anything. So the only part that can bump into anything is lower than the majority of obstacles in the gallery. If it were to touch anything, it would touch a barrier, and that would instantly kill the robot, so that’s our, sort of, serious safety measures.
R3: There’s a servo motor here in the middle which takes care of, basically, tilting the head up and down. So these boxes, there’s a camera and there’s an LED light. So this is a 3D printed part. These are sonar sensors, and sonar is the same thing that you use on boats, or is the same thing that bats have. And the way that this works, these are basically just little speakers that send out a sound like a ping, and then they wait for the sound to bounce off.
We are really looking forward to getting these things in the gallery, running and actually, we literally hand them over to the public to control and have some fun with it.
R4: I had the chance to operate a lot of robots in orbit: the huge Canadarm and Canadarm II; and I recently returned from the International Space Station, and today I’m operating a robot inside the Tate Gallery from here in my office in Toronto, Canada: pretty amazing!
It’s really interesting to think of the artistry and the history and the technology all wrapped up in one. You start to forget what you’re really doing, and you just become curious about the painting itself, and the robot and your hands just become an extension of your mind; that’s how technology ought to be.