V&A live art installation challenges public perception of robotics

Written by: Tom Austin-Morgan | Published:

Industrial robotics and autonomation technologies from companies including Adelphi Automation, KUKA Robotics, Rockwell Automation, SCM Handling and Autodesk are taking part in a live art installation which aims to challenge the dystopian views that the public have of robots that is due to be opened this week.

Entitled Slave/Master, as a part of the London Design Festival and Digital Design Weekend at the Victoria & Albert Museum, it explores the edges of industrial robot/human interaction robot performers, human dancers and projected graphics.

The installed robots perform choreographed dance moves and are regularly ‘interfered’ with by human dancers from the London Contemporary Ballet Theatre, to a score composed by Rupert Cross. The project, conceived, directed and produced by the Brooke Roberts Innovation Agency (BRIA) on behalf of the V&A and supported by Arts Council England, challenges the traditional ‘fear’ portrayed in sci-fi films of robots oppressing and interfering with humans, by showing how robots are safely mastered and managed in modern industrial applications.

“We integrate more and more industrial applications that require deeper interaction between robots and humans and the challenges of this project are not unlike those in industry,” said Paul Stout, managing director of Adelphi Automation. “We believe Slave/Master will help the public to understand something other than the dystopian view of robots in popular culture, and show how modern safety systems and smart robotics mean that human interaction in the industrial space has moved on from caged robot arms moving large parts, to a much more collaborative approach.”

Visitors will be able to roam freely around the Slave/Master installation space throughout the exhibition, thanks in part to the use of Compact GuardLogix safety automation controllers and SafeZone Mini safety laser scanners from Rockwell Automation. Adelphi Automation, the systems integrators who delivered the robotics part of the installation, faced several challenges delivering the unique project and hope that it will show the rapidly growing potential of industrial automation to a broader audience when it opens to the public from Friday 15th of September to Sunday 24th.

Paul Davies, solution architect - architecture & software at Rockwell Automation, explained: “The biggest challenge was setting up the safety system to allow the public to move around and through the exhibition space while the robots are operating.We used SafeZone Mini lasers, which, once configured, provided a safe and protective area around the robots. The scanners will detect when humans are too close and send a signal to the controller which will either slow or stop the robots depending on the proximity of the person.

“In a time when industry is desperately in need of new skilled workers, we hope that seeing robots in this way and explaining how they have been programmed, helps inspire young people to consider choosing manufacturing as a rewarding career path,” Davies added.

The performance also uses evolving projected graphics as a window into the ‘souls’ of the robots, with bespoke algorithms by creative digital agency, Holition. Using data from the movement and urgency of the robot performers, evolving 3D shapes are formed, with overlaid silhouettes representing memories of past interactions with humans, to portray the robots’ ‘mood’ to the audience.

Slave/Master at the V&A

Friday, 15th – Sunday, 24th September 2017 10.00 – 17.30

The Raphael Cartoons, Room 48a, Level 1

Free Event


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