BodyWeather & Robotics

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MACHINE MOVEMENT LABS

led by Petra Gemeinboeck & Rob Saunders
BodyWeather movement consultation with De Quincey Co

Petra Gemeinboeck (UNSW) leads an ARC Discovery Project*, which investigates the potential of movement, and dance in particular, for reimagining how machines look, learn and affect us. With co-investigator Rob Saunders (University of Sydney) and partner investigators Maaike Bleeker (Utrecht University) and Ben Robin (University of Hertfordshire), the Machine Movement Lab develops a new design method for abstract robotic forms (non-humanlike or animal-like) and their ability to take on a presence, express themselves and activate relations with their surrounds. Currently most robots, made to share our social spaces, appear to be humanlike or animal-like, often cute and big-eyed, with friendly human voices. But this apparent resemblance is problematic because under the familiar, even if shiny, surface, there are still vast differences between machinic and life-like forms. Embracing these differences provides us with an opportunity to explore new, strange relationships with machines as part of our complex social environment, and, with it, questions of nonhuman agency, based on their unique machinic embodied intelligence.

To explore these questions, the project focuses on the potential of movement, and how it can produce relations with other bodies and the world and engender affect and empathy. Choreographers and dancers are experts in bodily creating and, literally, forming these relations. Our core research method, Performative Body-Mapping, harnesses dancers’ bodily creativity and sensitivity to develop the movement characteristics for strange, abstract machinic forms.

 

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From the outset of the project, we have had the opportunity to work with De Quincey Co and director Tess de Quincey, whose practice BodyWeather seeks to look at bodies beyond self-other dichotomies, and is ideally aligned with our research questions. BodyWeather’s understanding of the human body as a network of forces, always entangled with other forces, apparently outside the body, is closely allied with Machine Movement Lab and its interest in challenging the subject-object boundaries we currently encounter in human machine relationships.

In our movement studies, we develop simple potential machinic forms, which first serve as costumes or prostheses for dancers to inhabit and move with, to explore their unique material forces and abilities. Costumes were developed through a consultancy with Katja Handt. The activated costumes’ movements are captured to later provide a mirror image for robot prototypes, resembling the costumes, to learn from.

 

 

The images show Tess de Quincey, Kirsten Packham and Linda Luke inhabiting and activating a number of potential robot forms. During our pilot study in 2015, we experimented with a wide range of forms and their material forces. Subsequently, we focused on two simple forms in particular:  the expressive potential of an unassuming cube and the complex transformative configurations of a broken tetrahedron. Its broken leg was an accident; indeed, serendipity is also a close ally in this creative research process.

*This research is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Projects funding scheme (project DP160104706). The views expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Australian Government or Australian Research Council.