1.1. Course Description

This course is concerned with supporting a broad range of creative practices using the technologies of embodied intelligence which we lump under the term robotics. The emphasis is on expressive practices which might span art, drama, architecture, and design, i.e. anything involving considerations of the human. The definition of support is chosen broadly, e.g. so that a robot might participate in the creation of a work which isn’t otherwise a machine.

Robotics is a broad field which encompasses all technologies which support the creation of embodied intelligence. This might be loosely considered as any effort to replicate some element of our human abilities, including dynamic movement, vision, manipulation, and adapting to uncertainty. Since our abilities are versatile, quite a bit is swept up in this definition, and many topics studied by roboticists don’t involve a robot as conventionally understood. However, by grounding the definition to the physical world we limit the scope to abilities which involve our shared physical space.

This first iteration of this course will revolve around the following question: what does it mean to be surprisingly animate? This phrase originally comes from a quip between roboticists [1] but suggests a number of subsidiary questions:

  1. What do we mean by animate?
  2. Can the quality of surprise endure?
  3. How do we create behavior without computation?
  4. How does embodiment change our perceptions of computation?
  5. Can a making machine be as expressive as its artifacts?
[1]The full phrase, “a robot is a surprisingly animate machine!”, is attributed to David Grossman in M. Brady, “Editorial: Preface to the millennium special issue”, Int. J. Robotics Research 18, No. 11, 1051-1055 (November, 1999)

1.2. Learning Objectives

This course will develop student’s abilities to do the following:

  1. collaborate with teams of artists, designers, engineers, and computer scientists to create autonomous technologies which connect with human needs.
  2. use behavior as an artistic medium.
  3. design and construct autonomous physical artifacts combining sensors, actuators, and computation in order to embody behaviors.
  4. program using basic state machines, feedback control, planning, and learning algorithms to create the illusion of life and agency.
  5. analyze information and energy flow from physical form to digital representation and back, exploring systems incorporating both machine and human intent and autonomy.

It also incorporates the general goals of IDeATe to develop hybrid students with integrated knowledge in technology and arts. This stresses the following general skills:

  1. algorithmic thinking
  2. analytic thinking
  3. end-to-end concept execution
  4. communication through writing, drawing, and speaking
  5. attention to detail
  6. performance preparation
  7. professional preparation