Exercise: Research Study (in multiple parts)

Everything we create builds on the accomplishments of our predecessors. The more we know of prior work, the more resources and ideas we can bring to bear on our own objectives. The study of related work also provides opportunities to acknowledge, respect, and critique previous efforts. In this exercise you will choose a potential project idea as a topic of study and investigate related work in both art and technology.


  1. Identify the abstract artistic questions raised by a project idea.

  2. Identify key technological questions which could resolve the idea.

  3. Locate related art or design projects.

  4. Locate existing technical research.

  5. Iteratively read related work and synthesize possible solutions.

Part A: Formulating the idea and questions

  1. The first step is identifying a potential project idea of personal interest. Your obligation to this idea will be to research related work and develop solution approaches. So it should be artistically and technically plausible, but does not need to fit within the resource limitations of the course.

    There are many possible sources:

    • You may already have a specific idea in mind.

    • You may be inspired by any existing project we’ve reviewed.

    • You may have a question you’d like to resolve.

  2. Write a one-paragraph synopsis of your project idea. A good model would be a gallery statement; please include a brief description of the physical work and a statement of the overall concept or artistic objectives.

  3. Locate one or more related art or design projects on similar themes.

  4. Locate one or more technical research papers which address the technological aspects.

  5. Deliverables: write a short blog post with your results and be prepared to make brief comments in class.

Part B: Means and Methods

Robotics is primarily a science of means and methods 1. It may inspire an artistic premise, but is more likely to contribute to implementation and execution.

The next stage of this study is identifying technical processes in the field of soft robotics which might support your specific artistic or design idea. This might take a variety of forms:

  1. design methodology for soft materials

  2. soft materials fabrication process

  3. soft sensing technology

  4. soft actuation technology

  5. signal processing and state estimation for high-DOF systems

  6. algorithmic motion planning and control for continuous systems

For the purposes of the class, please focus specifically on the topics we’ve been addressing. E.g. general AI research may be relevant, but falls outside our current purview.

Please locate several papers to read in detail which address your chosen technical question. You will likely have to skim through a number of abstracts to find the few worth studying.

As an early deliverable, please email me a citation for a specific paper you believe would be worth detailed review, and I will endeavour to read it in advance.

Please read your focus papers in detail. You are looking both to learn more about the subject and identify possible specific techniques to adapt or borrow. This is also an opportunity to immerse yourself in the specific discourse of the area, the unspoken assumptions, and the consensus on questions of interest.

You may find in the course of your reading that you wish to revise your project premise. This is perfectly fine, but please pause and write a new carefully revised project statement. In your writeup, please identify the specific insight which led to the revision. Ideally, the technical means and methods of a project specifically inform the artistic premise and are not simply a medium.

Please write a blog post with your revised project statement, a synopsis of research lessons learned, and a specific technical approach you have identified as useful for your idea.


Classifying the study of robotics as means and methods is not intended to diminish the broader results. The field has certainly contributed toward answering foundational questions in sciences from mathematics to psychology. So the field does include investigation of fundamental truths, but historically it is an engineering discipline and on the whole, the bulk of published results appear to answer questions regarding how to construct systems which achieve desired results.