Anna Dumitriu is an artist whose work blurs the boundaries between art and science with a strong interest in ethical issues raised by emerging technologies and their impact on society. As well as developing many installations and performances around these themes, she also has a strong curating practice which is also documented here. For her Bioart and Bacteria work see www.normalflora.co.uk and for The Institute of Unnnecessary Research see www.unnecessaryresearch.org. Click the links at the top of this section for information on key projects. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Artists Anna Dumitriu and Alex May are collaborating with Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn and Dr Michael L Walters from the Adaptive Systems Research Group to investigate their into social robotics and to ask the questions, do we want and need robot companions? And, if so, what kind of robot companions do we, as a society, want?
Uses for robot companions can vary, forms currently in development worldwide include robot carers for older people, robot nannies to watch over children, sexual companions and home defence robots. Bear in mind that the word ‘robot’ derives from the Slavic word ‘robota’ meaning forced labour.
Dumitriu and May’s work focusses on raising public debate around the ethical issues in contemporary robotics and led to the development of a serious of provocative heads for humanoid robots. Research shows that often people find humanoid robots appealing as companions and that the ‘head’ though technically irrelevant (sensors can be placed anywhere on a robot) acts as a focal point for users to communicate with their robot companions.
The interactive robot head is the ultimate in personal robotics. It can take on the appearance of any user to provide a potentially comforting sense of recognition and familiarity, as can aid users in every aspect of their lives, even while they are sleeping [reminiscent of witches “familiars” from folklore].
The “Familiar” head uses a Microsoft Kinect to take features from visitors faces and combining them with features from their friends and family’s faces based on their proximity to the robot. It looks most like the person that it sees most in order to promote bonding. As you approach, it turns to you and begins to change. The robot tells you “I like your face” or “I love you”. Of course this can also lead to a feeling of discomfort known in robotics as “the uncanny valley” (Mori, 1970), where users feel a sense of repulsion as robots become very humanlike (in this case very like themselves and their companions) but stopping short of being wholly human. The depth camera in the Kinect can be used to measure this effect in operation by recording how visitors approach the robot.
The head is shown (below) on the “CHARLY” robot body, the latest humanoid robot built by the Adaptive Systems Research Group at The University of Hertfordshire as part of the LIREC project.
LIREC (LIving with Robots and intEractive Companions) is a European funded (FP7) research project exploring how we can live with digital and interactive companions. The project explores how to design digital and interactive companions who can develop and read emotions. It brings together the world of ethology, social science, design & computer science to design future real world applications today. LIREC is a collaboration between six universities, two research institutes and two companies spread across 7 European countries.
The piece was originally commissioned by The Science Gallery in Dublin as part of their 2011 “Human + the future of the species” exhibition, was exhibited at Kinetica Art Fair, “Robotville” at the Science Museum in London, “Robots and Avatars - UK Selection" at the 12 Star Gallery in Europe House (curated by body>data>space) in 2012 and as part of the "Intuition and Ingenuity" Turing Centenary touring exhibition. The current research is kindly funded by The Arts Council England.
A new robot was developed via funding frm by Arts Council England and University of Hertfordshire. Theis robot was previewed at the London Design Festival Digital Weekend at the V & A Museum in London 22nd - 23rd September 2012 to 19000 visitors (see photos here) and video below which features an interview with Anna Dumtriu and Alex May.