Sunday, April 12, 2009

NYU Student Creates Social Art Experiment Featuring Cute Robot

Gizmodo, the Gadget Blog, reported yesterday on an art experiment conducted by an NYU student involving an adorable little cardboard-covered, smiley-faced robot. Starting in the Northeast Corner of Washington Square Park, the "tweenbot" has its intended destination—the Southwest corner of the park—displayed on a flag. Since it is only able to move forward in a straight line—it cannot move sideways, backwards or turn around—the robot is dependent on the kindness of strangers to help it around obstacles and direct it so that it may reach its goal.

The project explores social interactions and connections as well as human relationships to public spaces and things encountered within them. On her website, Kacie Kinzer—The Tisch School of the Arts student who created the art experiment—explains her concept and motivation: "In New York, we are very occupied with getting from one place to another. I wondered: could a human-like object traverse sidewalks and streets along with us, and in so doing, create a narrative about our relationship to space and our willingness to interact with what we find in it? More importantly, how could our actions be seen within a larger context of human connection that emerges from the complexity of the city itself? To answer these questions, I built robots."

The robot was able to complete its journey in 42 minutes, thanks to a total of 29 pedestrians who intervened to help the bot along the way—when it became stuck in a crevice or pothole or trapped against a curb—and aim it in the right direction.

As for Kinzer's reactions to the results of her experiment: "The Tweenbot’s unexpected presence in the city created an unfolding narrative that spoke not simply to the vastness of city space and to the journey of a human-assisted robot, but also to the power of a simple technological object to create a complex network powered by human intelligence and asynchronous interactions. But of more interest to me was the fact that this ad-hoc crowdsourcing was driven primarily by human empathy for an anthropomorphized object... a creature that mirrors human characteristics of vulnerability, of being lost.. As each encounter with a helpful pedestrian takes the robot one step closer to attaining it's destination, the significance of our random discoveries and individual actions accumulates into a story about a vast space made small by an even smaller robot."

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