N7331227, Kunsthallen Brandts Odense (2009)

N7331227 is the serial number of the old industrial robot (Asea IRB 60). The robot had, for many years, been used as an industrial toilet seat grinder. Compared to the standards of modern robot technology, it had become outdated. It did not have the dynamic and flexible joints expected of a modern robot, and the internal computer was only able to navigate a set of fixed points. This became apparent in its aesthetic appearance, as its movements would be rather rigid and squeaking noises were heard every time it moved.

Since its old job of creating identical toilet seats was rather repetitive, we decided to put the old robot into retirement and enable it to have a life of its own as a retired robot. We did this conceptually by programming a set of moods into the system. It would either try to replicate drawings others would draw on paper, or it would try to engage with participants by observing them as they passed through the exhibitions and as they observed the robot as well. When no one was around, it would look for people until somebody came in and caught its attention.

This project was exhibited at Kunsthallen Brandts in Odense over a six-month period. The robot created the impression of being aware of the participant's presence in space. The installation worked quite well, but its conceptual role in the exhibition context did not create many interesting engagements from the participants. It mostly served as a curiosity.

From a technical perspective, reviving an old industrial robot proved to be a challenging task. We had to replace the internal computational logic with modern, embedded microcontrollers and remap every wire from the robot to the new controller. Further, the robot was given abilities that it had never possessed in its former life. Through a virtual 3D simulation engine, it was able to navigate the physical space based on absolute coordinates instead of predefined action points. Also, computer vision was added, which enabled it to detect and track faces as they moved about in the exhibition.

It is now a part of the permanent exhibition at the Danish Technical Museum.

Video: https://vimeo.com/7699705 

Source code: https://github.com/Illutron/ N7331227

Credits: Brian Josefsen, Eva Kanstrup, Jonas Jongejan, Mads Hobye, Nicolas Padfield, Nikolaj Møbius, Schack Lindemann, Thomas Fabian Eder and Thomas Scherrer Tangen. Done as a member of illutron.dk.