Dancing with robots

Background: This project builds on Choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh’s previous collaboration with Thrishantha Nanayakkara and Kaspar Althoefer, ‘Translocations’, which transferred a robotics-focused response to a Jeyasingh piece into a suite of short films. Choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh explores the emerging possibilities for relationships between human behaviour and intelligent environments – that is to say, the ways in creative and emotional impulses might be instantly extended to and reflected back by the architecture and structures that surround us.

Taking inspiration from interactive architecture such as that developed by Ruairi Glynn, we would like to create a mechanism that would enable the most powerfully empathetic of human interactions – ‘touch’ – to produce complex aesthetic patterns in the space(s) surrounding the participating individuals. As noted by Glynn, ‘even very simple systems can produce extraordinary patterns of behaviour, which are unimaginable regardless of a complete understanding of their individual parts.’ Glynn’s work recognises the potential of these patterns to induce ‘wonder and delight’; continuing that line of thought, Jeyasingh is interested in the means by which they might magnify and enhance the emotions and aesthetics produced in a performance environment. One possibility, by taking Glynn’s use of ‘gates’ and ‘gateway’ light patterns as a grounding concept, could suggest messages of inclusion/exclusion and unity/division to audiences, enacted by the original interaction between two dancers.

Work plan: We plan to develop a prototype haptic interface focusing on the theme of touch. The prototype will involve the long arms of two T-shaped wooden structures mounted on two backdrivable servo motors driven with a low P-gain. The long arm axises will spin slowly so that a dancer can use the negative space of T-structures to move his/her arms. If the dancer’s arms contact the arms of the T-structures, the compliant motors will detect it and change the speed and direction of movement. This will help us to demonstrate some simple concepts of programming the body and the environment.


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