Ars Robotica

Ars Robotica is a research-driven collaboration between ASTRIL and artists at the School of Film, Dance and Theatre at ASU. We work to advance research in robotics, produce thoughtful public performances, and design the future of human/robot relations.

Our efforts are driven by a handful of related questions:

• How can we achieve more natural, fluid, and human movement from a robot?
• How can we enhance the expressive capabilities of a robot?
• What characterizes “human” movement as distinct from “robotic” movement?
• Are those characteristics reducible to numeric values?
• What place do context and relationships have with regard to our ability to read qualities as “natural” or “human”?

Though much of our work is guided by specific technical goals, our research is also animated by more humanistic questions:

• What cultural and experiential issues arise when a human meets a synthetic being?
• Is human trust linked to qualities of movement? Can trust be gained through the reproduction of certain material kinetic behaviors?
• How might a focus on performance—broadly construed to encompass the performing arts as well as the concerns and activities of scientists and engineers—allow us to solve problems in robotics?
• How might such an approach allow us to likewise address social and cultural issues arising from the growing presence of robots in society?
• What are the ethical challenges for a future in which robots are a ubiquitous feature, and how might we design answers to such challenges?

Ars Robotica utilizes the humanoid robot Baxter manufactured by Rethink Robotics as the test platform. Past research in Ars Robotica has involved creating a performance-setting oriented pipeline for investigating answers to the above questions: such as real time motion capture and mimicking of humans using a Microsoft Kinect, analysis of human motion using high precision motion capture setups such as the Optitrack. Currently, our research is focused on using this precise tracking data to create a vocabulary for human motion through defining “primitives”. These primitives can be then used to teach Baxter how to break down human motion, thus simplifying the task of expression, and paving way to autonomous interpretation as opposed to naive mimicry.

Ars Robotica has been a regular performance at ASU’s annual Emerge festival for the last two years, and was also an invited demo at the International Conference on Complex Systems organized by ASU in September 2015. Additionally, Ars Robotica has been selected as one of the six exemplar projects to be showcased at the a2ru 2015: Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities in Virginia, USA.