SIGGRAPH done!

It’s been a month since I’ve updated the blog and with good cause. In that time I was desperately trying to finish the project (on decreasing amounts of energy); then Kerry and I traveled to LA to show the robot at SIGGRAPH; and after, Kerry and I took a breather, driving up the Pacific Coast highway, through the Redwood Forests to Portland. I’ll now review the relevant periods in more detail. If you are more interested in a descriptive overview of the robot visit here.

So, to look at the last post you can see that I’m still dealing with power issues on July 11th, and my flight to LA was only 11 days later. That’s not a great place to be. Ideally, in the last few days I would already be done the prototype, have tested it on various people, made adjustments, and just basically be considering the show. Instead Taiya and I were desperately trying to get ADB working in any sense. The robot wasn’t fully assembled until I think the day before I actually left, and it wasn’t operative until midnight of the day I left…that is, it worked at midnight, I was in bed by 3am, and then left at 8am!

Here’s a video of Taiya who did the programming with ADB just as it was assembled fully for the first time. What is noticeable watching this video, is that the machine doesn’t move as dynamically as it should to give a sense of agency, but thankfully it was easy to change a few numbers to increase the speed of response, as well as sensitivities, and so on. The important thing here is that the robot is moving in response to Taiya’s touch. That would have to be good enough. We didn’t get to build in different behaviors for this show, but we have the platform now, and more can be developed for it.

Of course, finishing the night before traveling also meant there was no time to flush out any remaining bugs, or even really test it. Nonetheless, on we went. I slept the entire trip. Here I am after weeks without a good night’s sleep (It was rare that I’d fall asleep before 6am, and I started to feel pretty weird after a while).

We arrived in LA, went to our cruddy hotel, and I spent the next day, the final full day before the show to examine and tweak the robot. One of the changes I made was to remove a little copper pad from each of the slip rings. All you need to know right now is that the pad looked to be a bit too close to another copper trace, and risked causing a short circuit if a bridge were made between the two. It seemed sensible at the time, but I was unaware just how critical a change that would be until a few days later. While working on it at the hotel we found this coincidental sticker attached to a drawer which I was using as a recharge nest for ADB.

Coincidence or Fate??

We arrived at the LA convention center on the 24th, and quickly set up. I always wanted to have an art piece which required nothing more than dropping it off, and ADB is pretty close to that. So we were done in about an hour. I left it recharging. Here it is ready for show. People would be invited to pick it up, play with it, and have a seat on the cushion if they desired.

ADB ready for show

And then on 25th, SIGGRAPH began. And what a start. We turned the machine on, (a 10 minute process) at 11:30, doors opened at noon, and then we gave a half hour presentation at 12:30. It was a lot to do, but it was exciting. It was the same presentation I gave for the CUTC.

At noon people literally ran through the doors to see the exhibits…mostly I think they were interested in the E-tech (emerging technology) exhibition, but they see everything. First day there were huge swarms of people. This photo is actually a relatively tame shot, but it was hard to capture the energy.

small crowd around ADB

After the first day, I decided to tweak the robot a bit to try to make it a bit more responsive to touch. It was working well when I left it at night, but when I returned in the morning it was dead! I spent most of the second day of the exhibition fixing the robot when it should have been showing. This was harrowing! A bunch of fuses were blown, some motors weren’t working, and it was very intensive and embarrassing to replace everything while various organizers looked on. That was the low-point of the whole event. Still I managed to make the repairs, and it worked better than ever. The culprit? I missed removing one of those stupid copper pads which I thought might cause a glitch. It seems pretty clear now that it caused a serious short circuit and blew a bunch of stuff. Gahh!

So the second day was my loss, but the final three days were wonderful. ADB received a lot of attention from visitors and we had a number of excellent conversations. I found out some interesting facts about human touch perception. I was also surprised that a number of people doing molecular simulations saw potential applications for the technology. Some participants warmed to the robot in a special way. Here are some videos:

We were also offered some opportunities. I was asked to give a talk in Toronto, potentially exhibit at a few locations, submit it for the Japan Media Arts Festival, and also asked to write a paper for a journal on computing and entertainment. I had a short talk with Machiko Kusahara and she suggested she might write about the project which is quite exciting since she coined the term Device Art which I think mostly applies to my work. Similarly, Karl Sims came by to see it, and had a discussion with Kerry. Unfortunately, I was not around, but I’m pleased that he was interested as his Evolved Virtual Creatures is a source of inspiration. Finally, some businesses showed interest as well. Seems prudent to not mention names until things play out a bit more. I don’t feel entirely comfortable putting these things out there, but it’s instructive to note the actual repercussions of participating in an event like this. These are some of the reasons I worked so hard over the past few months. Yet while these are the highlight, I don’t want to give the impression that it was all awesome. Some people are not interested, and that’s fine. Much worse though, ADB was skipped during a press tour. I’m still sore about that, as it makes a huge difference as to how many people become aware of it.

I couldn’t be more thankful to Kerry who took on demonstrating the robot to the public. I was generally too wasted, and narrowly thinking about the tech to really engage with the public. But Kerry is a master at this both in general, and doubly so with an exhibit which prompts unusual discussion. She’s practiced in movement, art, and open to talking about anything. She’s adept with handling the robot, and managing the various interests people have. She even became quite knowledgeable about the technology.

Kerry demonstrating ADB

That’s about all I have to say for now. We packed up on the last day, and traveled up the coast. It was a lot of fun, but off topic…though I will mention that we jumped off a small cliff, and were surrounded by the Scorpians on a plane. I will post soon enough about how ADB was technically working at the time of exhibition, and the changes deemed necessary after such in situ test-bedding. Thanks to everyone who made the conference enjoyable.

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