Archive for June, 2011

1986c – “Herbert” the Collection Machine – Brooks, Connell, Ning (American)

Herbert – A Soda Can collecting robot (named after the AI pioneer Herbert Simon).

In mobile robot research we believe the structure of the platform, its capabilities, the choice of sensors, their capabilities, and the choice of processors, both onboard and offboard, greatly constrains the direction of research activity centered on the platform. We examine the design and tradeoffs in a low cost mobile platform we have built while paying careful attention to issues of sensing, manipulation, onboard processing and debuggability of the total system. The robot, named Herbert, is a completely autonomous mobile robot with an onboard parallel processor and special hardware support for the subsumption architecture [Brooks (1986)], an onboard manipulator and a laser range scanner. All processors are simple low speed 8-bit micro-processors. The robot is capable of real time three dimensional vision, while simultaneously carrying out manipulator and navigation tasks.

Photo: Rob Miles (thanks David).

photo-Adolfo Plasencia.

See these documents-
Rodney A. Brooks, Jonathan H. Connell, and Peter Ning, Herbert: A second generation mobile robot, MIT AI Memo 1016 (January 1988). Download pdf from here.
Brooks, R.A., Intelligence without representation, Artificial Intelligence 47 (1991), 139-159 . See pdf here.
Rodney A. Brooks, Elephants Don't Play Chess, Robotics and Autonomous Systems 6 (1990) 3-15 . See pdf here.

Anita Flynn with Herbert.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1976 – “Robbie” the Robot – Tom Clayton (Australian)

Source: Elementary Electronics, Sep-Oct 1976



A little screwdriver twist from his master, Tom Clayton, and a pat on the back from his "half-brother" is practically all that is necessary for Robbie, the robot, to demonstrate his "inborn" programmed talents. A voice-controlled system prompts Robbie into action. NO written requests, please.
This Robot Lives
Mothers, fathers, and children the the world over would enjoy a friend like Robbie the Robot. He is so handy to have about the house. Robbie can help mother by making snacks of toast and percolated coffee. He can amuse the children by answering questions and playing logical games. He can comfort baby by singing a lullaby and rocking the cradle. And with a bit of surgery As the camera ejects the exposed print, the advancing film transport slides. Robbie will be able to help father relax with a game of Nim.
Mr. Tom Clayton, of Elizabeth, West Australia, built Robbie to amuse his children. Mr. Clayton is an electronic servo-systems engineer working on the
design of naval guided missiles. He made the robot in his spare time in about six months using bits and pieces. Robbie's body is an old washing machine tub, his head is a cake tray, and his arms are heating ducts from a car.
Tom has a simple explanation for everything Robbie does. The robot is basically controlled by a computer that Tom built himself and housed in Robbie's body. In one of Robbie's legs is a tape recorder. Wires run through his other leg to his base, where there are electric motors and a car battery.
Robbie is mounted on wheels, and can be operated by car battery. The car battery allows him to move about freely, but because of the risks of corrosion and leakage, Tom usually uses an extension cord to plug Robbie into the AC line.
An electric socket is mounted on Robbie's base. An ordinary toaster can be plugged in and activated by a spoken Robbie serves drinks to his master, Tom Clayton, but he hasn't yet been programmed to share same with Tom.
In fact, the only thing Robbie needs to, survive is electricity—a car battery, or AC house current—either will do.
command. A built-in timer in Robbie switches off the current before the toast is burnt. When a percolator is plugged in and the request made for "coffee, please," the computer alters the time switch to allow the coffee to brew for the correct length of time.
The tape recorder in Robbie's leg is loaded with answers to the questions he is most likely to be asked. A spoken question activates the computer, which then searches for the most appropriate answer on the tape. A request for a lullaby brings forth a pre-recorded song.
When strangers are introduced, Robbie's eyes light up, lights on his body flash, and motors whirr before he tells Tom, "My sensors detect only friendly aliens." He shakes hands with the "aliens" and tells them, "I am pleased to meet you." He adds, "Of course, I use the word pleased loosely. Pleasure is a human feeling with which I am not familiar."
When Robbie is plugged into the family's television set, an automatic noise level control cuts out commercials which are louder than the program. Mr. Clayton has a manual over-ride in case Robbie reacts during a segment of any show which may be louder than normal.
Robbie plays a form of the old Chinese game of Nim in which two players take turns picking up one, two, or three objects from a pile of twenty-one. The player forced to take the last object is the loser.
Robbie plays the game with small sockets in a row around his neck. A probe housed next to the far right socket is moved the desired number of spaces. A light on Robbie's chest indicates the one, two, or three spaces he wants the human challenger to advance the probe on his behalf. Robbie almost always wins, but sometimes, if one plays a perfect game, it's possible to beat him.

Tags: , , , ,

1975-6 – “Blue Wazoo” Cybernetic Sculpture – Jim Pallas (American)

The blue Wazoo senses light and sound and responds with a behavioral repetoire of various LED patterns, movements, inflations, deflations, whirs, clicks and jiggles. It is six feet high and weighs about twentyfive pounds. It was made in 1975-76 and uses TTL logic circuits.

It is currently owned by Allan Stone of the Allan Stone Gallery in Manhattan.


The Blue Wazoo is primarily a welded steel structure covered with several coats of acrylic lacquer. The structure contains plastic shapes, ciruitry, wires, light-emitting diodes, solenoids, a motor, cloth, horsehair, a feather and a bead. The Blue Wazoo senses light and sound and responds with a behavioral repertoire of various LED patterns, movements, inflations, deflations, whirrs, clicks and jiggles. It is six feet high and weighs about 25 pounds.
Ambient light falling on the photocell (in the small velcro-mounted "gun" at the front of the body) increases the clock frequency (average: 2 hertz), of the 16 bit serial-in serial-out shift register. Data for the shift is generated by a microphone (at the front base of the neck). An 8-bit binary counter counts the output of the shift. Four nand gates are made conditional on data from various outputs of the shift and counters. Each nand gate controls an activity of the Blue Wazoo.
Visitors sense that the Blue Wazoo is reacting to something they are doing but they don't know exactly what. This often leads to superstitious behavior on their part. The artist is particularly interested in this cybernetic aspect of the work and feels that the dynamic interaction between viewer and artwork is one of the more exciting potentials in the use of the new technology in art.
The internal workings of a circuit and the resultant activities take on symbolic content as indicated by the individual names given to various parts of the sculpture.
The Blue Wazoo was made by Jim Pallas in 1975-76 and is in the collection of the Allan Stone Gallery, NYC.


See pdf of complete article here-

See Jim's website here for other cybernetic sculptures.


Tags: , , , , , , ,

1968 – “Mini-Computer” – Ken Reinhard (Australian)

Growing up in Australia in the 1960s, "Mini-Computer" by Ken Reinhard was my first encounter with Computers and Art.

Who can tell…
What would you expect to see at on art exhibition featuring on "environ machine" and a "mini-computer"? Something resembling office furniture?
That's what I thought, until I opened my program (or a new exhibition at the Bonython Art Gallery in Sydney. The notes said "the environ machine projects images on a wall, puffs perfume, and makes gay noises." It sounded like something from a laboratory!
I think of art as paintings and sculptures. I wasn't prepared for a gallery full of space-age machines pulling like engines and looking like parts of a James Bond film set. The "environ machine" turned out to be a 12-foot tall box-like object, transparent at top and bottom with tubing and arrows inside it.
The designer, Ken Reinhard, came up to show how it worked. He pulled a lever, pressed a button and presto! Perfume wafted from one side of the box, nude figures bounced across the opposite wall, and sounds like a player piano rose from the bottom.
"Wow! Whatever would you do with this?" I asked.
"It would make a good Christmas present," said Ken. "It conk three months to make. After all, you can have a choice of two perfumes."
I made a mental note of any of my friends who might like a 12ft tall Christmas present.
Ken's mini-skirted blonde wife, Barbara, took me aside and whispered. "There is precious little of our house fit to live in. But we CAN get in the front door and the kitchen now.
"I'm so glad the exhibition is at the gallery and not at home. We haven't been able to do anything at home while we've been building this machine. It has been chaotic!"
Their two children, Malcolm, seven, and Arianne, five, were examining the mini-computer at the end of the room.
lt was about three feet tall, looked like a pin-ball machine and had lights flashing on and off in three different colours. "I like this one," said Malcolm.
"He has had lots of fun discussing it at school," said Barbara. "I'm sure his friends will come to the exhibition to see it."
Meanwhile, Arianne was getting very involved with a large computer at the back of the gallery.
"I thought the computer was a pretty marvellous piece of sculpture?" said Ken.
"I looked at one through a shop window, but I wasn't over-influenced by the real thing."
"This took three months to build. The inside was awful. I would say it was aesthetic, not practical."    (Privately, I agreed with him.) We heard a buzzing sound like a car horn. It was Malcolm and Arianne pulling the handle on a piece of machinery with a blown-up picture of a truck behind it. From its site it looked as it it should have been on the road. and the yellow and black lines at the bottom stop(' out like traffic markings.
"What is it?" I asked.
"Just what it looks like," said Ken. "I like road blocks, bright colours and pieces of machinery. There aren't any hidden symbolic meanings here."
We took a last look at the machine which puffed perfume. "It would look good in your living-room," said Ken.
Well, it might be okay in YOUR living-room– if you can afford $4 a week for French perfume just to feed a machine!
Source: [Australian] Woman's Day, October 14, 1968.

"707A" (Micro-Mini Comp.) 30" X 30" plus – Kinetic – 1970.

1972 Sweeney Reed Gallery Catalogue (pdf).

Tags: , , , , , ,

1972-4 – Laser-Chromason Mk II – J. S. Ostoja-Kotkowski (Polish-Australian)

Not quite an "art robot", but Kotkowski's Laser Chromason Mark II impressed me greatly in 1974 in terms of Electronic art and Laser art. Its design even has a robotic look about it.

The above images sourced from here, and flipped for correct orientation.

Vol 68 No. 1, 2009.

Light Becomes the Medium — Stephen Jones

…. But Ostoja-Kotkowski wanted to paint with light and it was his discovery of lasers that set his course for the following years. In 1967 he received a Churchill Fellowship and travelled to the United States and Europe where he had the opportunity to take in much of the kinetic art of the time and consider new approaches. He tried out the electronic music studio in Utrecht, Holland, and visited Stanford University in California, where he witnessed experiments using lasers. In an interview with Melbourne Herald science writer Frank Campbell, he explained his interest in the laser, remarking that: ‘No matter how beautifully one paints a sunset it will not be as beautiful as the light of the real sunset. But the light of a laser can give the radiance and the brilliance that paints cannot.’

Ostoja-Kotkowski’s first public use of a laser was in his 1968 Sound and Image (with support from scientists at the Weapons Research Establishment Laser Laboratory in Salisbury, South Australia). He beamed the laser patterns onto a large rear-projection screen by directing them through pieces of distorted glass assembled onto rotating discs so that they refracted the beams of the ruby-red helium-neon laser and the brilliant blue-green argon-ion laser as the program’s rhythm or his interpretation of the music suggested.

Ostoja-Kotkowski was awarded an ANU Creative Arts Fellowship in 1971. With the considerable assistance of the staff of the ANU’s Research School of Physical Sciences workshops, in particular Terry McGee, an electronic technician, he developed a new set of sound-to-light devices, the Laser-Chromasons, which consisted in two small helium-neon lasers as well as six lamps of various colours housed in a 60-cm sphere of translucent perspex. In the base of the device, inputs from a microphone, a synthesiser or tape-recorder were divided up with a set of filters and then assigned to circuits that controlled the brightness of the lamps, whose light was reflected from rotating wavy mirrors, or that vibrated mirrors from which the lasers were reflected.[28] Essentially they show fields of colour shifting and dissolving across a translucent screen pierced by the intense striations of shutter-modulated red laser light…..

S. Ostoja-Kotkowski, ‘The medium is not the message’, Hemisphere, vol. 15, no. 12, December 1971, pp. 18–24; and S. Ostoja-Kotkowski, ‘Audio-kinetic art with laser beams and electronic systems’, Leonardo, vol. 8, 1975, pp. 142–4.


Back in 1974 I made some sketches as I wanted to know how it worked and maybe one day build one. (I never did!)

————————– transparency insert below ————-

Realities 1974 catalogue. (Personal collection)

A 2-page handout from Realities Gallery from 1974. (personal collection)

A rare picture showing both Mark I and Mark II Laser-Chromason's.

Source: Electronics Today International, January 1973 .

Related Material:

Catalogue. (Source: Personal collection)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,