Archive for the ‘Cybernetic Animals’ Category

1968-9 – “Homo Cyberneticum” (“Cybernetic Man”) series – Paul Van Hoeydonck (Belgian)

CYB Head and Arm – 1969 Plexiglass, aluminium, and wires.

cybernetic man — birth of a new type of man,
adapted to new duties and interplanetary missions.
we known already at this moment that it will be soon possible to adapt man to new environments by adding or replacing parts of his body with cybernetic elements,
this in order to enable him to move more easily in space.
l'homme cybernetique — naissance d'un type nouveau d'homme, adapté aux tâches et missions nouvelles interplanétaires. a present il semble que bientôt il sera possible d'adapter l'homme a de nouveaux conditionnements, en lui ajoutant des organes mécaniques ou en remplacant des parties de son corps par des elements cybernetiques, ceci afin de lui permettre de se mouvoir plus aisément dans le cosmos.
homo cyberneticum — geboorte van een nieuw mensentype, gevormd voor nieuwe taken en opdrachten in de ruimte.
nu reeds weten we dat weldra de mens zal kunnen worden aangepast voor een volledig nieuwe wereld.
door vervangen van of aanvullen met cybernetische elementen, wordt het lichaam in de mogelijkheid gesteld
zich in de cosmos to ontwikkelen. (p. v. h.)

Paul Van Hoeydonck (born 1925) is a Belgian printmaker and painter. He studied both archeology and art history in Antwerp, Belgium. His first one man exhibition took place in that city in 1952. During the following years van Hoeydonck both lived and worked in Belgium and in the United States. His art is now included in the collections of leading museums in Europe and America.

He also created "Fallen Astronaut", an aluminium statue about 8.5 cm long that is the only piece of art on the Moon.

The Apollo 15 crew had agreed with Van Hoeydonck that no replicas of "Fallen Astronaut" were to be made. After mentioning the statuette during their post-flight press conference, the National Air and Space Museum contacted the crew asking for a replica made for the museum. The crew agreed under the condition that it was to be displayed with good taste and without publicity.

See other Art Robots here.

See Original Cyborg here.

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2001-4 – MEART Rat Neuron Drawing Machine – SymbioticA (Australian/American)

SymbioticA Research Group in collaboration with The Potter Group
SymbioticA Research Group were established in 2000 as one of the core research groups in SymbloticA, the Art & Science Collaborative Research Laboratory, School of Anatomy & Human Biology, University of Western Australia. The Potter Group was established in 1999 in Los Angeles; currently operates in the Laboratory for Neuroengineering at the Georgia Institute of TechnologY, Atlanta.
        rat neurons, multi-electrode array, TCP/IP (Internet), robotic drawing arm, artificial muscles, markers and paper
        Interactive; colour
Collection: Australian Centre for the Moving Image. Courtesy the SymboticA Research Group and The Potter Group
MEART is an installation distributed between two distant locations. Its 'brain' consists of cultured nerve cells that grow and live in a neuroengineering lab at Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta. Its 'body' is a robotic drawing arm here at ACMI that is capable of producing 2D drawings.
For the first 13 days of the 2004 exhibition, the 'brain' and the 'body' will communicate in real time with each other. After this, MEART will draw from its digitally stored 'memories'.
MEART is assembled from: wetware – neurons from an embryonic rat cortex grown over a multi-electrode array; hardware – the robotic drawing arm; and software the interface between the wetware and the hardware. The internet is used to mediate between its components and overcome the physical distance between them. MEART suggests future scenarios where humans will manufacture intuitive and creative 'thinking entities' that have the potential to become intelligent and unpredictable beings. They may be created for anthropomorphic use, but they may not stay the way they were originally intended.
SymbioticA is an art and science collaborative research laboratory based at the School of Anatomy and Human biology at the University of Western Australia, enabling artists to undertake residencies in an environment of cutting-edge scientific research. The SymbioticA Research Group has previously exhibited Fish & Chips in ARS ElectronicA 2001. SymbioticA is also home to numerous residencies & projects including the 'Tissue Culture and Art Project', an ongoing project researching the use of tissue technologies as a medium for artistic expression.
The SymbioticA Research Group includes Guy Ben Ary, Phil Gamblen, Dr Stuart Bunt and Ian Sweetman, in collaboration with Steve M. Potter and Douglas Bakkum from The Potter Group, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta.

All above images from: Reuben Hoggett personal collection.

Source: Popular Science – Oct 2003

See other Pneumatic, Fluidic, and Inflatable robots here.

2006 – “Birds” – Chico MacMurtrie / Amorphic Robot Works (Mexican/American)

Friday, February 10, 2006
Inflatable Body sculptures premiere in Australia
ARW will workshop and premiere 16 new Inflatable Body sculptures in Adelaide Australia, March 3 – April 8, 2006, in a series presented by the Experimental Art Foundation. These new Bird sculptures represent a continuation of Amorphic Robot Works' research into materials and improved sculptural control.  posted by ARW at 7:40 PM

22 February — 8 APRIL 2006
Robotic Arts, Inflatable Aestheticism is a project comprising exhibition, workshop, and presentations by Chico MacMurtrie, one of the world's leading artists using robotic technologies.
Robotic Arts, Inflatable Aestheticism is an innovative development project which implements evolving technologies for the new generation of robotic sculpture.

Chico MacMurtrie – born in New Mexico and now residing in New York – is the Artistic Director of Amorphic Robot Works. Formed in 1992, Amorphic Robot Works is a New York-based group of artists, engineers and technicians working together to create robotic performances and installations. Chico MacMurtrie describes his vision: "The work is an ongoing endeavor to uncover the primacy of movement and sound. Each machine is inspired or influenced, both, by modern society, and what I physically experience and sense. The whole of this input informs my ideas and work." The Amorphic Society includes more than 100 interactive and computer-controlled human and abstract machines ranging in size from 30 centimetres high to 10 metres long.

Inflatable Bodies
A New Generation of Robotic Sculpture from Amorphic Robot Works
Featherweight and inflatable, the giant 'performing' installation from Amorphic Robot Works is a new kind of robotic sculpture – one that responds to your every move. With its four, ceiling-high telescoping totem poles and 10-metre long artery system, the creator Chico MacMurtrie and his ground-breaking group of artists and engineers have created an anthropomorphic and highly interactive installation. Employing pioneering robotic and construction techniques, the 'inflatable body' sculpture explores the parallels that exist between humans and machines, and MacMurtrie's fascination with a machine's ability to depict the most primal aspects of the human condition.

3-19 March: 10-5 Daily; 20 March-8 April: 11-5 Tues-Fri; 2-5 Sat; Admission Free

The Creation of Robotic Arts
Workshop Leader: Chico MacMurtrie

The Robotic Arts Workshop will serve as a practical and theoretical platform for the creation of new generations of robotic sculpture and installation, developed by Chico MacMurtrie and Amorphic Robot Works. The event will urge the creation of robotic arts by Australian artists, as the Workshop provides a hands-on exploration of robotic technologies. Drawn from national registration, artists and robot makers will take part in the workshop and assist Chico MacMurtrie in the building of the robotic structures for the exhibition. ChicoMacMurtrie and two other crew members from Amorphic Robot Works are conducting the Robotic Arts Workshop in relation to their upcoming exhibition at the Experimental Art Foundation entitled Inflatable Bodies : A New Generation of Robotic Sculpture from Amorphic Robot Works as part of the Adelaide Bank Festival of Arts 2006. (The exhibition will take place in the period March 2 – April 8, 2006)

ARW will arrive with new work created specifically for the installation, and will be equipped with the tools to create new site specific inflatable robotic elements from scratch.

The Workshop will allow participants to get involved in all of the aspects of completing this complex installation, including: sewing new inflatables, gluing new inflatables, installing feedback sensors, programming max, and other midi software, hooking up pneumatic systems, wiring, modeling components on the computer, using rhino, lamina design and solid works, welding aluminum parts.

Workshop Dates: February 24 – March 7, 2006
Venue: Experimental Art Foundation

Australian Artists of all types and technicians interested in art can come together each bringing their talent and hopefully walking away with new incite and skill to contribute to there own work. After the installation opens on Thursday 2 March, the Workshop will continue to introduce new elements to the installation each day.

Construction of the Birds in Adelaide 2006.

The author, Reuben Hoggett with Chico MacMurtrie in the workshop where the "Birds" were being constructed 4 Mar 2006.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Inflatable Body Birds installation in Spain
ARW will premiere 5 new Inflatable Body pieces as part of MARTE Málaga Arte y Tecnología festival (translation), February 14-19 2006, sponsored by the government of Andalucia, an autonomous region of Spain. The Inflatable Body sculptures are a new generation of permanent work from ARW that will completely eliminate the limiting factors of weight and size of previous work to allow for a broader exhibition base. Humanoid forms will arise from high-tensile inflatable fabric skeletons, formless until air inflates the bones. Servo-controlled air bladders will run all of the inflatable muscle groups, which will animate these bones. The possibilities for range and kind of movement are as broad as that for muscle and bone, but with little of the mass. -posted by ARW

See other Pneumatic, Fluidic, and Inflatable robots here.

1950c – NERISSA Artificial Nerve – W. Grey Walter (British)

NERISSA.- A Nerve Excitation, Inhibition and Synaptic Analogue.
This demonstrates particularly the relationship between the various parameters of nervous action such as finite propagation
rate, excitation threshold, all-or-none conduction, strength-duration curves of excitability, refractory periods, Wedensky synaptic facilitation and inhibition, inhibitory escape and rebound, transmission of information by pulse interval modulation, and anomalies of " inhibition of inhibition " and " inhibition of inhibition of inhibition " during rhythmic as opposed to sustained stimulation.
Source: Machines as Models by W. Grey Walter. Summary of a paper presented at a symposium held by UFAW (The Universities Federation of Animal Welfare) at Birbeck College, London, on 8th May, 1957.
See full Nerve Cell description in pdf here.
Source: The Living Brain, W. Grey Walter.
See general article covering early nerve cells, including NERISSA. in pdf here .
Source: Electronics World, February, 1962.

Nov 28 [Vivian Walter to Edmund C. Berkeley]
“…..He [Grey] will be most interested to hear of your recent work on the Tortoises, and he is xxxx? for Mr. Warren (of the BNI) to see the transistorised tortoise which Mr. Ruchlis is working on, & I believe sending over here.
If you are interested in “Cora” [sic] ‘Neurisa’ the nerve which Grey had invented & used for lecturing he can let you have any information you require. …..”
RH Notes: 
  1. Interesting cross out of “Cora” and replaced by “Neurisa” the nerve. Holland mentions “an electric model of nerve” quoting Walter – 1953 pp 284-286. See also Hayward p631 regarding the naming of models and gender. Young’s book on Cybernetics also mentions NERISSA (Nerve Excitation, Inhibition, and Synaptic Analogue.)  – note different spelling.

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W. Grey Walter’s Tortoises – Self-recognition and Narcissism

Self-recognition and the Mirror Dance

[Image source: An Imitation of Life,  Scientific American, May 1950, p42-45.]

7 . Self-recognition. The machines are fitted with a small flash-lamp bulb in the head which is turned off automatically whenever the photo-cell receives an adequate light signal. When a mirror or white surface is encountered the reflected light from the head-lamp is sufficient to operate the circuit controlling the robot's response to light, so that the machine makes for its own reflection; but as it does so, the light is extinguished, which means that the stimulus is cut off — but removal of the stimulus restores the light, which is again seen as a stimulus, and so on. The creature therefore lingers before a mirror, flickering, twittering, and jigging like a clumsy Narcissus. The behaviour of a creature thus engaged with its own reflection is quite specific, and on a purely empirical basis, if it were observed in an animal, might be accepted as evidence of some degree of self-awareness. In this way the machine is superior to many quite 'high' animals who usually treat their reflection as if it were another animal, if they accept it at all.

Source: p115, W. Grey Walter, The Living Brain, 1953 -see chapter 5 – Totems, Toys, and Tools

What can be seen or determined in the photo of Elsie below?  

1. tracer candle visibility;

2. low batteries (because it enters the hutch which is strategically placed to the right of the mirror).

Figure 7. Elsie performs in front of a mirror, but is probably responding to the candlelight rather than to her pilot light. [RH 2010 -Most earlier comments by others are of this rather un-clear image of the so-called 'mirror dance'.]

Prior to the release of the clearer Life image of Elsie performing the 'mirror dance' (see pic below) Holland in "Legacy of Grey Walter" describes it as follows:

Recognition of self
A pilot light is included in the scanning circuit in such a way that the headlamp is extinguished whenever another source of light is encountered. If, however, this other source happens to be a reflection of the headlamp itself in a mirror, the light is extinguished as soon as it is perceived and being no longer perceived, the light is again illuminated, and so forth. This situation sets up a feedback circuit of which the environment is a part, and in consequence the creature performs a characteristic dance which, since it appears always and only in this situation, may be regarded formally as being diagnostic of self-recognition. This suggests the hypothesis that recognition of self may depend upon perception of one’s effect upon the environment.

The below from Discussions on Child Development,  1971, see Book II 1954-56 p35-6.


With Fig. 6 we come to some of the refinements which emerged only some time after these creatures had been made. This mode of behaviour and the next one were, quite frankly, surprising to us though, of course, we ought to have been able to predict them. Fig. 6 illustrates the situation when a creature of this type is confronted by its reflection in a mirror. It has on its nose a small pilot light, put in originally to tell us what was happening inside; it is so arranged
that it is turned off when the creature sees another light; that is, it tells us when the photo-tropistic mechanism is in operation.
In this case, the light which the creature was allowed to see was its own pilot light in the mirror. In this situation, the act of 'seeing' it makes it automatically extinguish the light which it sees. The apparent stimulus light having been extinguished, it turns it on again, then off and so on, so that you get a characteristic oscillation. You can see how peculiar and regular it is by the zigzag going up the side of the mirror. This is an absolutely characteristic mode of behaviour, which is seen always and only when the creature is responding to its own reflection. This is an example of the situation I described in the second proposition, where the reflexive circuit includes an environmental operator; in such a situation you get a characteristic mode of behaviour which occurs always and only when the model is reacting to itself.


“The creature therefore lingers before a mirror, flickering, twittering and jigging like a clumsy Narcissus” (Grey Walter, 1963, p. 115). Grey Walter interpreted this famous mirror dance as evidence of self-recognition.

The drawing of the famous `mirror dance’ in `An imitation of life’ [from Scientific American] is nothing like the regular alternation between the tortoise's approach and avoidance as shown in the photograph, being an altogether more irregular and complex trajectory. There may well have been a mirror dance that could have been argued to be a form of self-recognition, but unfortunately this photograph cannot be said to be a record of it. The brightest light visible to the camera, and presumably to the photocell, is the candle on the tortoise’s back and its reflection in the mirror. The trace is far more likely to reflect the alternation of behaviour pattern P (approach to the reflected candlelight) with behaviour pattern O (obstacle avoidance on contact with the mirror). We can be sure that Walter used this image as an example of the mirror dance because it appears in the form of a diagram in the transcript of a talk he gave in 1954 (Walter 1956b); the text matches closely the account given in `Accomplishments of an artefact’. Interestingly, the description of the mirror dance in de Latil’s book also matches this photograph rather than Grey Walter’s original description and Bernarda Bryson Shahn’s sketch.

For most people, with regards to the image above (see figure 7), one could hardly refer to this behaviour as "flickering, twittering and jigging like a clumsy Narcissus". However, you could do so to the above illustration by Bernarda Bryson (partner and later married to the artist Ben Shahn), as illustrated in Scientific American (Walter, W. Grey, "An Imitation of Life," Scientific American, May 1950, p42-45.). The above illustration is actually of Elmer, and not Elsie as is the below photo. This also gives more credence to Grey's use of the word Narcissus, being the son of a Greek god who became obsessed by his own image. [Elmer scans clockwise, the opposite of Elsie and the bump aviodance traverse therefore is from right to left. see here.]

[Narcissus : In Greek mythology, a beautiful youth who fell in love with his own reflection. He was the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Leriope. His mother was told by a seer that he would have a long life, provided he never saw his own reflection. His callous rejection of the nymph Echo or of his lover Ameinias drew upon him the gods' vengeance: he fell in love with his own image in the waters of a spring and wasted away. The narcissus flower sprang up where he died.]

Although Elmer was then long gone, Grey Walter continued to use this more interesting description of self-recognition along with the below image, although it didn't and couldn't match with the sometimes erratic behaviour of the original tortoise, Elmer  and could no longer be reproduced with the newer models.

In my opinion, in the cycloidal trace seen above, the 'bottom' of the cycloid appears flattened and bright spots at the start of the cycloid 'flats' appear. To me, this is indicative of 'bump' avoidance behaviour, not self-recognition.  When I visited the Bristol Robot Labs in 2009 to see the replica tortoises, the comment was passed to me that they were unable to satisfactorily reproduce the self-recognition behaviour as described by Grey Walter.

A relatively recent , clearer image of the so-called 'mirror dance' as released by Life Magazine.

A comment on Time-Lapse Photographs in General:
In interpreting all the time-lapse photographs, there are several aspects to keep in mind.
As already mentioned in pervious posts on the Tortoises, the cycloidal gait makes Elsie traverse to the right as her scanner turns in a counter-clockwise direction. Elmer, on the other hand, scans clockwise and because of the trailing action of the rear-wheels, will veer to the left. I must say, though, that the illustrations suggest that with no light source to track towards, Elmer tends to move in a forward direction and not sideways.
Most of the pictures show Elsie heading towards a light, either a candle or the hutch light, sometime a light out of sight near the camera.
Where you see two identical Elsies, it is actually the photographer’s technique of photographing Elsie at the start of the run, then  Elsie at the end of the run. There are not two separate Tortoises except where they look physically different i.e. Elmer has the ‘scaled’ Bakelite sheeting shell. The single trajectory is also an indicator of only a single Tortoise being traced.

Notice also that the flame of the target candle is placed at the same height as the PEC (the Photo-Electric Cell) in the scanning turret.