In just under 20 years from now, Asimov imagined that we would live in the world of iRobot. While we are still in an era where many people only think of robotics as part of a production chain in a factory, or, in the home in the form of a hoover, a one-day free event being held in September invites the public to find out the ways robots could influence our lives in the parks, streets, and city centres of Bristol and Bath.
3 years in the making, the Being There Showcase in Bristol will display the finished projects that have captured the imaginations of creatives and researchers from the Universities of Bath, Oxford, Cambridge, Exeter, and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL).
You can see robot games, dance with ‘robot-lets’, and watch a fabulous robot cabaret featuring three fantastical robot performances hosted by Bill Thompson of BBC Click.
The Being There Showcase is a celebration of the projects, experiences and unique experiments that have come out a culmination of researchers and creatives all thinking about robots and in public spaces.
“It’s for the general public to be curious, learn and experience the ways robots could influence their lives”
TechSPARK spoke to Hilary O’Shaughnessy – producer of the showcase event about robots, humans, and when they come together in the South West. She tells us, “We are looking to attract a robot-curious audience and people who don’t normally think about the future of robots. You don’t need any robot expertise, it’s for the general public to be curious, learn and experience the ways robots could influence their lives.”
By inviting a range of people, from the robot-curious to companies leading the way in robotics, and the general public, the showcase offers a great opportunity to see the serious and fun applications of robots. Hilary says, “We want to allow people to experience the projects that would have been kept behind academic doors.”
There’s bots to see and do
The event on Tuesday 13 September is held at Bristol’s Watershed – which hosts and promotes technologists, creative companies, artists and academics exploring creative technology.
“The South West has an eager and experimental audience for new types of events”
Hilary explains why the city is a great choice for the event, “Bristol is good at experimenting with public space. For instance, asking questions about what public spaces should be and how to use them. I think the South West has an eager and experimental audience for new types of events.”
There will be plenty of exhibits for the public to feast their eyes on and be inspired by, for example, live demonstrations from a NAO robot – who acts on behalf of someone in another part of the world, short lightning talks from key players in the industry, and imagining the numerous applications for robots from warfare to funfair. Hilary explains, “Bringing creatives into the mix allow us to completely reimagine and envisage for the future scenarios where robots can be part of our lives in meaningful ways – and that is crucial.”
An emotional day
Alongside NAO, a humanoid robot named Pepper will be showing off his empathic skills by reading the excitement, surprise and happiness from the attendees on the day. Trained not only to ‘understand’ emotions but also to talk, laugh and dance, 4ft tall Pepper is set to make what is believed to be his first public appearance in Bristol at the showcase.
GWS Robotics’ Creative Director, David Graves – the company that customised Pepper – says: “We look forward to introducing Pepper to the wider public, who will have the chance to talk to him and watch how he responds.”
Dr Bremner, a researcher at BRL is also showcasing a collaboration between BRL, Rusty Squid (robotic artists and designers) and Dr Chris Bevan from the University of Bath called Puppet Presence. This project explores what robotic telepresence research can learn from the art puppetry via a motion capture puppet that enables direct puppeteering of an Aldebaran Nao humanoid robot.
Dr Bremner adds: “Three professional puppeteers animate the puppet by hand, their movements captured, animating the Nao robot which in effect becomes its human substitute.” The project will see whether it’s possible for humans to develop a trustworthy and meaningful representation in public through robotic avatars.
With the aim of the showcase to get the general public thinking about how we will live with robots in public spaces, it’s a one-off opportunity to meet the people behind these diverse projects that span technology, engineering, psychology and security. Hilary says, “There are not that many people thinking about robots in public spaces. Most people just visualise robots in the home and factories. We live our lives together in public space and robots will be part of that too, we need to think about that in advance because they will impact us greatly.”
“Our job was to involve the public from the beginning rather than the end, in interesting ways”
The creators of the projects are always looking to chat with people who are interested or have any ideas how to further develop their ideas. “Our job was to involve the public from the beginning rather than the end, in interesting ways, and working to make it a textured experience. I am most looking forward to seeing the reaction of the public, especially people who think that because they don’t know about robots, they don’t have a voice, but actually by coming along to the showcase they too can experience and get involved in the future of robots.”
Tickets are free, but it is essential to register. If you would like to start a conversation about the projects get in touch via email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can keep up with the announcements and the news by following the Hashtag #beingthere on Twitter.
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