Painting by Robot Dog Raises $40K for Ukraine


A painting created by Polish-American artist Agnieszka Pilat and robotics company Boston Dynamics’ Spot the robot dog sold for $40,000 last month at a charity benefit for Ukrainian refugees.

The sold-out event, “For Ukraine: A Private Concert,” was hosted by Pilat, Olympic Gold medal figure skater Brian Boitano and “The Phantom of the Opera” star Franc D’Ambrosio on March 18. All funds raised were sent to the Polish Dominican Friars, a charity that is providing shelter, food and medical care to Ukrainian refugees entering Poland.

Pilat has been an artist-in-residence at Waymo (Google AV), Autodesk, USS Hornet Aircraft Carrier and is currently a guest artist-in-residence at Boston Dynamics, working with the company’s robot, Spot.

Together, Pilat and Spot created the painting "Sunrise March" as a gift to help raise funds in an auction at the event. The painting was reportedly produced by Spot’s marching feet, symbolizing “the feet of millions of refugees marching towards Poland in hope of escaping the war.”

Additionally, the painting was done in the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag, representing “not only despair but also the march for hope and freedom.” 

“As a Polish artist, I feel great solidarity with the Ukrainian people, with whom Poland has a shared history of fighting totalitarian Russia,” Pilat said. “It is especially painful to see pictures of old people marching. They have seen it before. I don’t see how they are going to give up.”

In total, the event reportedly raised more than $250,000.

Pilat has been working with Spot for a while, creating different art as well as creating conversation around technophobia, which Pilat hopes will “elevate technology and make it cultured.”

“I humanize Spot all the time,” Pilat said in an interview. When she was in residence at Boston Dynamics for a year, setting up shop at the company’s Waltham, Massachusetts, campus, she had a thought as she worked on the portraits: “Why don’t I use the robot like my own student, to make it work?”

As a result, she reportedly programmed Spot to draw by dragging oil sticks that she attached to its arm. She then gives it directions through an iPad that Spot can follow on canvases that she previously stretched, primed and preprinted. At the time, Spot could only draw straight lines or simple marks.

“It seems like the machine has its own agency but it doesn’t really,” she said. “Spot is an industrial machine, clearly not a toy, but it moves in a way that honors nature.” 

In addition to working with the robot dog, Pilat will reportedly take Spot for walks, go to public events and bring the robot to dinner parties. “I developed a real emotional relation to Spot. I really connected with it,” said Pilat.

About Spot

Spot was first showcased in 2020 at the HITT’s Co|Lab in Falls Church, Virginia. Using 3D measuring and imaging technology from Faro Technologies (Lake Mary, Florida), Spot was instructed to walk up and down stairs and through rough terrain while autonomously capturing images for HITT’s team and end users.

To showcase the patent-pending prototype module, PFFtag, the team incorporated the technology on Spot the robot dog, which was then controlled by Trimble's advanced positioning technology.

Instead of controlling Spot via joysticks operated in person or by telepresence from a remote location, operators leveraged PFF's exclusive smart following technology, that allows humans to lead other robots and machines, providing a larger range of navigation methods—remote control, autonomous and now, following—in dynamic environments.

According to PFF and software firm Trimble, the technology works by enabling external partners to leverage its exclusive algorithms and in order to allow their software to communicate with PFF's software. It is through this process that a human can then control the robot via pairing and improves the robot's ability to sense direction and velocity as it follows the leader.

The companies add that there is no special training required to operate the robot using this technology—no app or tablet—and requires just the push of a button to activate the fused sensor array that pairs to a leader who navigates Spot or another robot or machine in dynamic environments.

The PFFtag can reportedly be integrated on other machines or robots.

“Through its collaboration with Trimble, Piaggio Fast Forward once again demonstrates its pioneering vocation and ceaseless research into new forms of interaction between human beings and robots, where people and their mobility needs are the foundation for our mission,” said Michele Colaninno, founder and chairman of Piaggio Fast Forward, at the time.

“Robots are a growing presence in our lives, both private and professional, helping to make human activities less burdensome and more efficient. When technology and robotics are put at people's service, I believe they can play a significant role in transforming individual mobility and re-defining workplaces and urban environments to make them more sustainable and people-friendly, and so help create a better future.”

As part of the proof-of-concept, Trimble conducted testing using a Spot robot equipped with Trimble laser scanning or Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) sensors and PFFtag technology at one of its customer's sites in Colorado over the course of two months.

“The follow-me technology by PFF provides an intuitive user experience and opens the door to collaborative robots that can augment the human workforce,” added Aviad Almagor, Division Vice President, Trimble's Emerging Technologies. “Like, a 21st century Sancho Panza, robots with PFFtag, may have the future ability to assist construction professionals in their daily workflow, carry heavy equipment, improve efficiency and enhance workers safety.”

In September last year, Boston Dynamics unveiled Spot Release 3.0, upgrading their previous model feature, including autowalk, data collection, enterprise integrations, payloads and arm manipulation.

In November, Trimble announced the release of a fully integrated turnkey solution with Boston Dynamics’ Spot the robot dog. The Trimble X7 3D laser scanner and Trimble Fieldlink software “facilitates autonomous operation on construction sites and takes advantage of the robot's unique capabilities to navigate challenging, dynamic and potentially unsafe environments.”

According to Trimble, the 3D data capture software, jointly developed with Boston Dynamics, provides a continuous feed of information from Spot in the field for documentation of jobsite progress. Utilizing Fieldlink, users can set a predefined path for Spot to follow and scan.

These “data collection missions” can be scheduled to run repeatedly for progress reporting and design validation, reportedly increasing efficiency and creating real-time, as-built data analysis.

Once Spot collects the data with its 3D laser scanner, the composite becomes available on the Trimble tablet controller. Spot and the scanner can also charge onsite at the docking station and provide continuous transfer of data through a Gigabit Ethernet connection.

Spot in Construction

Prior to the showcase at Co|Lab, Spot was used by Hensel Phelps on a $1.2 billion San Francisco International Airport terminal project in 2019. Onsite, Hensel tested HoloBuilder Inc.’s SpotWalk app, which enables Spot to take 360-degree photos and videos once a path where it can walk is determined.

The following year, Hensel Phelps used Spot again for a real-world application on the Denver International Airport's expansion project. For this, Hensel Phelps used Trimble laser scanners to communicate directly with the Boston Dynamics' platform, which stopped the robot to perform the scans, as well as to constantly pair the images together to create one file.

Spot has been marketed to construction and tested as a payload for laser scanning technology for more than a year—and has since become commercially available.

Officials in the industry believe that Spot and other like-robots will be most beneficial to hospitals, universities and airport projects, due to their large amount of mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems in wide-open areas.

In April, smart following technology and subsidiary of the Piaggio Group, Piaggio Fast Forward and Trimble have announced a proof-of-concept collaboration that enabled robots and machines to follow humans and other machines in industrial applications.

“Most robotics companies look at the world as a world of obstacles,” said Greg Lynn, PFF's Chief Executive Officer, at the time. “At PFF, we adopted the opposite approach and this philosophy has fueled our research of how humans and robots physically move through space.

“We design behaviors that understand people and help automate tasks so you don't have to build complicated hardware. Working with Trimble to boost the process of replacing remote-controlled robots traveling on predetermined paths in mapped environments enable yet another step in the ultimate goal of providing safe and intuitive operations of machines in industrial environments.”

Editor's Note: This story was corrected on Friday, April 1, 2022 at 8:33 a.m. to reflect the correct month of the charity benefit.


Tagged categories: Artists; Asia Pacific; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Funding; Latin America; North America; Paint; Program/Project Management; Robotics; Technology; Z-Continents

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