Painting Robot Dogs Begin Artist Residency


Three robot dogs from robotics company Boston Dynamics are set to soon begin a four-month art residency at the National Gallery of Victoria Triennial in Melbourne, Australia. The work will be overseen by artist and self-described “techno-optimist” Agnieszka Pilat.

The artists, or “Spot” robot dogs, are named Basia, Vanya and Bunny. They will work in a purpose-built studio that reportedly includes docking stations where they “sleep” and recharge their batteries, as well as little cubes of QR codes are scattered about like toys, telling the robots where they are in the space.

The residency was announced back in April, where the dogs were selected among more than 100 artists and designers. They will reportedly hold sticks of oil paint that they will paint onto an acrylic canvas affixed to the wall.

“The project at the NGV is pushing the boundaries of my art practice,” Pilat told Artnet News at the time. “[Previously] I operated the robots in real time and so there is a lot of engineering to develop them be fully autonomous, with only minimal human supervision.”

According to The Guardian, Pilat has been working with an engineer to create the robots’ “personalities,” utilizing artificial intelligence, software and machine learning.

Pilat explains Basia is “the serious one”, completely focused on her painting; Vanya is the “mother of the group” who will pace around the space observing; and Bunny is a show-off who will, according to her programming, frequently wander over to pose in a window specially designed for selfies.

During the residency, Basia is expected to paint roughly one canvas every three days, creating 36 in total. This will form a kind of “language” through 16 symbols designed by Pilat based on the robots’ physical capabilities.

“It’s almost like kindergarten,” Pilat said. “Basia will make mistakes.”

When asked if they are able to surprise her, Pilat responded, “Not often. But sometimes they do something we didn’t expect and you get goosebumps. Of course, it’s all programming—but it’s the ghost in the machine.”

Pilat believes that her work will help people better understand the future of robotics and AI, as well as “understand the fear.”

“It is the [Boston Dynamics] engineers that want me to do this, not the marketing people or the CEOs,” she said. “I guess I do put a softer edge on the robots. But on the other hand, I’m a bit of a problem for them too because they don’t really need me. I come in and do silly stuff with the robots.”

She added: “I will tell you a secret. It’s much easier for me to sell work that I paint myself, with my human hands, to collectors. There is a resistance to machine-made work. But I think this work is much more important than my own.”

The NGV show will reportedly Pilat’s biggest show, but it is also the first time she is leaving her robots to their own devices.

“I will miss them,” she said “They are celebrities—when I come with the robots, it is an exciting thing. If it’s just poor little me, it is like I don’t even exist. Nobody wants to take pictures with me on the street.”

Previously, Pilat and her robotic dogs from Boston Dynamic created and sold a painting for $40,000 at a charity benefit for Ukrainian refugees. 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.” 

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.

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.

In September 2021, Boston Dynamics unveiled Spot Release 3.0, upgrading their previous model feature, including autowalk, data collection, enterprise integrations, payloads and arm manipulation.

In November 2021, 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.


Tagged categories: Artists; Asia Pacific; Design; Designers; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Latin America; North America; Paint; Paint application; PaintSquare Connect; Robotics; Technology; Tools; Z-Continents

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