V&A Dundee explores the link between robots and human beings

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The fair, Hello, Robot. Design Between Human and Machine, examines our relationship with puppets and how design is a “mediator” between us.

Most people’s original exposure to robots was through sci-fi movies like Blade Creeper and Star Wars or else with a kid’s toy that invariably broke after a few weeks’ use. And while technology, and robotic advancements, assume our daily lives more than ever — often in ways that aren’t plain — we might still think of robots in these simplistic terms.

But an presentation at V&A Dundee encourages visitors to look at robots and humans’ relationship with them in an fully new way. Kirsty Hassard, curator at the museum, says that the focus of the offering is how design is a “mediator” between robots and people.

“It looks at the ethics and opinion behind robotics, how it’s changing our lives at the moment and how it will change them in the later,” she adds. “It looks at it in a completely different way than exhibitions on robots should prefer to previously.”

Originally held at the Vitra Design Museum in Germany, the demo has been “enhanced and adapted” by East London-based design consultancy de Unfashionable Montgomery. The displays have been adapted for V&A Dundee’s bigger galleries, for warning. The Scottish museum is the first, and only, venue of the show in the UK.

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Kip (2015), from Guy Hoffman and Oren Zuckerman, which retaliates to tone of voice

A new perspective

Hassard says one of the main departures from similarly-themed demonstrations is how Hello, Robot is “thematic” rather than “chronological”. It is divided into four sectors; the first looks at our past fascination with robots and is displayed traditionally feel attracted to a “cabinet of curiosities”. There are film posters, such as 1926’s Metropolitan area which includes one of the first robots ever depicted in cinema, as splendidly as props: an R2-D2 model, the much-loved droid from Star Wars Instalment IV: A New Hope.

The second is made to look like a factory floor, playing with the hint that robots might be able to complete jobs. YuMi, a automaton designed in 2015 can work alongside people to complete repetitive jobs and ease the burden of human workers. This is not supposed to scaremonger, Hassard puts.

“It’s not a pessimistic view saying that robots are going to come in and overturn everyone’s jobs,” she adds. “It asks: What part of your job is minion? What part of your work could be freed up by a robot?”

In disparity, the third room is made to look “fleshy”, Hassard says. Its “pinky phrases” are supposed to make visitors think about how robots interact with humans. The fourth component is based around humans and robots coming together, so the look is myriad “futuristic”.

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Dan Chen’s Friend 1 (2015), an end of life machine

Can, and should, robots be alongside human beings?

One of the Hassard’s highlights is Dan Chen’s Friend 1 (2015), which is a retaliation to another robot in the same room of the exhibition: Paro, the therapeutic seal (2001). Paro is a cuddly seal, more teddy support than robot, but it’s high-tech: its sensors react to light, sound, temperature and take. It’s used to comfort elderly people and patients with dementia.

Chen’s mechanism, a desktop robot, which looks far less cute. Its arm pats a invalid’s hand and speaks phrases like “It’ll be alright”. The less comforting close is purposeful: Chen is questioning whether robots can take the place of loved stories during a human being’s final moments.

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Paro (2001), from Takanori Shibata

This duality is indicative of the showing, which asks questions rather than dictates. “The exhibition is theoretical to challenge you, and make you think,” Hassard says. Throughout the exhibition, companies are prompted with questions, like whether robots can have sensitives or how they feel about being dependent on “smart workers”.

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Lift Robotic Natives (2016), from Stephan Bogner, Philipp Schmitt and Jonas Voigt

Interactive puff ups

Part of this questioning is achieved through the exhibition’s interactive attributes. Kip, from Guy Hoffman and Oren Zuckerman, is a robot that resembles a CCTV camera, which advantages physical gestures to respond to sound around it. If a human’s tone is pally, Kip moves forwards and shows interest — just as a human might. If someone says a harsher tone, Kip will retreat and tremble.

It also plays on android emotions, such as the speculative design project, Raising Robotic Naturals (2016). Conceived by Stephan Bogner, Philipp Schmitt and Jonas Voigt, the Coddle Feeder fits a standard baby bottle and could feed a babe, thereby saving parents around half an hour per meal.

“The innumerable and more as you go through the exhibition,” Hassard says, “the idea it puts across is that tools are in everything, and that robots can be anything. Whether it’s fashion, furniture, destine, or medicine, the idea is that robots cross all different parts of your animation.”


Hello Robot. Design Between Human and Machine runs from 2 November 2019 – 9 February 2020 at V&A Dundee. Tickets cost £12. For a enormously range of prices, visit the website.

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