Assistant Professor of Art, University of Massachusetts, Lowell
The Artbotics freshman level college course explores robotics through the lens of art. It offers an introduction to sculpture and computer science. It introduces embedded computing, covers basic electronics, and explores some mechanical engineering. Artbotics projects are tangible, interactive, sculptures. Collaboratively taught by artists and computer scientists, it was designed at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, in 2006 by Dr. Holly Yanco, artist Hyun Ju Kim, Dr. Fred Martin, and artist Adam Norton for a multi-disciplinary audience. Ellen Wetmore replaced Hyun Ju Kim at UML after the latter returned to Korea. Our students are science, art, and humanities students.
Projects built in our course use one or more sensors for input, a programmable embedded control system – like the Cricket or Arduino microcontroller – motors, mechanics, lights and/or sound to move or “animate” the art. We teach art principles from 2D and 3D design because only about half of our students will have had previous art training. We include an overview of new media art, and we combine these concepts to engage the viewer and study user interaction.
This project-based course culminates in a public art exhibition at a participating non-profit gallery in Lowell: Gallery 119. This puts at the forefront the computer science issues of user interaction and user expectations. The initial hook of Artbotics – one thing that summoned funding from the NSF – was that doing these public art displays introduces computing to the general public.
Our assignments include an art and robotics manifesto. We use it to learn what preconceived notions of art and robotics exist among the students. Following this, the students make a two-dimensional design integrating light, a sensor, and code. With this project they learn to solder, write some basic code, and begin thinking about interactivity questions.
Delving deeper into code, the next project is a computer code generated drawing, executed by a “bot car” consisting of 2 wheels on a chassis, a pen, and a programmed micro-controller. The students learn code for controlling the direction and speed of the motors, while the pen makes marks on a roll of paper to show them where the bot car has traveled, and what their design looks like. As they see their initial results, students modify their code to change the paper drawing.
Non-computer scientists developed the code we use, Cricket Logo, for easy learning. The commands are whole language words and it minimizes use of typical programming grammatical customs like indents, brackets, and semicolons. The code looks like this example below, which describes a looping behavior moving two motors back and forth for a few seconds each.
ab, setpower 4 thatway onfor 10
ab, onfor 10
Additionally, we carry out a basic mechanics lab demonstrating how to turn rotary into linear motion, and how to use levers and linkages. This is useful for making flowers bloom, opening doors, hammering piano wire, and clapping hands. In the next step, students must build a small proof of concept for the final. Students use Legos or K’Nex to test mechanics. The final interactive sculpture is the first public presentation and defense of an art project, which in itself is a learning challenge, partly because art evaluation can be so intensely subjective. Student projects range from animated sculpture to futuristic musical instruments, and meditations on perception, plants, animals, and college life.
Yes, we do teach computer science, but Artbotics also teaches sculpture on the NSF’s dime. It is through art that the students discover the joy of all of these other areas of science. Students learn science through this integrated curriculum in the pursuit of personal expressive projects. And they learn that research in art and research in science is not all that far apart.
– H. J. Kim, D. Coluntino, F. G. Martin, L. Silka, and H. A. Yanco. Artbotics:
Community-based collaborative art and technology education. To appear in Proceedings of SIGGRAPH 2007, The 34th International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics
and Interactive Techniques, San Diego, CA, August 2007.
– Martin, F., Kim, H.J., Silka, L., Yanco, H. and Coluntino, D. Artbotics: Challenges and Opportunities for Multi-Disciplinary, Community-Based Learning in Computer Science, Robotics, and Art. Proc. of the 2007 Workshop on Research in Robots for Education at the Robotics Science and Systems Conference, Atlanta, GA, July 2007.
– L. Silka, H. J. Kim, F. Martin, H. Yanco, J. Beck, D. Testa, and D. Coluntino. Artbotics:
The challenge of new partnerships. Presented at the 8th Annual Conference of the Committee on Industrial Theory and Assessment (CITA), Lowell, MA, 2007.
– H. A. Yanco, H. J. Kim, F. G. Martin, and L. Silka. Artbotics: Combining art and robotics to broaden participation in computing. In Proceedings of the AAAI Spring Symposium on Robots and Robot Venues: Resources for AI Education, Stanford, CA, March 2007.
Ellen Wetmore was born in 1972 in Madison, Wisconsin. She received an M.F.A. from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University, and a B.F.A. from the University of Michigan. Since her emergence in 2004 with her first Boston Sculptors show, she has blended the influences of Surrealist and Feminist art with her own unique iconography. Her work explores the corporeality of the female body and its surreal transformations through sculpture, video, photography, and large digital wall drawings. For Wetmore, art functions in an aesthetic as well as a revelatory capacity.