For the past couple of days, there have been four robots roaming around the Tate Britain museum in London, streaming video to the world as part of a new project. If it’s not cool enough to have robots making their way around a museum in the dark, it gets even cooler, as people from all around the world are controlling their movements from their computers.
The museum held a contest to promote the use of digital technology while exploring the Tate’s notable history. A digital design team, The Workers, developed an idea to install robot curators to the Tate’s knowledge rich halls. In a program called After Dark, The Workers enabled four robots to be fully controlled by curious individuals over the Internet for a select few evenings. What this means is that anyone anywhere with access to the Internet can become a curator.
Built in collaboration with RAL Space, the four nocturnal tour guides each feature an on-board Wi-Fi receiver, an Arduino unit, a Raspberry Pi computer, lights, sonar sensors, a powerful electric motor, and of course, video streaming technology. The units can navigate the grounds autonomously using a sonar sensor and a custom 3D-printed enclosure.
People can control the robots using the on-screen buttons or the arrow keys on their keyboard, enabling the embedded curators to turn, move forward and look up or down. Though, if some controllers get a little too overzealous with their inputs, there is a failsafe built into the design. If a robot gets too close to an object they will not move any closer and they will notify you through the control interface. According to Wired, “The Tate consulted with conservationist and health and safety experts to triple-check that the robots wouldn’t knock over or damage the art—some of which dates back 500 years. The robots use sonic sensors to ping signals out, and measure proximity to other objects. They also come with bumpers, as added protection.”
This installation could be the spark of a new trend and may allow users to experience the wonders of a museum halfway across the globe just by the click of a button. As Wired mentions, the real appeal of it all is the nocturnal element. “The darkness is part of the mystery and excitement, you encounter art works in the shadows, the lights from the robots throw pools of light and you can see details and things look different. It has a twist, it’s mysterious, it’s fun.”
Interested in learning more about the After Dark project? You can find more details on its official website here.