Tag: robots


Its been a funny kind of a year…

TL:DR – We did some stuff. More than usual.

Two of our Whithervanes have been acquired by Folkestone Artworks – Folkestone’s permanent public art collection of 27 works originally commissioned by the Creative Foundation for the Folkestone Triennial that are now on permanent display in public spaces in the town. The chosen sites are The Cube (adult education center) and Rocksalt (restaurant). This collection of permanent works includes work by: Adam Chodzko; A K Dolven; Christian Boltanski; Cornelia Parker; Cristina Iglesias; Diane Dever & Jonathan Wright; Hamish Fulton; Ian Hamilton Finlay; Mark Dion; Mark Wallinger; Michael Sailstorfer; muf Architecture/Art; Nathan Coley; Pablo Bronstein; Pae White; Paloma Varga Weisz; Patrick Tuttofuoco; Richard Wilson; Richard Wentworth; rootoftwo; Ruth Ewan; Sarah Staton; Spencer Finch; Strange Cargo; Tonico Lemos Auad; Tracey Emin; Will Kwan; and Yoko Ono.

The Whithervanes were rebuilt for the long haul in fiberglass and stainless steel. They went back on site in June. Hannah Conroy of Folkestone Artworks took some pictures:



We received a matching award from the 2014 Detroit Knight Arts Challenge to explore how fear is used in contemporary media. The goal is to expand the “Whithervanes” project to create an open-source toolkit and provide workshops to help others create their own sculptures to visualize and humanize additional data and information flows.

Locust Projects in Miami, Florida and FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) in Liverpool, UK are currently fundraising to commission sets of “Whithervanes” for their own cities.

HASTAC is an alliance of humanists, artists, social scientists, scientists and technologists working together to transform the future of learning for the 21st century. Since 2002, HASTAC (“haystack”) has served as a community of connection where 11,500+ members share news, tools, research, insights, and projects to promote engaged learning for a global society. HASTAC 2015 was held May 27-30, 2015 at the Kellogg Center on the campus of Michigan State University. We were keynotes.

We had our RBTS on hand:


TBD Catalog Vol 9 Issue 24. (Book) Near Future Laboratory. ISBN 978-0-9905633-0-3 finally arrived! Megan Mulholland has a write up of the originating workshop in Detroit here.

TBD, A Catalog For Your (Normal Ordinary Everyday) Near Future from svanes on Vimeo.

“This video tells the story of the making of TBD Catalog. The Catalog started out as a modest effort by a workshop in Detroit, USA to discuss what was jokingly referred to as the “State of Things” and to assess the future of products, their design and associated services as society evolved with its exuberance for cultures, businesses and daily rituals in which technologies and sciences played a central, defining role.

To address this, we started by posing provocative questions to ourselves. How might the promise of what at the time was called an “internet of things” play out in the near future? What would the future look like in a world blanketed by advances in protection and surveillance technologies? If Autonomous Vehicle innovations continued its passionate race forward, what would it be to pick up the groceries, take a commercial airline flight, commute to work, have mail and parcels delivered, drop off the dry cleaning, meet friends at a bar across town, go on cross-country family vacations, or take the kids to sports practice or school?

Our design brief was to ask these questions and then represent the answers as design fictional services, evolutions of product categories and new kinds of social, domestic and retail experiences.

The result took the form of a catalog of the near future’s normal ordinary everyday. TBD Catalog is a design fiction that makes implications without making predictions. It sparks conversations about the near future. It serves to design-develop prototypes and shape embryonic concepts in order to discard them, make them better, reconsider what we may take for granted.”

Video Creative Director: Christian Svanes Kolding
Video Producers: Nicolas Nova and Julian Bleecker
Production Manager and Technical Director: Tom Bray
Co-Director of Photography and Camera Operator: Marcus Bleecker
Camera Operators: Zack Jacobsen-Weaver and Meghan Mulholland
Voice Over: Wen-Ting Yang

rootoftwo were one of ten regional design studios nominated by an advisory council and then selected according to a criteria that included material use, functionality, impact and potential international significance of work for the DETROIT MADE exhibition at College of Creative Studies, A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education during the Detroit Design Festival and at DDF Design Village @ DLECTRICITY. We showed our RBTS. The selected studios were: The Smith Shop; Detroit Wallpaper Co.; Cyberoptix Tie Lab; Carhartt; The Floyd Leg; rootoftwo, LLC; Ali Sandifer; Mobel Link; Sundberg Ferar; and Shinola.

DDF Tent

Detroit Made



John’s Re:ToolKit project was also featured.

We formed r+d LAB, LLC as a research-led collaborative entity to remix models of practice including laboratory, workshop, think-tank, garage, studio, and agency that lead to innovative approaches, designs and environments. r+d LAB grows out of a meshing of rootoftwo + daub-lab.

r+d LAB presented Rules of the Road at Liberty Annex, Ann Arbor as part of the Research on the City exhibition series.

Rules Of The Road: Connecting Chicago To Underutilized Freeway Infrastructure Zones

r+d LAB (Karl Daubmann, John Marshall, Cezanne Charles with Patrick Ethen, Ryan Goold, Qetuwrah Reed and Claire Matucheski).

Transportation infrastructure such as waterways, Roman roads, railroads or the federal highways have always informed the design of cities. The National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956 forever changed transportation, economic flows, connectivity and the landscape of the US. The mechanical efficiency required for the success of the freeway is created through separation from everything that might slow it down, but unfortunately the benefits of speed created by separation are constantly at odds with the slower, finer-grained, human concerns of dense urban cores.

Chicago is a unique city to consider regional and local connectivity given the history of commerce and the transportation of goods into, around, and out of the city. Many designers have considered the forces, forms, and implications of the freeway with wholesale utopian visions of buildings and roads merging into mega-infrastructural proposals such as Chambliss’s 1910 “Roadtown” or Jellicoe’s 1961 Motopia. Rather than negate the rich existing conditions of Chicago and its infrastructure, Rules of the Road engages the Federal, parametric, Fordist logic of the freeway with the requirements of a post-Fordist city and proposes urban design strategies that mitigate environmental, social, and formal concerns with an architecture that engages underutilized freeway infrastructure zones.

Rules of the Road

We did some other stuff too. Cezanne completed a Masters degree at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan; John got tenure (see talk below) and promotion at the Stamps School of Art and Design and promotion at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at University of Michigan; and John became the first Program Director of the new Master of Design in Integrative Design at the Stamps School.


When someone approaches the tea house they are visually scanned by by the OMRON Smile Scan.

“The system measures the degree of a person’s smile from a camera-recorded facial image based on its original criteria using facial key point movements. The resulting data is displayed onscreen with a percentage reading from 0% to 100%.”

In THR_33 this percentage controls how much the tea-house “eyes” open – so if they are smiling the “eyes” will allow for a direct line of sight between the visitor and the robots.

When TST_003 (the toaster) “sees” someone with its passive infrared sensor it will initiate its toasting cycle – it stops roaming and both its toasting drawers extend. Also, the inside of the robot illuminates.

When RDO_002 (the radio) “sees” someone with its passive infrared sensor it will play a randomly chosen sound sample from a library of samples of robots from science fiction movies.

When MXR_011 (the mixer) “sees” someone with its proximity sensor it will spin away from them (we figured when it is in regular use it would have to mix in one direction only – so in the tea house it would spin whichever way takes its fancy).


THR_33 featured on Dezeen.

“Dezeen was launched at the end of November 2006 and has grown rapidly to become one of the most popular and influential architecture and design blogs on the internet.”


The ‘Trouble in Paradise/Medi(t)ation of Survival‘ exhibition has opened at the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto. The opening was by invite only. Somehow (???) an invitation managed to fall into a photocopier and copies managed to get attached to crates of beer that were left outside the Museum to be taken freely. Rumor has it that by some strange twist of fate someone had been distributing flyers throughout Kyoto that said free beer would be available at the Museum at exactly the same time as the opening…

Light/Sound/Brain – Koichi Mori

Bee’s – Susana Soares

Hug Machine – Temple Grandin

The Blind Climber/Linus’s Walk – Tomoaki Ishihara + Kodai Nakahara

Space Garden – Shiro Matsui + Yukihiro Morimoto + Akihiko Inoue

Genetic Modification Theater – Critical Art Ensemble

Biomusic: Water/Forest/Life/Sound—A Project Based on Fieldwork in the Lake Biwa Canal, the Garden of Heian Jingu Shrine, and the Kosei-no-Mori Forest – David Dunn

Trans-Acting: Double-Axel Rotating Stage/Walking Afloat—A Topological Experiment on Time Space and Memory Formation Based on Studies of Space Travel, Dementia, Gardens, and Developmental Disorders – Satoru Takahashi + Shiro Matsui

The exhibition catalog is in the form of a ‘workbook’. Several pages are intentionally blank. Additional materials, cameras, copiers and printers are available in the Museum so that visitors to the exhibition can complete their own catalog with the things they find most interesting.


Trouble in Paradise/Medi(t)ation of Survival at MoMAK gets its first visitors later today. We have a few hours left to fiddle with things and give THR_33 a few last tweaks.

RDO_002 is now happily working after we scoured Kyoto for a replacement power supply and had the Museum electrician hack the one we found.

TST_003 is now toasting again after a brief hiatus when the LEDs went on strike.

MXR_011 is designed to behave erratically and is doing just that.

The view the public never gets to see. The black area on TST_003’s platform is what triggers the QTI sensors to make it back up and turn.

Cezanne checking the Smile Scan. It covers quite a wide area and is very responsive. It will find and track up to 2 faces and will open the tea-house “eyes” based on the percentage that those faces are smiling. It scans the passage between THR_33 and Critical Art Ensemble‘s Genetic Modification Theater. This is also the main route between 2 of the Museum’s main gallery spaces.


The robots ready for their big trip.

Packing the robots (very carefully) in the case we got for them. After all that, TSA at Detroit airport partially disassembled our robots, then flung the parts they had taken off inside the shells and badly packed them up again. We didn’t know till we got to Kyoto. They undid a bunch of nuts – so the robots shipped with Arduinos and sensors rattling around inside them. They also undid the toast mechanism. So our first morning at the Museum was spent fixing the robots.

Taisuke Murakami made the system that allows the tea-house “eyes” to be driven by the OMRON Smile Scan. Here he is pictured explaining to us how to connect the system.

“Designed for objective and quantitative evaluation of smiles, “Smile Scan” utilizes Omron’s “OKAO Vision” face sensing technology. The technology relies on facial data gathered from over 1 million people, accumulated through over 10 years of study of the human face. The system measures the degree of a person’s smile from a camera-recorded facial image based on its original criteria using facial key point movements. The resulting data is displayed onscreen with a percentage reading from 0% to 100%.”

In THR_33 this percentage controls how much the tea-house “eyes” open.

Day 2. Unpacking the tea-house crate. The Museum staff were “amused” by the fact that we used 4 different kinds of screws (Phillips, 2 sizes of Torx and Robertson) and put them in from every possible angle (including from underneath). They are more used to unpacking delicate and valuable objets d’art – MoMAK chief curator Shinji Kohmoto (pictured on the right, arms outstretched) said they could enjoy this because it was “wild“.

MoMAK’s excellent team go to work on the tea-house structure…

… done.

We have integrated the Smile Scan with the tea-house and had it working – tomorrow we need to get everything in its final place and get the robot platforms in.


Michael Hohl hit the nail on the head:

“It reminds my of Buckminster Fuller’s ‘dymaxion car’ that could also turn on the spot (though without a tethering cable 😉 )”

All 3 robots are hybrids of vehicles and products: TST_003 = Dualit + Airstream; RDO_002 = Bush TR82 + GM Futurliner and as Michael pointed out, MXR_011 = KitchenAid Mixer + Dymaxion Car. We are playing with futurism as a ‘retro’ phenomenon. The styling and color palette is based on the 1950s RayGun Gothic – or as we like to call it SodaPop Chic!

Other (more subtle) references in the color choice:

MXR_011’s fire engine red is simply the color of our actual KitchenAid mixer.