Madeline Gannon- Researcher in Residence

The interdisciplinary artist Madeline Gannon recently visited the NCCR Digital Fabrication as part of the NCCR’s "Researcher in Residence" program. During this time at ETH Zurich she further developed her work on the intuitive connections between humans and machines. The result was the robot performance "Other Natures".

The aim of Madeline Gannon’s research is to explore the connections between humans and machines. In a 2016 Wired Magazine interview Madeline was labelled a «Robot Whisperer» as she seeks to train "big, monstrous, industrial machines". Observing the American at work in the ETH Zurich’s Robotic Fabrications Lab (RFL), it becomes clear where the name comes from; Madeline tames industrial robots as though they are circus animals. In her presence such machines, normally used for the production of complex structures and research in the field of robot construction are given a new purpose and character.

For her performance at ETH Zurich, Madeline’s artistic concept was to give the RFL robots some character and new behaviours and to "breathe a bit of life" into the machines and "to give them a short vacation from their work life".

Through the use of dynamic scanning, artificial intelligence control algorithms and communications software, the robots respond to human movements in real time. Hand gestures, body position and head orientation all provide the basic input for their reactions and behaviour. Through this sensing and programming the robots become "aware" of a person in their territory and they learn and modify their behaviour in response to the persons movements. Reactions are both instinctual and remarkable - the robotic arms approach inquisitively, withdraw cautiously, observe from a safe distance, and over time as they learn, they gain confidence and respond with increasing playfulness.

"Other Natures" was performed live in front of a 360º audience within the RFL on May 9th. The performance features body-tracking depth sensors and four standard ABB IRB4600-40/2.55 industrial robot arms suspended upside-down from a 50-tonne Güdel gantry robot system. The performance was part of the Digital Matters - Digital Materiality Symposium and was supported by the NCCR Digital Fabrication.

The NCCR Digital Fabrication – Researcher in Residence Programme allows invited experts to further their own research and contribute to NCR DFAB work at ETH Zurich or with our partner institutions. The residency programme has hosted experts from academia, industry, and the arts with the intention of bringing outside perspective in to the NCCR researchers, and to promote collaborations more broadly with national and international partners.