Counter-Productive Robotics: Artists Use UR10 robot to Accomplish the Impossible
What happens when art and robots meet? That question is why Andrea Anner and her husband and business partner, Thibault Brevet, started their collaborative practice – aptly named AATB – last year. Both graduates from the prestigious ECAL Art School in Switzerland – she with an MA in Art Direction: Type Design and he with an MA in Visual Arts – Anner and Brevet’s foray into industrial automation has developed around the idea of “Non-Industrial Robotics.” But what does that mean? How about getting a robot to brush your hair? Or blow bubbles to entertain your child while you make dinner? AATB is a business being formed based on opportunities given, not opportunities sought – and it couldn’t have been done without Universal Robots’ (UR) help.
Anner and Brevet started experimenting with industrial robotic systems three years ago after seeing UR at a conference. They found the robotic arms and industrial automation processes fascinating and decided to start developing kinetic and interactive devices – focusing on human-machine interactions. In pursuing this work, Anner and Brevet found that their more complex projects began to organically expand into full-blown robotics ventures. With no academic background in robotics, they felt like that actually gave them a creative advantage that others in the robotics field might be lacking. For example, most robotics engineers may not think about programming a robot to instruct a group yoga class.
Without that engineering mindset, they allow themselves to try everything – even if it’s not the ‘traditional’ approach – and their work in the artistic and design field has enabled them to use collaborative robots (cobots) not as production tools, but as a way of abstracting the motion of objects in space.
Artists use UR10 robot to accomplish the impossible
The UR10 cobot offers artistic freedom
To continue their exploration and accomplish their goals, as well as those of their clients, Anner and Brevet purchased Universal Robots’ UR10. With the UR10, AATB has the freedom to engage in a variety of projects: create its own designs, many of which are featured in exhibitions throughout Europe; collaborate with other artists and designers on custom manufacturing tools, programming for graphics, and printing techniques; conduct research on robots being used as a creative tool for companies, schools, and art organizations; and to teach workshops at design and art schools. In fact, the studio is currently in Residence at Atelier Luma in Arles, France. For their projects and ventures, AATB relies on the stability, flexibility, and ease-of-use that comes with incorporating the UR10.
Reputation ruined if cobot breaks
“When one of our installations is in a venue where tens of thousands of visitors come to see what we’ve created, it needs to work,” says Brevet. “If something goes wrong, our reputation is ruined. Simple as that. We learned very quickly that we could count on the UR10’s predictability. It’s also portable and pretty much anyone can use it, so taking it from place-to-place and event-to-event is a breeze. With so many factors involved in our projects, cobot functionality is never one of our concerns.”
Teaching workshops at design and art schools has been a major focus for AATB, and using the UR10 “is a fantastic teaching platform,” says Brevet. For these classes, they teach not from a technical standpoint, but from a conceptual one. The objective is to encourage students to think “outside the box” when it comes to incorporating the cobot into their design concepts. Not only are students asked to focus on what the cobot will allow them to do, but they’re also asked to think about robotics in their daily lives – even when it comes to something as basic as teaching it to help you drink Red Bull.
The workshop starts with the UR Academy
In other words, what will the future look like when robots are even more integrated into society? Using open-ended questions such as this, along with access to the UR10, Anner and Brevet are seeing some of the most creative ideas for the UR10’s use come to life.
Notes Anner, “When we begin a workshop, the first thing we do is point our students to the UR Academy for training. It’s so intuitive that after a couple of hours of review, they feel confident enough to begin. People who never thought they could use these machines before are now writing programs themselves within a matter of hours. By the end of the day, they’re working with the robot and sketching out more ideas. By the end of the week, they have an actual working prototype.
Need a cobot companion to hold your umbrella? Workshop on robotics led by AATB at the Art School of Marseille, 2018
Robo-Yoga workshop led by AATB at the Process Festival, 2018. The final Yoga Performance was the result of each attendee being able to interact with the UR10 cobot and teaching it new yoga poses, simply by moving the cobot themselves the way they desired.
Thibault Brevet and Andrea Anner with their UR10.
Flipping the Script
AATB is also using an electronic prototyping platform that makes it easy for artists and designers to use things like sensors, and to interact with computers to communicate. This has completely changed the way artists use these technologies, and for Anner and Brevet, adding the UR10 into the mix just makes for a more interesting approach.
We machine custom parts to build End-Of-Arm-Tooling and all the various peripheral systems supporting the cobot in operation for our projects.
But one thing they didn’t anticipate is how empty the field is. According to Brevet, “We see very few people working on this. It’s an enormous field with endless possibilities, but right now we’re really at the beginning stages of tool adoption in the creative arena.”
“Our work with Universal Robots and the UR10 has, in a way, forced us to really look at what the public thinks when they hear ‘robotics.’ When you’re already immersed in the field, such as a robotic engineer, for example, you don’t really consider pulling your head up to ask how else it can be used. Because we’re not from that world, we’ve been able to see these robots as a basic tool for daily improvement. Who knows, someday you might have a robot you can take with you to carry your umbrella. Using the cobots to complete simple tasks opens up a lot of doors that are not necessarily intended, yet very interesting.”
Self-made = Self-reliant
With an “all options can be explored” philosophy, AATB has also taken the unusual step of becoming its own integrator. The reason for doing this was very simple – as a self-funded business, it simply made more sense economically to be self-reliant across the board. Especially given how unique each project truly is. Anner and Brevet have their own workshop where they can carry out metalworking, welding, precision machining, and electronics prototyping. They even build their own electronic circuit boards. This way, if an opportunity comes up they don’t have to worry if they have the budget to pay an integrator – or if the integrator has the time. They can determine on the spot whether they want to take it on, further supporting their open-ended creativity. Notes Anner, “We believe the only way to do this is to get our hands dirty. It’s just so nice to have UR as part of the mix because we always know that no matter what crazy ideas we come up with, we can control every part of the process, and we’ll always be safe.”
Anner and Brevet envision the studio as a consultancy that encourages companies and organizations of any kind to consider incorporating cobots. With such a huge push throughout the industry on the benefits of cobots, that “sell” is getting easier. No longer are robots a “for engineers only” tool. Artists, designers, and even everyday people with completely different problems to solve are embracing robots in their own, unique fashion. “There are so many ways we can become involved,” says Brevet. “We’re just getting started.”