WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT DOPPELGÄNGER…

When we imagine what a robot looks like, the DoppelGänger bots pretty much fit our assumed description — largely metal, clunky casts, with lights and wires too complicated to comprehend strewn across its body. Well, DoppelGänger is this and much more!

DoppelGänger was created by ForReal Team and ProtoDynamics in Israel as an exploration of the dynamic link between virtual and physical identities; the exhibit examines human-robot kinetic interactions and explores the possibilities of robotic armies or military helper bots in the near future — a possibility that is becoming a reality for a robotics company Boston Dynamics, who have successfully created a pack mule called the LS3 or the ‘Big Dog’, as it’s sometimes known.

ForReal Team worked tirelessly over the installation week before the opening night of HUMANS NEED NOT APPLY to create the dynamic trio of DoppelGänger. The robots were shiny new toys in the gallery, a techie’s dream, and they worked a treat — during the HUMANS NEED NOT APPLY launch party, when the exhibition opened to the public for the first time, they drew quite a crowd. How often do you get a chance to have three space-age bots copy you doing the macarena?

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DoppelGänger performed well during the opening week of HUMANS NEED NOT APPLY, but then we started to notice something off about the bots’ behaviour as the weeks progressed. When one bot suddenly shut itself off, we noticed that one of its wires had been pulled out of the main circuit panel. The wire was fixed, and all was dandy — until it happened again. This time, I was there to witness it. No one was interacting with the piece; no one was dabbing, or doing the robot even, when all of a sudden, the robot ripped its own wire out with its arm! It had to be seen to be believed.

Over the next few days, the other two robots followed suit, ripping their wires out and literally popping their cogs. One even disassembled its arm — twice!

It was clear these robots did not want to be displayed. Our technical team were kept busy devising fixes for the self-destructing robots; the artists were consulted, and a Ph.D. of robotics from Trinity College Dublin was brought in to soothe the robots ailments.

The conversations with visitors and tours about the robots during this bumpy stage were interesting and amusing. Visitors were frightened about the prospect of bots actively shutting themselves off when they feel like it, but also charmed by the fact that these robots somehow looked as if they had feelings.

As the show went on, we continued to ignore the robot’s decision to go Error 404: File Not Found and kept bringing them back to life. They knew they had to kick it up a notch to really get our consideration, so next, one bot tried to start a small fire in its circuitry. We did get to it before it truly went alight, but the smoky warning sign did get our attention.

We continued to fix the bots until one of the better-behaved robots, Robot 2, decided to join the pyrotechnics display and also begin to smoke, threatening to go up in flames if we didn’t disengage it right away. As a result of all these death threats, the team decided to grant the bots’ wishes and leave them be. They now stand in the gallery as a sculptural exhibit, accompanied by a video displaying their glory days.

I will leave you with a thought I share with a lot of visitors when chatting about this piece: We worry about the inevitable takeover of the robots and artificial intelligence and the end of world scenarios that may stem from that revolution, but if the DoppelGänger robots are any indication, perhaps we don’t have have to rush to panic just yet —  if they clearly don’t want to stay alive and operative for more than two hours after they have been extensively fixed, maybe the end isn’t nigh after all!

DESIGN AND VIOLENCE: DRONE SHADOWS

In this blog post, our lead mediator for DESIGN AND VIOLENCE, Ryan Coyne, take us through the construction of Drone Shadows exhibits in public spaces around Dublin.IFrame

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), are becoming more and more frequent in conflict zones. For many people around the world, UAVs are a far-flung reality. Drone Shadows, a lifesize replica artwork by the writer, publisher, artist, and technologist James Bridle, is an interesting way in which to bring the subject to the public’s attention and create a conversation around drones.

The drawings have appeared around the world, from Brighton to Washington and, now, Dublin, as part of the exhibition DESIGN AND VIOLENCE. Drones have the potential to create mass casualties, and it is important to feature these unmanned spy machines in an area of the world where they aren’t an everyday sight.

Installing these simplistic looking drawings wasn’t without logistical challenges. Our first hurdle was deciding where to draw out the Drone Shadows, as they needed to able to be viewed from a height. Some proposed sites included Dublin Airport, Grand Canal Theatre and Three Arena. From a brain-stormed list of fifteen sites, we picked three areas: Smithfield Square, Store Street and Meeting House Square.

Next, we pitched the idea and proposed sites to Dublin City Council. Now, you may also be hesitant at the thoughts of letting 20-somethings run around the city and spray paint military drones on their streets; the local authorities understandably were. We let them know that we would use semi-permanent chalk spray paint that would wash off after a few weeks, and they were very understanding and accommodating. That brings us to our next obstacle: obtaining semi-permanent chalk spray paint, not your everyday item that could be bought from the corner shop. After running around and calling to all manner of hardware stores and paint suppliers, we eventually located our much-desired paint in an aerosol can just before we needed to set out to construct our Smithfield Square drone.

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Right, so we had Dublin City Council approval, we had all our equipment, we had our build team… now, we needed to figure out how to create this mammoth unmanned vehicle on the ground. We had a small straight-line stencil and a tarp stencil that was cut out into the shape of the head and tail of the beast, but we needed to connect them all together. This involved a lot of secondary-school maths, including Pythagoras’s theorem — I know, we never thought we’d use that in the real world, but there you go.

You might be thinking there’s one missing factor that may have impeded our swift completion of these drawings; something every Irish person must battle with… the weather! After the completion of the Smithfield Square drone, the weather began to turn. Winter had arrived. Build days were pushed back because of sudden snow and rain. Thankfully, our patience paid off and we were gifted a one-day window of no rain after weeks of bad weather. We set off for Store Street, dealing with delayed taxis, lugging around large equipment by hand and answering queries from inquisitive Gardaí, wondering why we were constructing an outline of a massive drone outside their station.

Finally, the last drone was completed in Meeting House Square as the light was fading and the unanticipated rain started to fall. We finished the drawing and quickly scampered around frantically to fill in rain-washed areas of the drone, while wildly sprinting around and sheltering freshly painted areas with the stencil — all to get the perfect photograph, which you can see below.

You can find out more about Drone Shadows here and at DESIGN AND VIOLENCE