Sci-Fi – The word robot was coined almost one century ago in Prague when extreme fascist and communist ideals were taking shape. In the “R.U.R.” play, writer Karl Čapek imagined a dystopian factory populated by submissive androids called Robota – which means hard work in Czech. Čapek feared that a new world order could have turned humans into sentient machines ready to do to anything they had been told to. 100 years later, robots have become part of our daily life, they allowed us to explore outer space as well as our internal organs to save lives or discover new planets. They also inspired artists and helped us to sweep floors or travel the world.
If they are to be trusted, how can they improve our lives? The exhibition Hello, Robot. Design between Human and Machine at Vitra Design Museum explores the evolution of robotics from Sci-Fi literature to the internet of things, but also drones, cutting edge factory machines and smart cities. Over 200 exhibits are grouped under 14 questions that invite visitors to reflect on their own attitudes to new technology.
Could a Robot do your job? How do you feel about objects having feelings? Would you live in a Robot? “Each question shows how closely linked the opportunities and risks attendant on robotics often are” says curator Amelie Klein to Archipanic.
Hello, Robot is divided in four major areas and an outdoor installation, each one focusing on our relationship with intelligent machines.
#1 THE FIRST ENCOUNTER
When was the first time you met a robot? The first section traces our fascination for androids and bots in popular culture. From Star Wars’ R2D2 to sci-fi literature, Japanese manga heroes and Terminator… But also a Pokemon Go drone that allows players to score more points while sitting lazily on the couch.
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#2 ARE ROBOTS STEALING PEOPLE’S JOBS?
The second section narrates the real debut of robotics in the industry and the world of work. Here intelligent machines are typically perceived as a threat to jobs. The exhibition looks at the current debate on this subject from a number of very different perspectives. On show the MX3D Bridge by Joris Laarman. The Dutch designer designed a pedestrian bridge for Amsterdam that was 3D printed by robots.
An installation by the group RobotLab, features a robot producing manifestos on a production line to question where the boundary lies between work that can be automated and human creativity.
#3 ROBOT AND I
The third section of the exhibition shows how we are gradually coming face to face with the new technology – as a friend and helper in our everyday lives, in our households, in nursing care, as a digital companion, or even in cybersex. How much do you want to rely on smart helpers? Do you want a robot to take care of you? They might sweep the floor like iRobot’s Roomba or even babysit newborn humans like Stephan Bogner’s nurse-bot.
On show also Carlo Ratti Associati Lift-Bit, the first responsive modular sofa that shape-shifts from chaise lounge to armchair according to your needs. The project was developed in collaboration with Vitra and Open Dot.
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#4 WOULD YOU LIVE IN A ROBOT?
The fourth section looks at the increasing blurring of the boundaries between humans and robots – exemplified by our living in responsive buildings or traveling through smart cities, and even having smart sensors implanted in our bodies.
The DriveWave project by MIT Senseable City Lab envisions future smart cities where traffic lights will be replaced by intelligent intersections for controlling urban traffic, seamlessly knitting together flows of cars, pedestrians and bikers. On show also bionic implants and high-tech fashion designs.
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THE ELYTRA FILAMENT PAVILION
Outside the museum, the Elytra Filament Pavilion by researchers of Stuttgart University explores the growing influence of robotics on architecture. The individual modules were defined by an algorithm and then produced with the help of an industrial robot. The pavilion was realised by a team from the University of Stuttgart that included Achim Menges and has already been shown at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London – read more on Archipanic.
All photos: courtesy of Vitra Design Museum. Hello, Robot – Design between Human and Machine is open until the 14th of May. The exhibition will then move to the MAK in Vienna and Design Museum Gent.
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