Performing Robots investigates the intersection of theatre/dance/performance (theory and practice) and robotics. The development of social robots presents challenges to their developers that are not only technical but also involve what might be called the dramaturgy and design of the robot as social agent: how do social robots address their human co-performers and afford interaction with them, what scripts do they follow, how to design and choreograph their appearance and movements? How can the knowledge and expertise from theatre/dance/performance be used to analyze and optimize interaction between humans and robots?
Transmission in Motion initiated the Performing Robots project by hosting a meeting of experts on robotic development at Het Huis on the 13th of October 2017. At this meeting, four researchers presented their projects in the field of social robotics and performance. Elizabeth Jochum from Aalborg University, Ruari Glynn from University College London and Petra Gemeinboeck from University New South Wales involved in creative robotics projects with Rob Saunders from Falmouth University/University of Sydney.
Elizabeth Jochum presented several research projects related to Robots, Culture and Technology. Her practice-based research focus offered ways to look at Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) though narratives and interactions using theatre as a platform to use HRI systems. Her projects present different ways to use performance methods in the lab and empirical studies in staged performances. Through these methods, Jochum seeks to unlock the robot’s potential and explore its ability to be performative. Jochum specifically chooses exhibition spaces as environments for research. She argues that these spaces offer the opportunity to test out HRI with a willing yet not specialized audience. The practical examples she presented showed staged improvisation between a robot, a dancer and a music band, break-dancers interacting with robots in a lab environment and other projects involving different levels of improvisation and coding techniques. The robots in these cases are programmed to react on the registered movement, which in most cases was too complex to follow. This brings up the question whether it should be noted as the robot failing or on the contrary opening new opportunities.
Ruari Glynn’s presentation dove into the animacy aesthetics of performing robots. His projects inspired by puppetry, dance and perceptual psychology consisted of models of interaction based on conversation dynamics. Glynn’s research and artistic creations seemed to be focused on the adaptive quality and possible exchange through the mirroring of gesture between a robot and an environment. “Fearful Symmetry” and “Performative Ecologies” are two of the examples Glynn presented. These light installations seem to create “conversational environments” through their reactions to changes in the environment around them mainly based on movements of the spectators. Gradually an exchange is taking place between movements, light, robots and humans. The complex behaviours produced through empathy in these interactions also inform on movement as a way to design a space.
Petra Gemeinboeck and Rob Saunders presented their project How a robot becomes a body. They use the potential of dance and movement to help them design robots and imagine how they can change. Through embracing the differences between humans and robots, their aim is to create new ways to re-imagine robot agency and the movement which emerges from interactions. An interesting aspect of their research is that it takes into consideration that human behaviour evolves through the interaction with robots. The core methodology of their research through dance is Performative Body Mapping which “exploits the expertise of artists and performers to imagining novel robot morphologies and movements. The proposed approach describes a mapping method between human and robot bodies, which supports the learning of socially meaningful interactions through imitation.” (Gemeinboeck & Saunders 1). Their project involves a broken tetrahedron which is being experimented with through the movement of a dancer alternating between the inside and the outside of the construction. As a movement expert, the dancer possesses a rich vocabulary which can evoke new kinds of interactions. The non-humanoid approach to the design of the robot affords for new ways to perceive the interaction and allows for a newly conceived movement vocabulary based on its specific morphology.
 Gemeinboeck, Petra, and Rob Saunders. “Towards a Performative Body Mapping Approach.”
Nadine Grinberg and Swantje Schaeuble
Participants in the Performing Robots Expert Meeting: Dennis Vermeulen, Roos van Berkel, Emilia Barakova, Pim Hasselaher, Elisabeth Jochum, Ruairi Glynn, Rob Saunders, Petra Gemeinboeck, Rutger Gernandt, Pluck Venema, Robert Linder, Urike Quade, Maaike Bleeker, Nadine Grinberg, Swatnje Schaeuble.