Two Weeks at Steim
I’m working on a sound installation piece using 6 iRobot “Create” robots– more recognizable to the mass market as “Roombas” but without the vacuum cleaner installed. I brought two of the robots from Chicago with me, and helped Steim acquire one as well, so we had 3 to work with. Even before I had arrived, Byungjun Kwon and I were discussing, via email, what hardware solution would be best for the piece. He suggested the Arduino board, and as soon as I arrived, Jun began tutoring me in Arduino programming. The trick was to get the Arduino to speak the same Roomba code as the robots, and he found a solution online with NewSoftSerial. Once he did that, it was just a question of deciding what the robots ought to be doing. I knew I wanted them to “sing” independently of each other, and I knew I wanted them to respond to their environment, but I was still experimenting to find the right “voice” for them— how can you make beeping robot vacuum cleaners sound like more than just a household appliance? So Jun devised a program that allows me to plug in a list of different short compositions. Whenever the robots bump into something, the sensors trigger each robot to cycle through the list. Now I could experiment with different notes by easily plugging in different compositions.
Experimenting was made especially fun by the presence of “test audiences” — one of the staff brought her young daughter in, and I learned a great deal watching how she interacted with the piece. I also started exploring ideas on how to create sound acoustically with the robots. My plan eventually is to develop an interactive non-electronic environment for the robots to move through. I’m working with a fabricator right now to create an acrylic top for each robot, with which I’ll experiment with adding acoustic enhancements. Once that’s up and running, expect fun images!
Two Weeks at Steim