Central Research Question
Is it possible for robotic sculptures to facilitate heuristic ‘Tactile Transference’?
I am a sculptor. I have also been teaching sculpture for over a decade. One of the most challenging thing to do is teach someone how to sculpt something. I can describe a chisel or refer a student to a book on how to carve wood. However, none of these techniques empower me with the ability to transfer the knowledge of touch. Touch knowledge is tacit knowledge in that it cannot be easily codified or transferred. We can attempt to describe a sensation of touch but these verbal and visual representations are highly subjective and difficult to retransmit.
Imagine that you sitting in front of a small desktop robotic arm that is on the table in front of you. You are holding on to a pen at the end of the robotic arm. Imagine that I am your sculpture instructor and I am holding on to another robotic arm at the other end of the table. In between us, there is a third sculpture making robot that has a piece of wood next to it. The robot in between us has an electronic chisel and whenever I move my robotic arm, it controls the sculpture making robot in unison – but it also moves the robot you are holding in your hand in unison. This means that you can ‘feel’ my movements via force feedback and both of us can ‘feel’ the sculpture making robot in-between us as it interacts with the wooden material that I carve. I have also developed a special sonic haptic device that transmits micro-vibrations from the materials being sculpted to our hands.
What this means is that I can literally guide your hand and show you how to sculpt and as I describe the material properties of wood, you can literally feel the sensations of ‘wood’ in the palm of your hand.
My project merges technology with tradition, pedagogy with creative production and research creation with material interaction. I call the project ‘Art-Bot’ and it is a platform and technology that can be used to achieve what I call “haptic transference”.
Material sculpting has evolved from the use of our bare hands to computer numerically controlled (CNC) milling machines and 3D object printers. Automated machines produce a problematic mediated-materiality by distancing a maker’s hands from the material interactions that naturally produce informative tactile haptic feedback. Removing this feedback has formed a disillusioned material ethic affecting contemporary sculptors who want to utilize the machine’s strength, speed and accuracy while simultaneously maintaining tactile material interaction.
Art-Bot is a response to this retrogression of tactual knowledge. It is an interactive robotic artwork that facilitates a hybrid haptic material interaction between artist-hand and sculpting-machine.
Creative Research Methodology
My research addresses a knowledge deficit in object modeling and tactile material interaction in the field of interactive and generative-kinetic robotic art. Using interdisciplinary art production and research methodologies; I am interviewing and observing sculptors at work in traditional settings, using tools such as their hands, hammers, chisels, rasps and files, and in contemporary settings using power tools, 3D printers, laser cutters and CNC machines. I am also comparing a set of functional outcomes between ‘machine-made’ and ‘human-made’ sculptural objects to cross reference with the results of my artist interviews and workshop observations. I have also produced an interactive artwork called ‘Art-Bot’; a new and original inter-disciplinary contribution to the tacit iterative material enactment of sculpture using machines (the central study object of my research). I am observing and interviewing Art-Bot users to determine if the device facilitates a heuristic tacit-sculptural material interaction.
Domains of Knowledge
“Art-Bot” functions as a multidisciplinary ‘boundary object’  and is positioned as a high profile creative-research project aimed at forming new knowledge in multiple domains of: performative, interactive, robotic, kinetic, generative, open and inter-media sculptural production.
Artworks/Literature I Situate Within
My peers are contemporary artists that produce sculptures using interactive-generative or robo-kinetic animation including: Bill Vorn , Edgar B. Sherman , Stelarc, Carlo Cesare Pisaturo , Denis Finnin, Christian Ristow , Sabrina Raaf , Leonel Moura , Benjamin Grosser , Douglas Irving Repetto , Mark Pauline , Pindar Van Arman and Max Chandler . There is a long tradition of artists making ‘tools’ for advancing creative inquiry and cultural production. “Art-Bot” fits within the domain of technological advancements made by artists for creative expressive purposes. From the ancient artist-inventors of classical antiquity to camera-obscura  and camera-lucida ; significant examples illustrate that technological developments, made by artists, have contributed to new innovations in fine-art production.
Contribution Originality & Importance
As cultural production unfolds into a new-world of technological collaboration; “Art-Bot” will contribute to the advancement of contemporary interactive sculpture by producing a research creation artifact and platform for iterative material engagement. During the production of subtractive sculpture, physically natural material intersections, between artist and artifact, form a collaborative material performance. My creative inquiry is therefore, important for this moment in the history of cultural production in that it contributes to the evolution of technologically aided live material enactment. “Art-Bot” advances sculpture production technology but will more importantly have a significant techno-social impact. In fact, it is designed around the social byproduct of facilitating cybernetic relationships between human and machine agents towards techno-symbiotic sculpture making. “Art-Bot” proposes a new art-form that physically merges artist and machine while maintaining a heuristic experience of tactile material interactions. In addition, “Art-Bot” produces a making environment that is relevant to several forms of knowledge production. As such, the associated literature is cross-disciplinary and covers philosophical explorations of tacit knowledge from Polanyi’s “Tacit Dimension”  and “Personal Knowledge”  as well as Sennett’s “The Craftsman”, to literature investigating the influence of technology on performance such as Salter’s “Entangled: technology and the transformation of performance” .
Research Objectives & Expected Outcomes
To observe and record the use of tools and the resulting artifacts in the production sculptural object in order to determine if my new sculptural application for haptic feedback robotics can produce a heuristic tactile material interaction.
Art-Bot features & functions in development:
- Powerful robotic arm installed on the top of the hexagonal case for maximum reach (360°) around the materials being sculpted in the middle of the case (table-top) and for switching use from left to right handed users maintaining maximum dexterity
- Portable controller arm table can be moved around the hexagonal prism glass box to get different working and viewing angles of the sculpture
- G-code compiled control code; in keeping with the current robotics and computer numerically controlled devices industry standards
- Powerful ballistics glass box protecting the sculptor from flying debris, toxic gasses, heat and noise
- Emergency kill switch (stop button) that cuts power to entire system but does terminate the central computer so that all digital information can be recovered
- Automatic stop sensors preventing the power arm on the inside of the case from coming into contact with the case
- Automatic fire suppression system that uses: infrared, carbon gas and temperature sensors in combination with a manual emergency fire suppression switch (button)
- Automatic internal ventilation control that exhausts the case with fresh air when any fumes are off-gassed from the materials being sculpted
- Explosion prevention pressure release gate on the table top surface of the inside of the protective case in the case of volatile materials reactions
- Sound proofing on in the inside of the protective case to prevent auditory hazards from the noisy power arm tools
- ‘Flexibility settings’ for each of the 6 axis joints in the controller arm that will localize and increase sensitivity of motion controls on the power arm
- ‘Speed settings’ for each of the 6 axis joints in the controller arm that will control motion speed on the power arm
- Rotating and tilting cam table top on the inside of the case that will allow for the rotation and bi-directional tilting of the material object being sculpted by the power arm. The cam table will be controlled by an oversized track ball (mouse) that will have speed and continuous motion settings.
- Haptic (force feedback) controls on the controller arm that use high power servos (BMS-35A 7.4V coreless digital servo w/titanium gears and heat-sink case ) and cables to actuate motion while limiting the force of the sculptor’s hands with miniature RC style hydraulic or cable driven mini-disc brakes at each of the six axis points of motion control. This will both give the sculptor an augmented physical interaction with the materials and prevent the controller arm from being forced into physically impossible or dangerous positions. It will also allow for autonomous motion by the controller arm
- Frequency specific vibrotactile sensors (possibly using oscillating pump, solenoid pump or vibration pump) that will mimic the vibrations produced by the various high powered tools on the control arm so that the artist experiences the vibrations of the tools being used
- The entire system will be designed using light weight modular components that will allow for collapsibility, ease of transportation and storage (in a single crate)
- Various motion control hardware including: dial knobs for detailed movements of each axis and force sensitive resistors (touch sensors) on the controller arm for most movement controls
- Air power tool will be controlled by a variable resistor trigger at the end of the control arm by a user driven ‘work pen’
- A foot pedal control system will also be available as optional air tool controllers
- Motorized electronic adjustable table top will allow artists to work from the controller table standing up or sitting down (24V load capacity 2000N lift column, stroke 100mm lifting desk, height adjustable table, lifting tables, linear actuator)
- Various lighting controls will be installed to simulate lighting conditions and study how light is working with the sculptural work in various settings (including a full 256 LED light color pallet)
- The power arm inside of the glass case will hot-swap air tools using a SCHUNK SWS Robotic Tool Changer or an ATI Quick Tool Changer or most likely a high powered “Electro-holding Magnet” system tied into a “Milton Air Coupler” that changes tools using a simple servo attachment (the magnetic connections can also act as electrical connections (white, black and read line) for the servo controlled air tool triggers. Changing tools is done by a pre-routine setup by the control table and triggered by pressing tool option buttons 1-10
- All power tools will be individually protected by their own force and torque sensors to prevent blunt force damage
- Two permanent tools are installed on the end of the arm including a high pressure air blower and high pressure water-jet tool
- A high powered light with Tele-macro lens camera (on the tip of the power arm) is linked to a video monitoring system for close up viewing and run-time audio-video documenting for microscopic movements
- Some example tools could include: air chain saw, air stone rotary saw, a solid metal fist or hammer, air rotary tool, air hammer tool and/or an air sanding tool.
- Groups of tools will be built into tool trays that make up a given toolset and will be specific to wood working, ice working, stone working and Styrofoam working
- Glass case and tool automated cleaning routine for automated maintenance of the Art-Bot
- A simple software user interface controlled by a touch screen that allows for: multilingual support, recording of actions, recording of mini-macros for repetitive movement automation, playback of the ‘event record’, user authentication and past word access, and a scalable API software controller interface that allows new types of controls to be developed for Art-Bot.
- ‘Heads up’ (augmented reality) user controller display interface using two way mirror and projector
- Reproduction mode will allow for movement efficiency recalculations and real time 3D scanning of the object that can determine the ‘accuracy’ of the rebuild and stop if there are major failures in the materials or perform additional actions to make sure Art-Bot produces an accurate re-print
- ‘Rulers’ that create virtual vectors, curves, and other polygon shapes or forms so that the hand can be ‘guided’ to a perfect form.
Art-Bot future studies could include ‘reprints’ can be produced by the Art-Bot and gestures can be recorded and archived. In addition, students of sculpture will be able to utilize the haptic feedback of the Art-Bot controls to ‘learn’ the stored gestural movement of other artists who produced original art works using the Art-Bot. The digitally codified movements of the artists who use these machines from all over the world could even eventually be aggregated and processed via machine learning algorithms to develop ways of teaching machines material artificial intelligence. A tremendous research potential exists in the codification and analysis of artistic movements on various materials such as; movement categorization, material feedback response analysis, human machine interaction design, cybernetic synesthesia, movement ethnography and so much more. Furthermore, remotely controlling the Art-Bot will evoke a telepresence whereby a user can ‘feel’ the materials they are manipulating from a remote location.
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