Skediomata: Guinea Pig and Performer


Session Title:

  • Robotics

Presentation Title:

  • Skediomata: Guinea Pig and Performer



  • Skediomata, the robotic entity dedicated to the study of drawing was born in research as a guinea pig. Perhaps not surprisingly, it and its siblings have been found to be gifted leading performers when participating in art installations. The original Skediomata is being developed in the context of the Aikon-II research project, a multidisciplinary investigation into sketching from life.

    The Aikon-II main research objective is to gain a better understanding of the emergence of style in observational sketches. The methodology deployed to shed light on this complex activity consist of developing a computational model of the various processes at play during the sketching cycle. To better understand the drawing activity it is important to simulate, even if somewhat imperfectly, all the known processes active during the sketching cycle. These include — perceptual, motor, mnemonic, cognitive — activities and their interactions including control mechanisms with a focus on those mechanisms relying on feedback data.

    At the start of our Aikon-II project, we had not planned to have a physical embodiment as a robotic entity. But after we experimented with some new hardware and software frameworks, with a view to produce an artistic installation, we realized that it was possible, financially and technically, and further beneficial, in the perspective of simulation, to have a robotic agent version of Aikon-II. By designing specifically the robot to fulfill AIkon’s function and using open source libraries, we were able to significantly cut down development and hardware costs.

    Interestingly, when designing a robot that interacts with physical reality, the issues encountered are of a very different nature than if the system is solely computational. It is one of the reasons that lead actors from the artificial intelligence community such as Rodney Brooks at the MIT  do consider that disembodied artificial intelligence is essentially flawed. Looking at drawing as a complex sensorimotor activity brings new insights into the processes we are investigating and into ways to model these. Furthermore, the type of software architecture that supports communications by distributed concurrently running processes as used in contemporary robotics is well adapted to the simulation of an activity recognized has being the result of the interaction and cooperation of multiple processes such as sketching.

    Apart from being an essential and influential “guinea pig” that furthers our research, due to the fascination that robots exerts on the public, Skediomata has proven to also be an excellent ambassador to promote Aikon-II’s work. Furthermore due to its low cost and the type of software architecture developed, groups of Skediomatas feasibly collaborate as performers in art installations.

    In this paper after a brief historical introduction of drawing machines and laying out possible avenues to explain the performative qualities of Skediomata, we present a comprehensive description of the Skediomata platform. We then describe two recent artistic installations presented in 2010 and hint at the future.