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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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QUANTUMminus showcases a conceptual prototype that challenges the existing perception of robots and space as unemotional lifeless entities. In the #prototypesinpublic exhibition, the living entity is represented as an autonomous flying drone balloon that responds to visitors’ movements. Algorithm driven, the balloon interacts with the visitors revealing its different behavior patterns. By forming an ever-evolving relationship with one another, the balloon and the visitors together create their own temporal morphing space around them.

During Prototypes in Public Exhibition at Tate Britain, one helium-inflated drone balloon was exhibited in an enclosed space where two visitors were invited to interact with it every fifteen minutes. Based on the way how drones fly, the balloon robot’s movements were controlled by four propellers. Distributed evenly on the surface of the sphere, two were vertically placed and the other two were horizontally placed at the central height on the balloon. The drone balloon’s path was determined by an algorithm, which dictated that it moved towards to the closest visitor among the two while taking both visitors’ velocity into calculation when deciding its own velocity. The balloon and the visitors’ movement around the space were tracked and updated in real-time with OptiTrack system, enabling the balloon to follow or to avoid the visitors.

Inspired by the flocking of birds flying, QUANTUMminus aims to create an environment where flying robot agents behave in relation to each other forming a temporal spatial configuration. The research begun by studying Braitenberg Vehicles to understand how robots with simple reactive design can show complex behaviors. Four experiments with a Sphero robot were conducted to explore the interaction between the person and the robot. It was interesting to see how the person reacted to the robot approaching. She not only moved with the robot but also showed different emotions responding to the robot’s various behaviors. In Braitenberg’s book Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology, he compares the simplest vehicles to the animals in a constructive way, proposing concepts of spatial behaviors, group formations, and fake intelligence.

On designing the flying robot agent, a helium-filled drone robot was proposed. Different balloon materials, arrangements of propellers placement and flying mechanisms were tested and improved. As a result, precise movement control was achieved. In order to fly the robot balloon autonomously, real-time feedback motion tracking with Motive and PID control was implemented in the computational system. QUANTUMminus is currently in the process of further developing the precision of the system to provide better interaction experience.


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