Category Archives: Robotics2014

Robotic Orchestra Final

Hello all,

After long days full of sweat at the workshop, the satisfaction of having finished the project is really great.
The project reached its final version, where the bamboo stick is being moved by the motor as both ends go up and down, producing sound at each end. I connected two piezo modules to both ends and have recorded the installation. Here is how it sounds for those who are interested:

By the way, on one and there is a metal wok pan that is welded to a custom made metal stand and on the other end there is a metal chain that goes up and down in a metal bucket full of water. Here is a short video of the final version in action:


Turntable: state at the end of the workshop

This is the last state of the Turning disk, at the end of the workshop.

Initially the intention was to explore soundwise a specific kind of circular movement: steel surfaces spinning one on the other, in the form of a kind of ball bearings, say with balls who allow the spinning, but without a central axis.

The way i wanted to document the movement was sound.

Originally i planned to grind tracks on a iron surface, but since the found disks were much thinner than expected, i went further welding instead of grinding.

Interesting point: the best tracks had to be drawn without interruption, but the protection mask doesn’t allow to see the lines to follow, but welding without mask wouldn’t have allowed me to see at all, afterwards. I solved the problem marking the line with a white marker. The white sign still wasn’t visible, but while i was welding, the material of the marks would burn some millimeter before the noodle would arrive, making clear the direction where to continue.

The central axis had to be introduced, the tracks couldn’t be made big enough to keep the construction so firmly.

The welding made a lot of little spheres on the surface, which produced more sound, but were jamming the spheres much more. They had to be grinded away.

The first motor is placed on the top, fixed on an arm that goes outside. The movement is possible, but it jams pretty easily and just a little side pressure on the arm is able to let it move again. I added a second motor to hit constantly the arm on the side: in case of stop, with some pushes the disks starts spinning again, extending a lot the life span of the action.

Here the video of the presentation.

For the presentation I used 6 piezos to mix up the different sounds together and to be able to control them and look for the interesting resonant frequencies.

During the whole workshop I have been recording the sound produced, here a the whole documentation in chronological order.

Next steps: the next development stage would be making the rotation more stable, finding a way to keep the spheres separate, which could be done physically adding some blocks, like small walls, or adding a third disk with holes that would act exactly as the internal structure of a bearings. This would probably generate a lot of friction, that would in a way mean more sound, if the movement starts.

Otherwise another possibility would be making the tracks much higher, in order to keep always the balls in position, and adding enough balls not to give the possibility of having one side without them, that would mean no distance between the disks and therefore no movement.

Here some pictures, to show the result in its own beauty.

Surprisingly, it really looks like a sort of reversed turntable or proto – hard drive, which I like somehow very much, since apparently fits with the sound produced.


Spinning Wheel_DAY3

Here the results of the last day of workshop!

#1 Central axis – welding.

#2 Track corrections with welding and then grinding.

Discovered: the metal deforms very much. Before the corrections, but after yesterday’s welding, the plates were both concave, then they became convex, changing radically the distance between them and the behavior of the marbles.
The correction of the tracks + the central axis let them spin very safely, it happens now rarely, that they jump off the track.

Still the tracks are pretty much irregular, the higher one is a little too thin, so the friction is pretty high and the marbles hit on the sides producing strong noises.
#3 Add the two motors.

The main one is letting the upper disk spin, but sometimes has not enough power/friction to bring it forward. The second motor has an irregular cam that let the main motor oscillate, making the whole movement more uncertain and irregular.

#4 Wooden basis +  tuning.
All the pieces should fit together, somehow. I fixed them on one of the famous DOKA Holzplatte!



Piezo under the first disk.

Piezo under the metal basis.

Piezo under the wooden basis.


The sound changes radically at every layer of the structure.

High is more resonant, the middle highlights the hits and the first motor, the lower the second motor.
Nice that the frequencies are a bit enhanced, much more interesting the irregular pauses, where is possible to listen the friction of the gum against the iron.

In the presentation i will try with different piezos controllable in different channels.

AESTHETICALLY i have been surprised, what it actually turned out to be is something like a weird mixture and subversion of a turntable, but visually reminds of a huge version of a HDD. Conceptually they are even fitting very well together.


#to do next.

The next future steps would be….
– A bit better tracks. //maybe a chain could be welded on the spinning wheel, a stable result will be for sure easier to reach. -> interesting maybe for the several different little steps.
– More natural start and stop (controlled with an algorithm). More breaks.
– Keep the spheres separate/at the same distance (avoid jamming).
– Adding a second wheel? More complex rhythm…

Spinning Wheels construction Plan.

Found materials:

2 metal plates:
40cm diameter / 5 and 8 mm thickness

2 circular saw disks (Jure says “for cutting rocks! But in Slovenia we use them to keep the wife far from the shopping mall”)
ca 70cm diameter / 3-4 mm thickness

Washers of different dimensions / is it possible to weld them together?

Some wheels (a few. contemplated in the plan B)

half a bucket of glass Marbles


_ metal spheres _ for ball bearings


Construction Plan:

1 _Create a track on both of the external disks_

two possibilities: grinding or welding?
Two couples of disks: thicker would allow grinding, thinner would force to the welding of the contour.


2_ Keep the spheres separate _ as in ball bearings
Metal (smaller size)
Glass marbles (weight of the plate? 7/10kg _ maybe hole in the middle).


material needed ? wood or metal plates  around 2 mm
other_ washers together to weld in two circular figures.
the spheres should stay in between them. HIGH FRICTION very PROBABLE


2 B _ instead of metal/glass spheres _ use of wheels
CONTRA: just a few of them.
CONTRA 2: for loosers.


3_ apply motion _

possible ways:

NAILS on the side
or DIRECT CONTACT on the top. Image

located maybe on the bottom of the lower disk, or on other smart positions _ to be defined/discovered during the workshop.


The way of recording the movement is the audio one, finding an interesting balance between smooth movement and interesting sound.

Blender Dog


I will be participating in this workshop, and am interested in working with simple machines to study the motion and mechanics of anthropomorphic sculptures, and then using the results to create artwork that is personally meaningful, and is somehow a logical extension of my own artistic interests.

I started off thinking that I would love to make something that incorporated a jumping motion of any kind.  I take as inspiration examples of jumping creatures in the animal kingdom, in particular, the tarsier.  I have recently returned from a research trip from The Philippines, and had the wonderful opportunity to capture high quality photographs and video of tarsiers.

Tarsiers have a very light body and skeleton, long hind legs, and are able to jump quite long distances in a single leap.  They have a lot of other unique characteristics, however for the purposes of this workshop, it is their jumping ability that I drew inspiration from.

(I also find the tarsier and its precarious status as an endangered species, especially humans’ inability to keep tarsiers in captivity to be a powerful metaphor that I want to further draw upon as an artist.)

So I started looking at some jumping robots, and the one I found that was most interesting to me is this one, which I’m calling The MSU Jumper–

Screen Shot 2014-06-14 at 1.34.56 PM

There is a cool video of it in action here.

In order to create some sort of jumping action during the course of this workshop, I would need a coiled spring that bounces back and maybe some sort of release mechanism on a cord or something.

Due to time constraints, I moved on to looking at recreating a pair of Theo Jansen legs, and having a look at the way a rotational motion is translated into a back-and-forth motion.  A student first introduced me to the work of this artist, and, like everyone else, I am completely amazed by his artwork.  So much so that I purchased his plastic creature kits a few years ago.

photo 2

This one is complicated with several pairs of legs.  I started thinking about a single pair of legs.


The little plastic Jansen model that one can order off the internet is helpful to take apart, put together, and use as a model for one’s own creation, so I will bring it with me to the workshop.

As this creative process continues over the course of the next 10 days, I will show the results in this post then.

I know that my own results will not be or function exactly like the above animation, nor exactly as I see the sculpture in my head, however the idea of amplifying unexpected results is one that I also want to work with.  While I’m not an engineer, it is clear to me that the math and location behind the pivot points on the above little animation need to be very exact…let’s see what happens…


So I went to the supermarket and got a blender, in order to strip it down and try to use its motor for this project.  I am hoping it is useful, as it must be a fairly fast, powerful little motor, and it drives a rotating mechanism, which I hope I can put to good use.

photo 2 photo 1

I will begin taking apart the blender shortly.  On the way out of the supermarket, I saw this children’s toy, which must also be driven by some type of battery powered motor, creating a four-legged walk, so I will also take apart this little toy right now.

Ok so I started taking things apart, and was successful, but I need to bring these pieces with me to the workshop so I think it’s better I leave them fully assembled at this point-


photo 22 photo 3 photo 51 photo 43


Artist Statement:

This piece is really about power relationships, and somehow became about the difference in power between a 240 volt motor, and a 3 volt motor.  Perhaps about ones relationship with oneself (maybe ones inner child), perhaps about ones relationship with others.  I started this piece by wanting to work with a walking motion, wanting to come prepared to the workshop with some motors that I could take in my luggage, and really going from there.  Upon understanding some of the dangers of working with/taking apart a 240 volt motor, the “dangerous” aspect of that motor is something I wanted to amplify a bit.  I took the fur off the dog in order to see its mechanics, and ended up thinking the half-skinned dog was a great metaphor, and the rest really evolved from there. Its interesting to me that I started this project with the metaphor of a tarsier, an endangered animal whose population numbers are just getting “ground up” by the constant spread of humanity into their habitat, and their status as both survivors as well as victims of circumstances beyond their control, and, in some oblique way, that thought comes through here–

The technical things I learned from this workshop:

  1. that motors need to be housed or encased
  2. that motors of a higher voltage are dangerous to the touch if turned on
  3. how to rewire a plug to convert it to a European style plug
  4. the power of a 240 volt vs a 3 volt motor
  5. issues regarding stability and wobbliness of things
  6. an internalization and a bit practice with the idea of a smaller, faster rotational object/axle/gear driving a bigger, slower rotational object/axle/gear
  7. how, when things are attached to fast axles/gears/rotational objects, they will wind up around them if attached in certain ways

The artistic things I have taken away from this workshop:

  1. I’m left now, several months later, with really wanting to obtain another blender motor of the same make and model, and more fully take apart the motor itself, take it completely out of its casing, and perhaps actually take it apart a little bit.  I really want to explore the motor itself, maybe make a new casing for it somehow.  This feels artistic, like an artistic next step, rather than technical to me.  Something about the metaphor of the motor–
  2. That the act of pushing myself outside my own comfort zone in a somewhat controlled way is paramount to my continued interest in art making.
  3. A much greater appreciation for and fascination with making kinetic sculpture, and its own possibilities for creating meaning and metaphor within individual artworks.

The sound of the wheel.

I am interested in a very specific circular movement: the rotation of a disk on its own axis without a physical central axis, but rather on some kind of rails that allow this movement.

As a concrete example i take the structure of a Thrust ball bearings, the ones that are basically holding the weight of themselves and other objects on the top. The movement should then be driven by a motor touching the upper disk.

The idea would be, then, build the same kind of structure, in metal, but much bigger, let’s say with a diameter of 70 centimeters up to one meter.

Thrust-ball-bearing_din711_120-exI am currently working on the same kind of movement for my project for Ars Electronica; i built a wooden version of the same structure, in this case carving manually the wood. I discovered that the imprecision of the cut are making the whole structure vibrate and produce very interesting sounds.

For sure, the metal version of the object will have other very interesting sound features, which i would like to investigate.

Sadly, too many vibration make the disk jump outside the track, so my task will be find a satisfying  balance between sound and structural stability.

Meditations on explorative machine art

Please do not forget that you are not expected to make a working piece of machine art in this workshop. You are expected to make a machine that does something, perhaps what you intended, probably something different. Then take the difference and amplify it. So planning and observation are two core elements.

Some reminders, stolen from Oliver Kellow:

  •  Keep the stakes low: more small, cheap experiments instead of one big build
  •  *terative design: keep building and testing and observing and building and testing and….
  •  You are storing up observations and experience for the future
  •  There are no immediate returns
  •  Do not force things: follow the motions that your machine makes and make them more
  • Don’t forget to laugh when it goes hilariously awry