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STEAM fuels London Design Festival

Art and technology cross over in ‘blockbuster exhibits’ at the 15th London Design Festival.

While many argue that the STEM subjects should be taught with an art component (to make STEAM!), as engineering is a creative discipline, there are also those who believe technology can play a larger part in art.

This week’s London Design Festival (LDF) features a number of exhibits that use current technology as a key component to their form or function.

One of the most striking applications was the Slave/Master feature, which combines contemporary dance with robotics. The concept and production were put together by BR Innovation Agency and features two dancers from the London Contemporary Ballet Theatre, four robots from Kuka and projected graphics.

Kuka approached Autodesk to manage the software; its Industry Strategy and Business Development Manager, Mark Forth, saw it as an opportunity to address some of the perceptions around increased use of robots in industry.

“I think whenever you bring two disciplines together you can create a different way of looking at a problem. It enables you to challenge some of the things you are doing on the engineering side, while pushing the envelope on some of the possibilities because of the artistic way you can communicate with some of these things," he said.

"We got involved in this project partly because we see the number of robots that are being used and people are looking at the potential impact this could have on the workforce of the future.”

One of Kuka’s regular technology partners is Adelphi Automation, which was responsible for integrating the technical aspects of the project.

“Believe it or not, the subject of robots can still create a negative impression with regard to jobs. What we do is see opportunities for automating manual processes. The person is still involved, feeding the machine and working around it, so we are not losing jobs, we are just increasing throughput by two or three times," said Managing Director, Paul Stout.

With one pair of robots intrinsically safe and the other pair protected by laser scanner sensors, Stout believes the five minute performance - in which the dancers interact with the movement of the robots - will help visitors appreciate the ability of robots and humans to operate safely together.

The sensors and the PLC, which controls the whole performance, are supplied by Rockwell Automation, whose Stephen Ratcliffe commented: “I think the world of art and literature has been fascinated by robots going all the way back to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis [released in 1927], depicting humans as automatons in an automated future."

"I think this is a very interesting artistic interpretation of that and challenging the perception that robots are somehow dangerous and here to steal our jobs.”

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