Hybrid Art

The Blind Robot

Anerkennung - Honorary Mentions

Louis-Philippe Demers (CA)


Cyberarts 2013 - International Compendium Prix Ars Electronica 2013

With The Blind Robot, the aim is to further understand the degrees of engagement, whether intellectual, emotional or physical, that are generated when a social robot intimately touches a person. Initially, The Blind Robot is a minimalistic piece of mechanical engineering. The rationale is to start from a recent known cultural artifact—the robot arm—and transform it from a high precision tool into a fragile, imprecise and emotionally loaded agent.

The Blind Robot comprises a typical robotic arm equipped with an articulated hand. In this installation, visitors are invited to sit in the front of this machine and engage into a non-verbal dialogue with it. The robot delicately explores the body—mostly the face and upper body—of the visitor in a manner that recalls what blind people do to recognize a person or an object. On a nearby screen or projection the machine then produces a visual rendering of what its fingertips have “seen.”

The Blind Robot is a direct reference to the works of Merleau-Ponty and his example of the body extension of the blind man’s cane. When Feenberg analyzes Merleau-Ponty’s blind man’s cane, he concludes that the cane does more than sense the world; it also reveals the blind man as blind. It is this very aspect that the Blind Robot exploits: to create an empathic situation and a positive pre-disposition to the engagement.

Furthermore, The Blind Robot is a direct allusion the chess-playing “Mechanical Turk”. The Blind Robot emanates a sense of intentionality and it becomes a Turing test of agency and perceived artificial life. The Blind Robot has the complex task of touching people softly, something achieved by hardly any contemporary robots. We recently verified this hypothesis by testing the robot with more than 100 people. The fictitious social role (a blind person) augments the act of touching and the robot’s agency via the potential of the created emotional connection between the human visitor and the robot.

Mechatronics: Dennis Low; programming: Vineet Kuruvila.

Support: Start Up Grant and MOE Tier1 Grant (Nanyang Technological University)