This work is a work-in-progress inspired by robotic structures from the 12-14 century. With a vast number of robots in development for industry, academia, and even for intimate spaces, this project strives to learn about the significance and relevance of medieval robots is today’s climate.

  • Role: Researcher, Interaction Designer
  • Collaborators: Molly Wright Steenson
Motivation

The goal of this project is to question our perception of the role and design of robotics in light of historical automata. By reconstructing either a single room-sized automaton, or multiple medium sized ones, we aim to allow humanists, designers and technologists to engage with alternative uses of robotics that existed in the Medieval ages.

For example, a 13th century Table Fountain piece of “a fountain shaped like a tree” that used pneumatic and hydraulic technology. The piece was described with “Four lions on the base of the tree spouted mare’s milk from their mouths, while four gilded serpents… belched forth wine, honey and rice mead” (Truitt, 2015). Another documented historical structure, Chambre de Beautés, describes four golden automata in four corners of a room, each with a different role to serve a crowd of guests.

Yet these historical pieces tend to be forgotten as new technologies emerge and take their spot in the foreground of development. Very few projects in robotics consider the functionality and design suggested by historical robots. By re-creating medieval robots, we hope to encourage a discussion about the values they express, how and why they were designed differently than robotics today, and how they might shape the design of future robots.

Chambre de Beautés. Source.

Karakorum Fountain. Source.

Future Work

By reconstructing a significant historical robotic piece and placing it in a shared space, we hope to generate conversations that would bridge digital technology and humanities. Through the process of making, we will gain insight about the relevance of the historical background of robotics. We believe sharing an interactive result with others can bring a new perspective to modern robotics, and allow designers, artists and technologists to rethink the current trajectory of social and personal robots.