Industrial robot's personality dislayed in exhibition

Carnegie Mellon Ph.D. candidate Madeline Gannon combined her creativity with computational design knowledge for her project, Mimus. On display in a glass box at the Design Museum London is an ABB IRB 6700 robot, normally found on assembly lines in factories. The robot interacts with passersby much like a curious animal in a zoo does, bringing it to life with character. The Design Museum has displayed contemporary art related to industrial design for almost four decades. The exhibition is titled [Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World.]

Gannon wishes to highlight the empathy humans can develop with robots. "Creating new ways to communicate with machines is my passion," said Gannon in a Carnegie Mellon press release. "When something responds to us with lifelike movements — even when it is clearly an inanimate object — we, as humans, cannot help but project our emotions onto it."

The name "Mimus" is derived from the Latin word for mimic and a gens of the bird family, highlighting its mirror-like and its sentient behavior. As robots become more intertwined in our everyday lives, the need for them to react normally to human interaction will increase. Autodesk vice president Amar Hanspal commented on Mimus and the connection between machines and people, saying "Madeline and Mimus highlight how that new relationship can emerge." Justin McGuirk, chief curator for the Design Museum, also said "One starts to get the sense of how robots may behave in the future."

The robot relies on gesture-based software and depth sensors to determine its actions. It then uses simulation algorithms to determine its reactions; nothing is premeditated. Other students and alumni helped in creating Mimus, including Kevyn McPhail, Ben Snell, and Dan Moore.

Gannon's work is a reply to the misunderstanding that came with automation and the job loss that followed. Robots replaced factories workers at an alarming rate because they are more accurate, do not require wages and work at maximum performance for hours. Despite laying off workers, production has grown at a 2.2 percent rate per year since 2002.

The exhibition is open until April 23. There are 11 other installations alongside Mimus that focus on modern-world advances.