Members of the public controlled the machines from their computers and followed their nocturnal journeys online
People got a robot’s-eye view of 500 years of British art this August, as machines took over London’s Tate Britain by night. People all over the world controlled robots as they explored the gallery after dark and also watched their adventures live online.
The robot takeover was the brainchild of The Workers, a digital product design studio who all studied at London’s Royal College of Art, with the collaboration of David Di Duca, a designer and researcher. The project, named After Dark, won the IK Prize 2014, an award for an idea that uses digital technology to bring Tate’s collection to a wider audience.
From August 13th to 17th, four camera-equipped robots had free rein of the museum by night. Every few minutes the robots selected new operators from an online queuing system to drive them around the darkened gallery. People could control their movements using on-screen buttons or arrow keys, making them turn around, move forward and look up or down.
People could also follow their journeys through an online portal and find out more about the art works on-screen from live commentary by art experts.
While it may seem risky to let robots roam one of the world’s largest art collections in the dark, there was no chance of crashing into any priceless sculptures or paintings. They were fitted out with spotlights, could sense obstacles and avoided going too close to objects. They fed this information to the online operators who could make them turn on the spot to change direction.
The robots understanding of space is hardly surprising considering that they were made in collaboration with RAL Space, which works alongside the UK Space Agency – UKSA. This is a leading centre for the research and development of space, and now art gallery, exploration technologies.
Appropriately, the first robot operator was Colonel Chris Hadfield, the retired commander of the International Space Station who is also famous for singing David Bowie’s Space Oddity. He stayed grounded for this experience, controlling the robot from his home in Toronto.
The Tate Britain is one of the world’s most important galleries, holding the national collection of British art from 1500 to the present as well as international modern art. The current collection includes some of the most well-known artwork in the world, such as A Bigger Splash by David Hockney, Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais and Recumbent Figure by Henry Moore.
Bringing robots to this world renowned collection and letting people control them via their computers has to be the coolest way yet of bringing art to new audiences.
You can explore the Tate Britain’s collection by day at the free gallery or online.