[ISEA2011] Paper: Nicolas Reeves & David St-Onge – Flying Robotic Arts for HRI and Interface Research


Human-Robot Interactions (HRI) has become a major field of research in both the engineering and artistic realms, even more so in the last decade. The main interests and objectives of the two fields were however quite different. While robotics labs focused more on physical interactions and safety awareness, artists were pursuing more philosophical, symbolical and aesthetical explorations, often supported by an often implicit critical stance. Challenges and stakes have evolved in both fields, following the expansion of robotic devices in about all fields of our daily life, both in the personal and professional spheres. Engineers and researchers are now striving to analyse and predict the way humans will interact with robots in different circumstances, in order to design optimal interaction interfaces and protocols for a huge variety of situations. Collaboration between researcher, artists and engineers has proved to be an efficient way to tackle these new challenges. Public installations in interactive robotic arts provide them with a wealth of objective and empirical data whose analysis and exploitation are likely to produce the next level of understanding in HRI.

This paper will present a successful interdisciplinary art-science-technology project called [VOILES | SAILS] , whose outputs led – and still lead- to an innovative approach in HRI research. The project consists in developing intelligent, geometric objects that hover and move in the air. From their first major performance in the Quebec Museum of Civilization in 2006 until now, several autonomous cube-shaped aerobots have been developed under the artistic direction of their creator, artist and architect Nicolas Reeves, following the technological developments implemented by engineer David St-Onge and the team of the NXI Gestatio Design Lab. They have been used in different performances involving other aerobots, vsitors, performers, actors… Their various sensors make them reactive to light, human voice and several other stimuli, thus increasing their similarities with living organisms despite their all-but-biological shape. This resemblance makes them a perfect platform for exploring human robots interactions in an artificial intelligence, or even artificial life context.

We will discuss the relations that developed between these “aerobots” and visitors, passerbys or actors in different circumstances. They proved a valuable and meaningful source of information and knowledge for the design of Human-Robot Interaction procedures, and demonstrated the rich potential of an artistic approach for the development of new interactions interfaces and behaviors.

  • Nicolas Reeves is the founder of the NXI GESTATIO design lab, an art collective where he works with his partner engineer David St-Onge. His research iinvestigates the potential and consequences of the formal nature of digital information for all fields related to creation (arts, design, architecture…). His dual education in Physics (Montreal, 1986) and Architecture (MIT, 1988) allows him to join to the practice of arts and architecture the intensive use of bioclimatic, scientific and computer science data. He has just been appointed director of the HexagramCIAM interuniversity center for research in media arts, after having worked several years as a scientific director for the Hexagram Institute. He collaborates with many artists and engineers from different realms, and with several university labs. His on-going projects involve algorithmic systems that develop different kinds of evolving architectonic, formal or sonic structures. Among them, the Cloud Harp (or Keplerian Harp), a meteo-electronic instrument converting real-time the shape of clouds in music and sounds, has received international media coverage. NXI GESTATIO current projects also involve a collaboration with Australian artist Stelarc on hybrid performances, and a research program  aiming to develop vocal and gestual interfaces for controlling flying automata. Nicolas Reeves has received the grand prize of the Architecture Quebec competition, and was regularly appointed as a jury member in several Canadian art councils. He published numerous papers in arts and critic magazine, as well as in science/technology publications. His installations, exhibitions and lectures were presented in many countries, on the five continents. He is full professor at the School of Design of the University of Quebec in Montreal.
  • David St-Onge  [ISEA2011 provided no biographical information]

Full text (PDF) p. 2016-2022