Round Nine (9) – Year 2005/06 GRTI Project Description Form

Campus: New York City College of Technology
Project Number:
Project Title: Research and Development of Innovative Multi-Use Devices for Telerobotics and Theater.
Start-up Faculty: ___ Yes _X__ No
Lead Faculty Member: Professor Adrianne Wortzel Department: Communication Design-ADGA
Other Key Faculty:John Huntington Department: Entertainment Technology

Purpose: Check appropriate category.

___ Research only
___ Research and graduate training
_X_ Research and undergraduate training
___ Technology


Funds are sought for research and development of robotic and telerobotic devices for interactive performance production.

Rapid advances in technologies have affected every avenue of endeavor in arts and sciences. However, now more than ever emphasis is on the potential for advances when art and science work collaboratively together towards invention. Individual robots are capable of serving more than one function, including the function of expression and mirroring back to humans the behavior humans have programmed them with. Couching our research and development of tools in theatrical scenarios accommodates this and also keeps the research open as a ventilated system for experimentation, allowing both for informative failures and highly applicable successes. We will conduct research and testing to prove that the creation of devices and protocols which inform electronic performance production, allows performance production to inform back into research in operative telerobotic devices. We will examine by practice the methodologies distinct to each discipline involved (robotics, theater, telerobotics, telecommunications, etc) and see how that changes, or grows, from interdisciplinary collaboration.

Industrial and research robots available to researchers have pre-ordained and rigid capabilities and limitations, and profound issues of robustness. Here at Citytech we have the faculty and student talent to develop robotic and telerobotic devices from the bottom up along guidelines that serve to advance robotic control systems, along with their potential for interactivity and multi-function, communication capabilities and the development of a higher order of machine behavior that lends itself to varied interpretations on the part of the “audience” or “interacting” participants.

Specifically, devices will be developed for telerobotic control over the world wide web as a new way to dissolve the fourth wall in theater and cinema. Testing over the internet in the public domain is a vital part of this research which will enable us to examine the flow of activity and control that is fluid between humans and machines. Cameras, lights, and moveable elements of set design will be made to operate remotely by web users, providing very active participation and interaction, and rendering the user as a “director”. Robotic devices will be developed bottom up from morphologies that arise out of functional needs such as camera movement and lighting, and these devices will also serve as robotic “actors” in dramatic scenarios, simulations, and presentations, streaming out live or pre-recorded to the World Wide Web. Telerobotically controlled devices can be imbued with “character” by programming some of their actions as “re-actions.” Research will also be conducted on creating blue-screen virtual sets in real time on the fly, also ultimately under the control of web users. Other research questions are: Why is remote control of devices productive? What functions can remote controlled devices serve that they are not serving now? What existing models and technologies of streaming and compression can we draw upon in an effort to innovate? How does one encode and deliver streaming and personal mobile device media? What are the latest developments in ambient technologies that may affect the genesis of a performance project? In an era of media-convergence and media-divergence, what ubiquitous qualities are emerging for creating and disseminating information?

Developed devices will simultaneously serve as the non-human actors in dramatic scenarios developed as content by faculty and students. Visitors will control devices over the Internet in video conferencing, the Web, and through mobile devices, such as PDAs, cell phones, and gameboys. Thus this laboratory will be dedicated to actualizing both venues of convergence (the melding of forms of cinema, TV, web and interactive gaming) as well as venues of divergence (programming for personal mobile devices, pocket PCs, and mobile phones). Devices developed will lend themselves to performance production of fictive works, simulations, presentations, and areas of instructional technology.

The Fall 2005 semester will see the setting up of the laboratory and the first stage will be faculty experimentation with the wiring and programming of varied electronic components in order to create interactive devices for stage and film functions which are under audience control. This requires setting up simultaneous telecommunication protocols such as a Flash Communications server, to afford video streaming and user ability to work devices over the Internet. Research will include examining the usage of machines as human surrogates, instruments, companions, issues of our control or lack of control over them, and real-time interactivity as contrasted with the pre-programming machines to act “on their own”.

Experimentation will continue in the Spring 2006 semester in conjunction with student training in special projects designed by faculty, utilizing content to produce a series of dramatic scenarios for web publication and/or mobile device dissemination. Faculty and students from several departments will develop content.

This research will ultimately lend itself to development of devices for many other disciplines. Focus at this time is on interdisciplinary research between art and design, entertainment technology and electro-mechanical engineering, and can, in the future, be expanded to include architectural technology, biomedical research and computer science, and others.