Spinal Rhythms, autonomous embodied evolution of a biomimetic robot’s rhythmic motion behavior

Eva Schindling

Reflections on artificial life are mostly centered around the dogma of digital representation: only what can be represented on a screen can be tackled and understood. This kind of approach clashes with all artificial lifeforms with a materiality of their own, such as robots, whose physical consistency forces us to interact with them without the mediation of an interface. The attempt to cross the border of representation in the approach to robotic art installations is what Spinal Rhythms, a work by Eva Schindling made for her research thesis on “Art and technology” at the University of Göteborg, is based on. It’s a rather simple metallic structure with spring joints to move gradually and elastically, very differently from the noisy and jumpy movements we usually associate with robots. The robot’s skeleton and its joints are activated by computational algorithms, but its movements are the result of the interaction between software, its physical structure and its environment. Schindling’s “creature” (or, more precisely, its control system) learns to adapt the intensity of its movements to the surrounding environment, trying to find an equilibrium between the maximum possible activity and the minimum possible use of energy. This way, the robot’s movements become the expression of its individuality or, to put it in another way, the language the creature uses to communicate its identity to the world. Moreover, the effort to adapt itself to the environmental morphology and conditions, without human intervention, gives the robot some kind of autonomous life and even some self-consciousness. The installation of the Austrian artist opens interesting possibilities to approach robotic lifeforms in a way that’s not centered on the obsessive need of humans to keep everything under control, but on observing the spontaneous evolutionary dynamics that arise in contexts where the conditions aren’t predetermined. Such an approach is particularly important in art, because it raises questions on the breadth and limits of the aesthetic feelings provoked by artificial lifeforms.

Vito Campanelli