back to news Feb. 2, 2010

Paparazzi Bots going to Winter Olympics

What are robots from Ohio State University doing in Vancouver and Berlin, Germany in early February?

Just ask Ken Rinaldo, a faculty member in the Department of Art, who creates interactive media art installations that explore the intersection between nature and art. The Winter Olympics Canada invited Rinaldo to be a cultural Olympiad and present three new commissioned works. Three Paparazzi Bots, human-sized robots, will premiere at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver on February 4. Two other Paparazzi Bots will debut by invitation at Transmediale, an internationally known annual festival for art and digital culture in Berlin on February 2-7.

Rinaldo is currently in Berlin setting up the Transmediale robots, while a graduate student, Joshua Penrose, is in Vancouver installing the Winter Olympics Paparazzi Bots. Two graduate students, Nick Bontrager and Doo Sung Yoo, are covering his “3D Modeling and New Media Robotics” class.

“It is exciting to represent the Arts and Sciences at Ohio State and the Art and Technology program in the Department of Art as these works premiere in two venues,” he noted.  

The Paparazzi Bots are autonomous robots, each a tech-hybrid camera and cameraman. Comprised of multiple cameras and sensors on a custom-built rolling platform, they move at the speed of a walking human, avoiding walls and obstacles.

As the robots work the room, infrared sensors move them toward humans, with the single goal of taking photos of people, mimicking the frenzied paparazzi. Each robot makes the decision to take photos of particular people based on such things as whether a person is smiling or not.

Once a person or group is selected, the robots automatically stop, adjust their focus, and record the moment with several flashes. Later the images of those they’ve chosen to stalk are published to the web, making formerly anonymous people and the Paparazzi Bots themselves, media celebrities for a few fleeting moments.

Rinaldo is interested in how we are co-evolving with the technology. “As we create and employ new high-tech tools, these technologies also structure and change us, forcing us to evolve as a species. These new works foretell a time when domestic robots will be living amongst us.”