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Underwater Robotic Art With Archaeabot

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As well as building robots with the Raspberry Pi, our boards and kits can be used in a diverse range of applications. The ArchaeaBot project is one such application which blends art and robotics enabling artists, scientists and technologists to explore new ideas at the intersection of these disciplines.

A few months ago we got tagged in a photo on Instagram which showed the ArchaeaBot in development and we were instantly fascinated. We had so many questions; What is an Archaea? Could a Raspberry Pi and a ZeroBorg survive and operate underwater? How would the motors cope with running underwater for a prolonged period of time? As the project progressed we watched and saw the installation evolve and perform for 5 solid days at the Ars Electronica Festival, and then for 3 weeks at LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial in Gijón, Spain.

Our minds were blown and we had to get in touch with Anna Dumitriu and Alex May to ask some questions about the project to find out more.

ArchaeaBot on display at Ars Electronica, Picture: Vanessa Graf, Ars Electronica.

What is the ArchaeaBot Project?

ArchaeaBot is a prototype of an underwater robotic installation that explores what ‘life’ might mean in a post-singularity and post-climate change future.

Based on new research on archaea (a group of unicellular micro-organisms believed to be the oldest form of life on earth adapted to life in extreme conditions) combined with the latest innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning, the artists have tried to create the 'ultimate' species for the end of the world.

The work is the result of collaboration with researcher/cryomicroscopist Amanda Wilson within the framework of the EU MARA project, which is based at Imperial College. Additionally the artists are collaborating with Daniel Polani, Professor of Artificial Intelligence in the School of Computer Science at the University of Hertfordshire.

Anna Dumitriu and Alex May have developed this work through an artistic residency at LABoral. The residence is part of the first edition of the European Media Art Platform (EMAP), aimed at European artists working with new technologies. The EMAP programme aims to encourage collaboration between artists and institutions using these media. LABoral is part of the network of members of the platform along with ten other prestigious European institutions.

The project is co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union, and The Arts Council England.

How did the project come about?

It originally came about through Anna shadowing the cryomicroscopy research (electron microscopy so that the microbes are fast frozen in 3D using liquid nitrogen) research in the lab where Amanda Wilson and her colleagues are studying the structure of the molecular 'motors' that Archaea use to swim about. They talked about the idea of using this information to make biological robots and we thought about using digital technology and AI to draw threads across time from ancient life to future life.

What's in the robot?

The robot is built with a 3D printed shell which contains a Raspberry Pi Zero, a PiBorg ZeroBorg motor controller, two PiBorg 6V 180RPM motors and an RGB LED. The innards are also covered in liquid electrical tape to protect the boards, wires and connectors from the water.

Were there any problems with the build?

We used liquid electrical tape to waterproof everything, which is good but can still lead to some corrosion and we found that the motors needed replacing after a few days so they are the weak point in terms of being submersible. We are doing more experiments now to try embedding the Raspberry Pi and ZeroBorg motor controller in silicone too. Our biggest problem was finding out there are different grades of waterproof LED strip and because we were ordering our materials in Spanish we missed that and got some which aren't good for leaving in water.

How have people been reacting to the installation at Ars Electronica?

It's received a fantastic response at Ars Electronica and was featured as one of the highlights and filmed for Arte TV.

More information:

The ArchaeaBot will be part of the Rencontres Bandits-Mages "Unstable Reality and Shifting Knowledges: Mending the Fabric of the World" show in Bourges, France from the 15th of November to the 2nd of December, "A World Without US" at the IMPAKT Center in Utrecht, Netherlands from 23rd of November to the 3rd of February, and also at the University of Hertfordshire on the 30th of November for an invited talk and demo of the project.

Have you got any exciting underwater projects or unusual mixes of art and the Raspberry Pi? Share them in the comments below, we'd love to see what you're building.

Last update: Nov 08, 2022

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