The Humanoid Machinist. . or, What is Art?

The InMoov humanoid with founding creator Gael Langevin and Wevolver co-founder Bram Geenen

A generic term for the space under discussion is a personal mechanical workshop, where physical stuff is made. MIT’s sponsored version of the space is called a Fab Lab to educate and solve local problems, a TechShop has much the same tools operated as a private company to create products sold by entrepreneurs, while yet another flavor takes place in the hackerspace, many of which have a space to make things. Often such space is called a Makerspace, but the politically conscious will object to this as unpaid advertising for O’Reilly Media.

Sidestepping the founding of group behavior in general and the salons of the Enlightenment, the hacker clubs’ roots can be dated to the first computer clubs such as the Homebrew Computer Club, established during the late 1970s budding personal computer era when the first personal computers were made by hobbyists. In 1995, when the Internet began to gain traction, c-base was formed in Berlin, a model for hackerspace everywhere.

By 2011 startup incubators began to take off with the aim of launching the next Uber or Facebook. The concept of “growth hacking” echos the connection of the computer clubs before them. Incubators like the prestigious Hardware Club focus on maximising the prospects of the TechShop space aspiring to be the next Tesla.

Governments are beginning to take notice, with the intent of emulating silicon valley and nurturing “talent”. In 2015 TechCity UK formed as a government sponsored initiative to invigorate the incubation movement. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange made the observation: all states are working to emulate Silicon Valley and little else. Like any monoculture, such blindness leaves the rest of the world vulnerable, when the crowd of Unicorns turn into raging Bears.

My generation has self-destructed in the form of depression and suicide than any other period. Clappy, off-pitched, multi-moan-voiced, yuke infused hipster folk music that seemingly occupies every promotional video or indy cafe provides the best feel for the sentiment: it is putting the best jeering smiley face foward, with teeth clinched, assuaging a core burning down in flames. When I hear this type of music, because perhaps an elder within such generation, I feel as if repeatedly slapped in the face and emotionally battered with every note and insincerely upbeat-yet-sneerily-downtrodden syllable. It is the music that represents a generation of losers in contrast to Frank Sanatra’s generation of winners. It is lonely expressing superiority, but channeling lonliness and inferiority as if knowing such state makes one enlightened and special — like hipster folk — is worse. As a slight apology, at least such music brings out the cliché and contradictions to unbearable extremes in the hopes somehow we break free and establish a more meaningful and worthwhile life.

Westbank Banksy

Video gaming is no longer a children’s activity now surpassing film viewing, while both gaming and cinema has become one regurgitation after another. Mainstream art in general had a golden age during the 1970s and seemingly died in the 1990s. The most profound art today takes form in street art or pop surrealism, the Banksy and Molly Crabapple. Such art draws the viewer to the raw horror of social issues, and by doing so, creating a yearning for more personal ties and more natural surroundings. To do that, we must end human involvement in bureaucracies — whether state, nonprofit, or business — altogether. There is already an identity crisis in conjunction with all the others, so we may as well get on with it.

So, as a sort of theme, I’m proposing the hand machine operating humanoid robot take a central role at the workbench. There is already a quiet effort to make a Fab Lab self replicating, that is, make the tools copy themselves. There should be a prize for this to accelerate the process, with the grand prize / challenge going to the humanoid that replicates all the tools autonomously, including unpacking all the gear at the new base from the autonomous delivery drone.

DRC-HUBO at the 2015 DARPA Challenge

Wevolver is a shining beacon attempting to unify the open source hardware community and provide quality documentation for how to assemble and contribute to such a humanoid, called InMoov. The problem of understanding the visual environment is well undertaken, but the problem of ‘haptic modeling’ or the performance of tasks by touch needs addressing.

Most of what people do does not involve persistant visual analysis, unless the consistancy of the visual environment drastically changes, like one of Kevin Carson’s cats jumping out at you. Mostly people see what they want to see; in other words; a goal is defined mentally and the objective is applied to the environment with the expectation of fulfilling a task.

Such simplistic haptic modeling should be at the core of robotics underlying robotic vision, among other stacks. A seemingly simple experiment can introduce the development of the technology: 1) find the key 2) find the keyhole 3) insert the key into the hole 4) turn the key to unlock 5) push or pull the door open 6) determine how far the door should be opened to go through the doorway 7) swivel around the door while it is held 8) shut the door behind itself. Easy, right?

The complexities of the humanoid provide fruitful challenges for fabricating itself, such as, how to make under one roof…

  • Computers as powerful as an Nvidia PX2 visual system?
  • Motors or artificial muscles to function smooth and steady?
  • Visual and haptic sensors?

And among the many software challenges…

  • What part of the ROS package to use, develop further, or create anew?

So. . start a special club, dip into a variety of spaces, see new events, meet different people in different settings, learn skills to orchistrate with others, and enjoy the arts. Or, do what I do, don’t go out at all and read copious amounts of nonfiction for that sci-fi you will never write: and when you do venture out from your cave, just be reminded and attempt to appreciate that the darks are darker and the lights are lighter.

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