The robots that sprouted from the mud do not want to be like you | Trends

The robots that sprouted from the mud do not want to be like you | Trends


The Mayan gods did not go with ribs. When it came to create the human being, they started in the mud. As expected, the result was regulero. The muddy creatures did not stand. They crumbled progressively when trying to move. As a venerating mass, they left a lot to be desired, so they were finally repudiated.

According to Mayan mythology as it is collected by his sacred book, the Popol Vuh, our creation began with a monumental fiasco. According to Paula Gaetano and Gustavo Crembil, we could be on the verge of another similar failure. "The discourse of robotics is related to a discourse about humanity, there is an intention to duplicate the human or at least his mind," says Gaetano.

We wanted to lower the technology to a more realistic level

Mestizo Robotics, the joint project of these two Argentines, was born to challenge that robotics of presumptuous anthropocentrism. "We wanted, more than anything, to lower the technology to a more realistic level, to break the imaginary of robotics, which usually come from the North and are already encoded with certain ideas of progress, certain notions of what is the future and certain ideas. what is human? " And, as the Mayans dictated, they did it with mud robots.

Coverage of the skin of the robot with wet clay.

Gaetano and Crembil already knew each other before inventing Mestizo. "In 2012 we met in Troy (New York), I worked as a professor of Architecture and Paula was also a teacher at the Empac (Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center)," recalls Crembil.

Given their ideological tunes in technology and development issues, they began to work on the combination of two ideas: "On the one hand I came with the intention of recovering a narrative that does not come from the Hollywood ideas of robotics. Gustavo, was the interest to recover certain materialities or technologies that did not belong directly to this field or, at least, to what is understood as high technology ".

Local artisans spreading the layer of quincha

With that cocktail they went to the Amazon, passing before Madrid to harvest their prize in the contest Vida 14.0, Fundación Telefónica. "It was the economic kick that allowed us to launch the project," adds Crembil.

Even in the most remote place, the idea of ​​robotics is very permeated

Gustavo Crembil

In the middle of the remote community of San Roque de Cumbaza (Peru) was born the first prototype of Mestizo Robotics: QuinchaBot. Here the creationist mythology of the Popol Vuh was mixed with a local technique for working with clay, the quincha. Gaetano and Crembil began working with the artisans in an enclosed space and finished assembling their mud robot in the center of town, within sight and within reach of everyone.

The children of the local school interact with the robot in the main square of San Roque (Peru)

They witnessed the contrast of the neighbors' reactions, between the strangeness of what was happening and the familiarity of the mud as part of the process. "We also find ourselves in a certain state of disillusionment, because even there, in the most remote place, the idea of ​​the robotic is very permeated, it is thought that things have to act in a certain way." The penetration of certain discourses is amazing. in such remote places, "explains Crembil.

Under the earthy skin of the QuinchaBot the mechanism that would give it life was hidden. "Basically I had a tricycle in. A device with three wheels with a powerful motor with two functions: one remote control and another programmed with a random behavior," Gaetano says. Once activated, the sphere could, at most, wobble. "They are very heavy and as they move, if they manage to move, they are destroyed, their skin is fragile," explains Crembil, recovering the idea of ​​the ill-fated mud men. "If the robot moves, if it progresses, it precipitates its own failure".

Assembly of the internal mechanism

All Mestizo prototypes have a common lack: pretensions. They are not going to take away your work. They will not beat chess. They do not even pretend to be able to move with a minimum of coordination. "On the one hand, it is a humbler way of thinking about technology, on the other, we want to remove all the ideas that this can solve everything and do it in an ironic and absurd way," insists Gaetano.

From the Amazon, Mestizo Robotics moved to Vancouver (Canada). There they gave birth to ClayBot I, with a somewhat more thoughtful structure that included prearranged components and a more solid skin made with clay applied over a layer of wicker. The third prototype would be the most industrial, within the artisanal of the components that they use in all their projects, focused on the mixture of high and low technologies.

"We were invited to develop a proposal with the architecture and engineering students of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, New York), the TerracotaBot was much more technologically advanced," recalls Crembil. Working with such technical collaborators also affected the process. "The need to control exactly what he was doing was almost frustrating, we had to push them to take risks, to try to take them, without fear of failure". From this point, the proposal of Mestizo Robotics began to consolidate: "If there are people interested in inviting us to exhibit or build their own robot, let's plan workshop"

Visitors interacting with the TerracotaBot during a public presentation in Empac

So far, the last prototype of Gaetano and Crembil is the reinterpretation of the ClayBot they did at the National University on February 3. In this case, the skin of the robot did not carry wicker, but recycled plastic strips made by a cartoneros community of Córdoba. The mestizo robots mix with the environment that sees them being born. "That was one of the teachings of when we went to the Amazon: how the project was transformed, without us wanting it, into a social fact." While there we realized that this was really a collaborative project and we wanted to maintain that, "says Gaetano .

Now Mestizo Robotics is a call to debate, to the collective search for new prototypes thought apart from the dominant discourse, to the challenge of prototypes that already exist. "We do not mean that technology does not work, just down a couple of steps and almost humanize it: humans are not perfect either."

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