Beyond Bodies



If someone tells you to think of a robot, what springs to mind? Is it a humanoid shape made of metal, with glowing eyes, that speaks in a jerky voice?

Or is it a robotic factory arm, or a car that can park for you, or maybe a system that heats or cools your house?

For some time now pop culture has painted a particular picture of robots. From Asimov’s ‘bots, to the Terminator – even the Transformers – the very concept of a robot has grown up next to these hugely popular sci-fi characters.

So why aren’t we seeing robots like these by now?

Hollywood bots

On one hand we have the glamourised depictions of sci-fi robots. On the other we have the roboticist’s more pragmatic view of robots as machines that perform functions in an autonomous way.

For these roboticists (myself included), robots are all around us – in our cars, our homes, on public transport and in buildings.

Part of the problem is that there are a number of research projects around the globe that seem to fit the “Hollywood” robot image – Hiroshi Ishiguro’s Intelligent Robotics Laboratories with their Geminoid and Robovie enabled research and our own RobotAssist to name just a couple.

This is one major source of the confusion surrounding the state of the art in robotics. In an attempt to make our research accessible to the wider world we, the roboticists, have leaned on pop culture’s sci-fi robot and subsequently reinforced the stereotype.

Sure, the fundamental research questions we are probing are embedded in the project, so there’s no harm done, right? Well, yes actually, there is.

Great expectations

We’ve shaped the presentation of our research around this stereotype and the actual science questions are less visible to the casual spectator of our work.

With robotics research and development presented in this manner, the tendency for the casual onlooker is to measure the gaps between the research on show and the benchmark of the sci-fi robot. This is not always a true indication of the state of the art.

I myself have been guilty of unintentionally obscuring my own research intentions by putting them in a sci-fi friendly wrapper with RobotAssist. While RobotAssist appears on the surface to be another somewhat human-like robot that can do some cool things (but is no T1000), this isn’t its intended role.

RobotAssist is a research and development platform for core robotics technologies. It has provided a valuable platform for a number of important developments that have found their way into real-world realisations. These include robust people-detection and tracking techniques that are currently deployed in mining, construction and transport environments.

From a particular robotics perspective there is little difference between the RobotAssist incarnation of the technology and how it is used in a transport environment. What changes is the way the technology is embodied.

Your local train station, say, doesn’t look anything like a robot. But in a sense, the entire building is a robot. Maybe the security cameras and embedded sensors are its eyes, maybe turning on and off exit signs and dynamically restricting and redirecting some passageways are the actuators. This kind of robot is invisible.

Put your body into it

Roboticists have been guided by the “sense-act-think” operational definition of a robot for more than 30 years now.

This definition states that a robot is a machine that can actively “sense” the state of the world, “think” intelligently about its task in light of sensed information to form an action plan, and “act” that plan upon the world.

Notice there is no mention of embodiment?

This, I believe, drives another major source of the confusion surrounding the state of the art in robotics.

Society is conditioned by pop culture to recognise robots through the way they’re embodied. Roboticists, however, often consider the embodiment superfluous, or at least tangential, to the robot.

This brings us back to the two viewpoints that I mentioned earlier. The reality is that disembodied robots are already prevalent throughout society.

Just think about our cars with their automatic parking (see video above) and braking. We don’t tend to acknowledge these machines as robots, partly due to the sci-fi stereotype and partly due to roboticists further encouraging this stereotype – but they do fit the operational definition of a robot.

Don’t get me wrong, the sci-fi style robot entering society is inevitable. Too many people want it for it to not happen.

My point is that this is just one of the many forms a robot can take, and perhaps it will be one of the later ones to be realised.

If we want a true gauge of where we are at with robotics we may need to re-calibrate our expectations of what a robot is. We are “getting there” with our research. It just turns out that “there” isn’t exactly where pop-culture told us where we should be. Presents Frank Chimero: Influencing Design

Portable Talks Event Schedule:
Brisbane, Tuesday 5 June, The Edge, State Library of Queensland, 3pm-5pm.
Melbourne, Thursday 7 June, Australian Centre of the Moving Image, Cinema 2, 3-5pm
Sydney, Friday 8 June, Museum of Contemporary Art, Circular Quay 1.30pm-3.30pm


UK Government Digital ServiceDesign Principles

Listed below are 10 design principles and examples (follow link). These build on, and add to the original 7 digital principles.

  1. Start with needs*
  2. Do less
  3. Design with data
  4. Do the hard work to make it simple
  5. Iterate. Then iterate again.
  6. Build for inclusion
  7. Understand context
  8. Build digital services, not websites
  9. Be consistent, not uniform
  10. Make things open: it makes things better


[AY3] Intensity in Representation during Processes of Ideation and Design




Today intensity began to underpin the tasks begun in the workshop. We continued to ideate the business model and design of the development. We began work on the stakeholder diagram and business canvas. We began the architectural and landscape design of the development. In the evening a lecture was given to DUT students and staff, both those involved in the workshop and other interested individuals. Jo Jakovich talked about u.lab, biketank and the Entrepreneurship Lab subject. As E-Labbers we UTS students each gave a short explanation of one aspect of the E-Lab. I spoke on prototyping. At the conclusion of the lecture, we relished an early mark and the opportunity to unwind after an intense few days.


This morning the deadline for the final pitch on Friday began to loom for all of our team. We developed an outline of the tasks that lay ahead and assigned roles and time deadlines. We ideated in block modes and continuously as questions arose. We began to design our respective aspects of the development, our aspects dependent upon our skills. When questions arose representation quickly became the dominant form of communication across state change barriers as well as across tasks.


A quick piece of paper or a notepad would be passed over to a teammate, with a colour, a word, a diagram, a sketch placed upon it. A nod or a pause would indicate a response. If a pause, a new representation would be created in response or else a short conversation would take place. The intensity factor played a large part in this. We were all aware of the tasks that lay ahead of us and we all had a desire, both individually and importantly, as a united team, team six, to succeed. On occasion verbal communication was the most effective medium, but often low fidelity representation was most suitable, especially given time restraints. Quick questions were required, with quick answers given.


In the evening intensity was significant for me personally in its impact on representation. Earlier in the day we had been assigned our aspect of the E-Lab to speak about during the lecture. However, perhaps due to the intensity of the work undertaken for our project or perhaps due to a lack of sleep on my own part, I had not realised that the lecture was that evening. Suffice to say, when I sat down in the lecture theatre and Jo announced that we would be speaking after she gave her talk, it came as a surprise. A short whispered discussion followed with some teammates, before Jo gave her talk. As I stepped onto the slightly raised stage to speak I utilised acting as a form of representation to convey my ideas; that is, acting to hide my lack of planning and practice, and acting to hide my nerves as I stood looking out at a room full of expectant faces. I said my words on prototyping, and I think I got the essence of the process and its importance across to those listening.


By the end of the lecture we were ready to go out and unwind, which worked out well, because the intensity of this day turned out to be nothing compared to the next day.  



Startups, This Is How Design Works ??? by Wells Riley

Check here for full post:

Companies like Apple are making design impossible for startups to ignore. Startups like Path, Airbnb, Square, and Massive Health have design at the core of their business, and they’re doing phenomenal work. But what is ‘design’ actually? Is it a logo? A WordPress theme? An innovative UI?

It’s so much more than that. It’s a state of mind. It’s an approach to a problem. It’s how you’re going to kick your competitor’s ass. This handy guide will help you understand design and provide resources to help you find awesome design talent.

De•sign [d??zajn] is a method of problem solving. The simplest definition. Design is so many things, executed in many different ways, but the function is always the same. Whether it’s blueprints, a clever UI, a brochure, or a chair – design can help solve a visual or physical problem. 1

So what is “good design”? This definition is not so simple. The best designs are notorious for seeming not designed at all – or ‘undesigned’. It’s easier if we break things down a bit. If you know what to look for, it’s easier to identify good design when you see it; or perhaps when you can’t see it at all.

Dieter Rams’ Ten Principles of  “Good Design” (Wow, how convenient is that?) Dieter Rams is a German industrial designer closely associated with the consumer products company Braun and functionalist industrial design.According to Vitsœ: Back in the early 1980s, aware that his design was a significant contributor to the world, he asked himself an important question: “Is my design good design?” Since good design can’t be measured in a finite way, he set about expressing the ten most important principles for what he considered was good design. (Sometimes they are referred as the ‘Ten commandments’.) Here they are. 3  Good design is…
  • innovative
  • makes a product useful
  • aesthetic
  • makes a product understandable
  • unobtrusive
  • honest
  • long-lasting
  • thorough
  • environmentally friendly
  • as little design as possible

“We designers, we don’t work in a vacuum. We need business people. We are not the fine artists we are often confused with. Today you find few companies that take design seriously, as I see it.” — Dieter Rams

Good design can’t be achieved with glossy buttons or masterful wireframes alone. It’s a merger of all these principles into something that is meaningful and deliberate. Just like a great business plan is nothing without expert execution, a great Photoshop mockup is nothing, for example, without careful consideration to UI or the user’s needs. 

©1983 Susan Kare

Objectified: A documentary film that provides a look at the creativity behind everything from toothbrushes to tech gadgets. 15

Various Braun and Vitsoe Products

©1955-2012 Braun & Vitsoe

Take a look at your current product – is design contributing in an innovative way? Does it make the product useful, understandable, and aesthetic? Is it long-lasting, or will it look outdated or break in a few years? These are really hard questions to answer. Designers enable you to work within these constraints to create a product customers will fall in love with. Love is a really strong emotion. Dieter Rams and his contemporaries started a movement in 20th Century towards simple and beautiful products. Design was a strongly valued aspect of business, even 60 years ago. It totally has a place in business today – it’s a proven method.