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Brenda is classic automata nightmare fuel

Arduino TeamJuly 5th, 2022

Art is a strange thing. Sometimes its purpose is purely aesthetic. Sometimes it makes a statement. And sometimes it exists to disturb. Kinetic art is no different and some robots fall into this category. Graham Asker’s art elicits pondering on the relationship between humans and robots, as well as the relationships between different robots. But as Brenda, a classical-style automaton, demonstrates, Asker’s art can also induce nightmares.

Brenda and her companion Brian are strange, bodiless robots designed to mimic the aesthetics of automatons from myth and history. Each robot is a construction of beautiful brass, mechanical joints, linkages, and cables. Servos hidden inside the bases of the robots actuate the various joints, giving Brenda and Brian the ability to emote. Most of their “facial” movement is in their eyes. Lifelike eyeballs look around from within heavy eyelids, while pivoting eyebrows help to convey expressions.

Arduino boards, also hidden within the robots’ bases, control the servos that actuate the joints. Asker programmed the Sketches with a variety of different servo movements that correspond to facial expressions and eye movements. Brenda even received lips, so she can smile – or frown. Both robots’ bases rotate, so the robots can turn to look at their surroundings. Brenda and Brian do not have any communications hardware and so they can’t interact with each other, but Asker can sync their pre-coded movements to create the illusion that they do.

Asker, who is a retired engineer with a Master’s degree in fine art, displayed Brenda at London’s Espacio Gallery and on the Walthamstow Art Trail.


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