The robot consists of two differential drive motors housed in a plastic toolbox with gripper arms on either end. It has sensors for the motor current, so it (sometimes) knows when it is stalled; and an accelerometer, so it (often) knows when it is bumped or lifted. A distance sensor on each end can "see" out to about 1.5m in a narrow band directly in front of the robot. The particular sensor I used only works down to just about the end of the gripper, so a bit of finagling was necessary to decide if a something was in gripping range. The grippers are also operated by motors and have position detecting switches and force sensors which can (usually) tell when they are open or closed. Unfortunately the force sensors are not good enough to detect if someone is fiddling with the grippers, but the bump sensor detects when someone pulls out of the gripper's hugging grasp. The 'bot can make a range of semi-musical sounds with a square wave generator and speaker and, per contemporary art/tech device requirements, there are flashing LEDs on top.
In operation he (sic) wanders around beeping tunelessly until he sees something that looks like a leg. When a leg is detected he approaches and tries to grab it. If the grab is successful he purrs for a while, or until the leg is pulled away, then he backs off and starts the search all over again.
Without a leg in sight he travels in a largish circle until he hits something whereupon he reverses direction. If he hits something shortly after changing direction he tries all of his possible motions in an attempt to escape. If he keeps hitting things he eventually decides that he is stuck, stops moving, and makes a call-for-help sound. If he is lifted and carried he makes a squealing sound until he is lowered to the ground again. When first started up or after being put back on the ground, he plays the Charge tune, known to football band members nation wide, before rolling off on his adventures.
Due to the under-powered drive mechanism he has some trouble with bumps in the road, e.g., taped-down power cables, and can easily become stuck. But in general he is able to traverse good portions of a gallery space without help in his hunt for things to hold onto.
I have found only two precedents for autonomous interactive robots in art environments:
- Norman White, Helpless Robot -- asked visitors to move it around;
- Simon Penny, Petit Mal -- found and approached visitors;
- Autonomous -- not remote controlled;
- Interactive -- multiple behaviors related to audience members;
With Stanley I, accidentally, struck an evocative balance between flaky sensors, weak motors, and anthropomorphism.
During the crowded opening I saw him sneak up and hug a number of unsuspecting legs to good effect. In the less populated times throughout the show many people, especially children, followed him around and tried to get him to interact.
The really interesting part was that, due to the flaky distance sensors, he could arbitrarily decide that he didn't have a leg to stand on and would just go back to wandering around. This was interpreted by many as "Not liking me." He did seem to take some time getting used to certain people before he would deign to give them a hug though. Also, when being tortured by (mostly) small children ordering, and often physically pushing and pulling, him around he went into his "escape" behavior and then shut down thinking he was stuck. Which he was.
I witnessed his non-hugging behaviors in two amusing instances. One day I came into the show space to have a look at the other work sans opening crowds and I heard his call-for-help sound. After some searching I found him stuck underneath the theater bleachers where he had wandered unsupervised. I had to crawl in to retrieve and release him back into the wild. On another evening the show organizers held a small fund-raising reception and wanted him to wander around during the meet'n'greet portion. But when it came time for speechifying his beeping was undesirable, so one of the staff members picked him up and carried him, squealing, out of the room. That got a good chuckle from the audience.
I noticed that Stanley was not treated as an art object, but rather, as the organizers said, a Mascot. I dutifully followed the crowd during a tour where artists present were asked to describe their work. When we crossed paths with Stanley he was introduced as the mascot but I was not asked to describe my "process". This is curious because Feeling Abandoned embodies an emotional message which is what many people find missing from techno-art. When I piped up with the full title the coin dropped for some of the tour members. Since I don't like using the appellation Art for my work and he did make some kind of small cross-over to life on his own terms I probably shouldn't whine to loudly.