RICHLAND, Wash. – “The Huminal,” an interactive, kinetic sculptural installation featuring an autonomous, mobile robot that senses and responds to changes in its environment, was completed this month by an interdisciplinary team at Washington State University Tri-Cities.
The installation, two years in the making, marks the third and most complex art-machine designed and built by fine arts professor Sena Clara Creston in collaboration with WSU engineering students and faculty. It will be the focus of a TEDxRichland event, 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, at Uptown Theatre in Richland, Wash.
Created by an interdisciplinary team, it incorporates research and techniques in fine arts, design, electrical and mechanical engineering and robotics to provide a unique platform for exploring the relationship between humans and machines — and, it turns out, between artists and engineers, too.
“The feedback we’ve gotten so far is really great,” said Gordon Gavric, a senior in engineering and president of the WSU Tri-Cities Robotics Club. “People recognize it’s a robot, but at the same time they’re a little creeped out. How do people want to interact with a creepy robot?”
Designed to pique curiosity along with uneasiness, the Huminal is about the size and shape of a large dog and covered with white plastic discs resembling scales or fur. Its four jointed legs give the appearance of walking as it rolls in an elliptical path outside its apparent den.
Multiple internal sensors, a camera and a small Raspberry Pi computer communicate with microcontrollers across two electronic systems to direct the robot’s movements and trigger the pulsing red LED lights in its chest. The steady hum of its heart — two 8.6 volt motors — is interrupted only when a sensor detects nearby movement. At that point, the Huminal is programmed to stop in its tracks, turn its head to face the approaching object, and transmit its warning glow.
“I look forward to seeing how more people react to it,” Gavric said. “Is it alive? Is it human? The mystery is unnerving and it’s this uneasiness that Sena is trying to exploit.”
See the feature article on the Huminal at the College of Arts and Sciences site.