We went to Ars Electronica, Linz's annual celebration of art and tech, and here’s what we saw: Exoskeletons. Dancing robots. Shape-shifting materials. Swarms of fish and bees. Skin. Just your average day in the surrealverse. Here are seven projects to watch:
1. Inferno, by Louis-Philippe Demers, Bill Vorn
How does it feel to have an exoskeleton move your arms and make you dance? Pretty weird. Inferno, one of the single most talked-about pieces at Ars, offered visitors the curious sensation of being remote-controlled by a machine.
2. RoBoHoN, by Tomotaka Takahashi with Sharp
Half robot, half smartphone, RoBoHoN runs, dances, talks, takes pictures and projects them. Plus, it’s cute. Like a mini butler. We came away asking: Will future smart devices be gadgety, or sleek and designy a la Apple?
4. Radical Atoms Exhibition
If the MIT Media Lab has its way, we’ll control the physical world of atoms in the same way that we control the digital world of pixels. This exhibit hewed closest to the theme of the Ars festival: “Radical Atoms: the alchemists of our time,” including provocations around biology as a responsive, “second skin” interface; a physical shape display that can be manipulated from near or far; and wearable miniature robots that rove around your body. Take a trip down the rabbit hole.
5. ASSISI, by Thomas Schmickl, Professor of Zoology at University of Graz
Tiny robots, placed among a society of fish and of bees, enabled the two to communicate and influence the actions of the other. Begged the question: how might we use robots to design and evolve swarm behavior in natural ecosystems?
6. Artificial Skins and Bones, by Weißensee Kunsthochschule Berlin
We loved the variety of thinking from this group of students, who are exploring the design of artificial bodies. Ideas included everything from regaining physical ability through smart prosthetics; to enhancing an experience through haptic feedback; to the inevitable evolution toward augmentation, like color- and pattern-changing skin (above), inspired by the octopus.
7. Innovation and Creativity on a Very Large Scale, by Ivan Poupyrev, Google ATAP
Poupyrev, head of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group, argued that constantly introducing new gadgets does not scale. What does scale is creating technologies enabling industries that manufacture basic goods, like jeans, to transform themselves. For Project Jacquard, ATAP invented a new type of conductive thread that can be woven into clothing (like a Levi’s jean jacket—the project was a collaboration between the two companies) giving it an invisible interface. These kinds of mutations are unpredictable, Poupyrev said, and driven by serendipity, emphasising the role of the artist in technological research.