Do you remember when it was obvious that humanoid domestic robots were set to take over our homely duties?
Then everyone – rather wisely – realised that we shouldn’t shape our creations in our own image; that the abstract forms of vacuum cleaners and dishwashers are far better suited to their tasks than the human body ever could be.
Despite the foley, that 1950-70s aesthetic of android robotics is still associated with the future. When we imagine 2114 – or watch movies set in that period – there are always humanoid robots. Why?
To paraphrase Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, in our explorations with technology, “we are only seeking man”. We look for something we can project our thoughts, emotions or values onto.
Is this helpful? Is human sentiment always the priority in human-computing interactions? Or does it hold us back from more suitable – but more abstract – solutions?
TEASMATE explores this by putting participants in control of a tea-making robot arm. It’s difficult to use, chaotic, unwieldy and impractical. What’s worse, it’s a mechanisation of the easiest part of the tea-making process for humans: lifting and moving cups and teabags.
The absurdity of the whole thing is highlighted by the effortless grace of the accompanying Breville hot water dispenser, which performs a task impossible to humans (heating water to 100 degrees) with little fuss, maximum efficiency, and a shape totally unrelated to the human form.
TEASMATE asks whether if we overdevelop, are we just making a mess? Or is there a beauty in that?
The Teasmate robot was built from a steel frame; acrylic limbs, shoulders and chest plating; five high-power servos (3 x DS-1660, 2 xMG946R); a pincer hand; a 3D printed head, two green LEDs and a custom-printed apron.
It was controlled via an Atari-style joystick, linking to an Arduino and running Processing on a MacBook Pro.
The table contained specially-sized plastic cups to fit inside the pincers, tea bags and a hot water dispensing machine. It also contained UHT milk packets.
Teasmate was first exhibited at the TEST SIGNAL exhibition in Elephant & Castle, London. It was on display between 11 – 13 SEPTEMBER 2014.