Robotics Meetup Amsterdam


A new Amsterdam Robotics meetup is being organised by Rajat Mani Thomas.

It was an interesting first evening. Here are some basic notes:

  • Robot running time is expensive because of wear and tear. So machine learning (which takes time) is expensive.
  • research is done in the lab: Limited State Space = very minimalistic environment where only a limited number of problems can occur.
  • In Finite State Automata you have to write all the possible states, adding a new state means writing how it relates to all the others. A lot of work!
  • In Fuzzy Logic each rule gets different scores, the most successful ones can be combined.
  • In Optimal Action Discovery teams of robots experiment and establish possible actions and states. The system can learn to go from its current state to optimal state, through reinforced learning. Behavior patterns are pre-set, but have open ranges of change.
  • The future for robotics: working in groups is as challenging for robots as for people. Object recognition is still difficult. (Color Invariant Object Recognition)
  • ICRA is a mayor robotics conference: Rod Actuators, Minimal Hardware Design, visual markers on objects for the robot to be able to work (markerplants?)
  • The real ‘ecology’ around robotics are teams who keep the system up and running, typically 5 PHD-s and 10 students. They tinker and then pray it keeps running for the experiment. Many of the videos you might see on youtube needed many runs to get a video of the robot working.
  • The Botson Dynamics’ Bigdog is really the only robot that reliably works.
  • So how do we get beyond the lab? The mechatronic part is okay, the AI is much more problematic.
  • Robots are only starting to have a nervous system. The advantage of robotic systems is communication at near light-speed. The brain need not be central, but could be distributed. However communicational breakdown can ask for some basic processing power in the robot itself.
  • What is becoming more apparent is that all learning systems are a function of the body. The process of learning is deeply embodied: to understand someone grabbing a cup of coffee, needs the same constraints mentally as grabbing it yourself.
  • Healthcare as a market: based not on replacing but on assisting people in care. Or as a facilitator of communication.
  • Academic field is communicating, but still very fragmented.
By |March 13th, 2016|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Robotics Meetup Amsterdam

Cornwall design#2

The 13th and 14th of November 2015 the first FieldRobotics workshop was held in Falmouth, in Cornwall in collaboration with FoAM Kernow. This post describes the design for a robotic hybrid creature by the group led by Judith van der Elst.



A detailed sketch made by Theun (top) based on the drawings by the team during the workshop (below).

Judith writes:

Our team explored the tidal zone in sound and vision. We contemplated interspecies communication and how the ‘thing’ could facilitate interspecies communication actively or passively, and liked the idea of a sponge; a rather passive thing that can absorb and release. The ‘intervention’ eventually created by our team is designed as an interface to facilitate cross species communication. In this case to connect aquatic life (hydrosphere) to land dwellers (atmosphere). An interface, a term now mostly associated with human-computer interaction, can be defined as: the surface forming a common boundary between adjacent regions, substances, or phases; or: a point at which independent systems or diverse groups interact. Our interface is envisioned as a sponge-like creature that floats on the water. Under water it attracts and guides soundwaves into sponge cavities, from sounds made by small sea creatures. The pressure that thereby builds up pushes the water up through its channels,  forming bubbles at the atmospheric side. The floating sponges create a visual bubble pattern that can be observed by diverse land dwellers and flying creatures from large distances, giving an idea of the under water orchestra.


Team-members releasing the creature into it’s habitat.
By |February 14th, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Cornwall design #1: Fucus

The 13th and 14th of November 2015 the first FieldRobotics workshop was held in Falmouth, in Cornwall in collaboration with FoAM Kernow. This post describes the design for a robotic hybrid creature by the group led by Amber.

A detailed sketch made by Theun (top) based on the drawings by the team during the workshop (below).

Amber writes: Our machine was called Fucus – as it was heavily inspired by seaweed ( bladderwrack, Fucus vesiculosus Wikipedia ).

The group was very drawn to the beach and the mud – as soon as they were on the beach they found some bladderwrack hanging from a tree, and we talked about the ‘bladders’ as buoyancy, and how the structure completely changes when there is water present or not. Stillness with the tide out/seaweed ‘dances’ with the tide in. (Dry seaweed – brown, brittle, hardened, crunchy, opaque, ochre… Wet seaweed – maleable, slimy, green, strong, shiny, colourful, rubbery, elasticity, breaks along the vein, translucent, dappled texture). We talked about why they have multiple bubbles – one bubble is risky if the seaweed is broken. One prevailing feeling was the amount of rubbish in the environment – china, glass, plastic – people talked about how this ‘doesn’t fit in’, yet it is ‘part of the environment’ and some things live on it. There was an idea to accelerate evolution to make creatures that fed on plastic – and talk about how plastic is made from oil, which is recycled life – where does ‘nature’ start and end?

The design built on this – making a creature to eat or collect plastic from the water surface – designed to rise up with the tide, and collapse down to an anchor point when the tide went out, much like bladderwrack. The group thought of MANY different iterations, before being encouraged to think about the ‘minimum viable design’. They ended up with an anchor (like seaweed, to loosely anchor on the mud), a long string to allow the creature to rise to the surface as the water came in. There was a central floating hub, with a long tube attached. Along the long tube there were floats, inspired by the seaweed bladders. At the other end of the tube was a finned floating object, with a marine motor, allowing it to travel round in a wide circle around the central hub. Hanging from the long tube was a hand made net, fashioned from a material similar to seaweed – thin and breakable to allow any fish to escape easily, while still entangling floating rubbish.

The dream was to have a system capable of using the collected plastic to fuel and rebuild the creature, allowing it to replicate independently to collect plastic over a broader area.


Amber’s team out on the mud-flats in the Falmouth estuary.
By |December 30th, 2015|Uncategorized|0 Comments



From November 30th until December 6th Theun Karelse of the Machine Wilderness team joined a meeting of environmental advocates, activists and indigenous peoples at Chateaux Millemont near Paris in what in effect became the only alternative public gathering to COP21 in the aftermath of the attacks on the city earlier that month.

Led by indigenous elders and grandmothers this gathering with representatives from all continents was based on indigenous ceremonial practices, with the aim of uniting practitioners of ancient cultures, scientists, economists, artists, youth and more. It became a challenging and incredible week of ceremony.


I’m going to state the obvious here: ceremony isn’t a goal but a means. The actual shape it takes is not important. It is a means to get beyond your own small circle of concerns and needs and be aware of the vast web of relations that we are part of. So the fire rituals aren’t about the fire and the drumming isn’t about drumming in the same way as the Olympic Games aren’t just about athletic exercise.

The rituals and discussions lead by representatives of ancient cultures like the Alifuru from Indonesia, the Sami from Lapland and the Ojibwa from the Great Lakes in the US, resulted in broadened perspectives. A shift that could be felt somehow even physically. The focus shifted towards very long time-frames and environmental intimacy. In this week the seventh generation since the start of the Industrial Revolution – looked forward to the future of seven generations to come. In that long-term perspective it becomes clear what community actually means.

Healing was a constant factor in various ways with a direct line between personal, to historical and environmental issues. Probably restoration ecology in it’s fullest sense includes all these aspects.


That is also the kind of reference frame within which Machine Wilderness would like to investigate our relationships to technology and how we go about designing our infrastructures. What can be our role as a species that is ‘artificial by nature‘ (to quote anthropologist Helmuth Plessner)?

During the week, with environmental advocates and activists like John Liu and Douglas Tolchin (restoration ecology) and former director of Greenpeace Rex Weyler, opportumities towards renewed environmental health were clear and tangible. Humans can restore wholesome relationships to their surroundings and they can even do it fast. Even just in this week various new initiatives emerged for establishing sanctuaries and restoration initiatives.

It’s interesting to think about what ceremony and indigenous practices could bring to emerging technologies. What would ecological robotics or biohack-labs look like if they included ceremony and local indigenous practices? I’m thinking this could be a powerful addition to our Machine Wilderness design processes, engaging with local indigenous practices that have grown over the centuries within local landscapes and contexts. So lets see what’s possible..


The Voices 4 the Earth meeting was initiated by Leo van de Vlist of the Netherlands Centre of Indigenous peoples and Frank Heckman of the Embassy of the Earth.
By |December 9th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on not-the-COP21

FoAM Kernow Workshop

Day 1

the town
The 13th and 14th of November 2015 the first FieldRobotics workshop was held in Falmouth, in Cornwall in collaboration with FoAM Kernow. Falmouth is a very unusual place. Despite its relatively small size the small town hosts a large university population. This gives the village a very attractive cosmopolitan atmosphere. FoAM Kernow has opened its studio there recently and has since developed a diverse and transdisciplinary program. Our workshop has extended its reach beyond the local community of creative practitioners, students and researchers to Bath, London and beyond. The town is particularly suited to start our workhop program, due to it’s varied and dynamic landscape, ranging from farmland to estuary, industry and domestic areas, but also because of its academic range from art and design to behavioural ecology and anthropology.

the goal
The aim of this first workshop is to have a large and diverse group of participants work in parallel teams on the design of an artificial creature or in Cornish jynnweythek godhviles (mechanical wild animals) for a specific place in the Falmouth area. This enables us to explore many different approaches fora diversity of viewpoints. The knowledge and insights gained will feed into the workshops in spring next year.


the introduction
We start the day by going out along the estuary and we assemble into a large circle on an old graveyard looking over the water. Participants introduce themselves by a picture or a description of a place they feel close to or grew up at. So the landscape is the point of departure at all levels. About half an hour is used to connect to the environment on an emotional and physical level. From breathing we connect to the atmosphere, from our feet we connect to the Earth’s crust. From the sound-scape we connect to layers of history and from observation we try to take the viewpoint of non-human inhabitants.


the exploration
Teams of six go out and spend the morning exploring the area across from Jubilee Wharf basking in sun light. Participants are looking for spaces, niches or microclimates where the landscape suggests a robotic inhabitant. Everyone is encouraged to also work by themselves if needed. This is allowed to happen organically. Theun’s team moves up from the graveyard and passes through narrow Cornish footpaths going places even our local team members have never been. After a while it becomes a muddy trail down a footpath drowned by a little creek that flows all the way down into a soggy reed bed along the coast. We stop to take in smells, try to determine plants species, explore textures, colours and the shifting spaces within the reed beds. Sitting in a field we exchange impressions for an hour or so before heading back to an amazing lunch of prizewinning bread and delicious salads.


the design
At the ZedShed, a space next to FoAM Kernow’s office, the four teams gather to start exploring initial ideas that emerged in the outdoor exploration. Guided by fieldnotes and a series of themes for thinking about various aspects of wilderness machines, including: ecosystem role, lifespan, behavior or reproduction, each team gets their creature more into focus. The design session aims towards a first basic sketch and description of a creature or entity that can be presented to the other teams. Each team collects their materials and the day ends with four portraits of jynnweythek godhviles, hybrid creatures sprouting almost like mythical beasts from Cornwall’s techno-ecological landscape.

Day 2

the engineering
As the participants gather with coffee and tea in the morning they are treated to a detailed presentation by Ivan Henriques about his work building advanced plant-robotic systems and symbiotic machines. It brings into focus the many technical challenges that are part of creating such custom made hybrid entities and leads to interesting questions about imagining bodily functions that may be very distant from human experience. To show the other end of the engineering spectrum Theun shows some Youtube clips of the Japanese phenomenon of Hebocon, which are robotic sumo tournaments for the ‘technically ungifted’ where ‘crappy robots’ with swinging plastic arms on wobbling boxes take each other on in hilarious duels. This should put any nerves of participants about our technical skill-levels to rest as teams gather for a day of prototyping. Intermingling and collaboration on all levels extends the exchange of ideas and matching skills.


the prototype
Teams work for an hour ripping apart robotic toys, skinning mechanical hamsters, glueing electronics to vegetables and harnessing electricity from mud. In this mayhem, mechanical organs are sketched, bodies take shape only to dissolve again and biographies of unknown hybrid species are pencilled into notebooks. Whatever results from this surge of assembling and connecting is presented by teams in short updates. The ideas is that the updates can bring out unsolved challenges to the whole group and solutions can surface from all sides. In practice it helps teams to get to grips with their projects and get a clearer picture of what they are constructing. The last hour of prototyping now starts before the creatures are introduces to their outside habitats. Suddenly various parts get connected and improvised bodies and systems materialize.


the plunge
The weather isn’t perfect but everyone is eager to get outside and see their creature being introduced to the environment. In the rain we go for the first opportunities available: the harbour at Jubilee Wharf. It is reminiscent of the festive christening of ships that are freed from their docks. Each team lets their creature go free. The extended machine created by Amber’s team whose metabolism is integrated with plastic waste is set free in the harbour first. While it gently floats across the surface, the bubble blowing entity made by Judith’s team and the cuttlefish-machine from Ivan’s group also take a cautious plunge. They are cheered on and pictures are taken. Theun’s team lets their stringy being roam free at the side of the road. It’s colours clash somewhat with the neatly kept municipality shrubs, but a poem helps bringing the creature into context.



the feedback
Participants gather for a closing round of impressions, comments and suggestions which will help refine the next workshops in the project. A massive clean-up effort gets the space back to it’s original state. Theun will take the sketches back home to make them into detailed drawings (like botanical illustrations).

By |November 18th, 2015|Uncategorized|187 Comments

Machine Wilderness symposium -notes


Notes from the symposium, part of the Machine Wilderness programme designed by Theun Karelse of FoAM Amsterdam and Alice Smits of Zone2Source

Amsterdam, Artis Royal Zoo, 20151102

#machinewilderness / #machinewild



Theun Karelse

  • The term Machine Wilderness comes from the title of ISEA 2012, coined by Andrea Polli, borrowing from the cultural geographer Ron Horvath in the 1960. He wrote about machines in a negative way: machines are dumb, wilderness is a mess. Both ISEA and this Machine Wilderness event has a more positive approach to machines and to wilderness. There is interest to design technology beginning from the environment, where machines are so integrated in their environment that they’re not easy to distinguish from it.

Augmented ecology and @augmentedeco:
1. how to transform GPS tags on animals to make much richer meanings (Microsoft: Technology for nature – individuals and groups; facebook for herds, anchor point for drones – hybrid ecology)

  • danger – cyberpoaching – panna-211 (panna tiger in a reserve in india), don’t share photos from safaris, poachers can track the animals
  • gps tags → epizoic media (libraries of signatures)
  • harvesting fields → harvesting data
  • IOT → internet of organisms and ecosystems

2. Ecological Robotics

  • Daan van Dijk Darpa 2013, COTSBot (management of invasive starfish), Robird (management – scares birds away from Schiphol), TumbleWeed bot (based on plant movement – drifts, blows through the desert and collects environmental data), SwarmFarming (using robots for agriculture)
  • Biocarbon engineering – planting 1mil trees per year using robotic drones
  • Rainforest connect – conservation using 2nd hand phones – they listen for the sound of chainsaws, and report – monitoring
  • MyBionicBird
  • Compostable Drones – how do we deal with lifespan of tech in landscapes
  • AI: mind (thinking machines) + bodies (acting machines) + environment → behaviour


Designing from:

  • processes in the environment, beyond objects
  • local habitats
  • diverse knowledge systems

Designing towards cohabitation & intimacy


Prof. Erik de Jong

Prof at the UVA & Artis

“Natura Artis Magistra” (1838) – Nature is the teacher of art & science (Royal Zoological Society); → What does it mean for the future to connect art, science, nature…

  • e.g. exhibition of microbes & micro-organisms
  • Het Groote Museum – first museum in NL (1852) – in the future, a museum, a workplace for the antropocene (started in 1600 – colonialism, 1900 – industrialisation…), for man and nature, platform for discussion & exchange; where do we stand as humans on the earth; galleries on nature, science and technology, biomimicry, the future (cyborgs, replacements of nature…); laboratory nature – nature managed by man (manipulating genetics, etc.)
  • E. Wilson “the artificial new environment into which technology has catapulted humanity” – what does this mean? (e.g. natural disasters, infrastructure failures (New York blackout in the storm in 2012))
  • wilderness = 1st nature, cultural landscape (agriculture) – 2nd nature, designed nature (gardens, urban environments) – 3rd nature
  • Louis le Roy, Turn off nature / turn on nature (1973) – not dominating but co-operating with nature – still dualistic thinking – machine ↔ nature
  • we need a new language to describe interactions between machines and environments
    • the etymology of the word machine = “device”, “instruments”, “apparatus”, “machine a habiter”…
    • “wilderness” = “community of life untrammeled by man where man himself is a visitor, not to remain” – this changes in the antropocene
  • city as metabolism – a new relationship between town and landscape – hybrid landscapes – deserted industrial locations, landfill reclamation…
  • avoid confusions with pre-modern and mechanistic views
  • finding a way to talk about hybrids, co-operation between technology and nature – a common vitality in reclaiming aesthetics as a process and not an object in the tangle of tech and nature – including philosophy, ethics, morals – responsibility of human nature towards non human nature


Prof. Em. Petran Kockelkoren

The Technological Disclosure of Landscapes

How technologies opened up our experience of landscapes?

  • Nature is thought to be a healing experience, while cities and technologies are thought of as being alienating – inherited from the romantic era (for an opposing view see Romantic machine
  • “Nature and memory”: The term “landscape” is originally Dutch.
    • See the Dutch landscape painters of the Golden Age; usually without any technology (even thought the Dutch landscape was riddled with technology)
  • “Nature is sublime” (19th ct.), “Technology is alienating” → loss of nature due to propagation of technology (Heidegger, etc.), in the 21st ct – the dualism between nature and technology begins to change – technology can re-connect humans to nature

Picture 5

  • 19th ct – transport technology (train, etc.) – a revolution of how we experienced landscapes;
    • railway spinecultural pathology resulting from incorporation of technology – health claims related to train journeys; problem for insurance companies
    • learning to cope with the phenomenon of speed and technology which hasn’t been integrated into daily life; 19th ct – hysteria, 20th ct. alien abductions, multiple personality disorders – symptoms are real, causes uncertain
    • fairground attraction – simulation of a train/boat experience – fairground as exercise ground for “high speed” travel, immersive simulation, to learn to cope with the experience of speed – landscapes moving (things nearby flash by fast, further away things move slower) – people had to change the way they perceived things around them, which can be unsettling
    • Victor Hugo – description of his train journeys “flowers are no longer flowers but colourful streaks…”
    • Futurists – depicting speed and velocity, buildings start to dance, people flashing by, ‘streaks – signs of speed’
  • 20ct – car, monument to a car race – it alienated people from the central, static perspective, not so much from landscape
    • Futurist Giacomo Balla – attempting to change perspective and coin new imaginaries for speed – we needed to re-normalise our senses – images and sounds help us cope with the new experiences…

  • pop-art – streaks in comics – speeding cars
  • zootrope – suggesting movement, children’s toys, artistic expression, scientific simulation of birds in flight (Max Ernst) – disclosing the world by means of technology changes our perception and sensory experience
  • Muybridge – horses galloping – are they ever free from the ground (yes)
  • Stereoscope – photograph with two different focus points – the world available in stereo – photographers began experimenting with focal points (depth, ‘enhanced stereos’ – issue with veracity); Bishop – if God wanted us to see this depth, he would have given us eyes further apart…; Scientific photo of the moon – very difficult (distance, etc.), but there is a wobble in the moon (the photos were taken 3 weeks apart) – “a step out of and beyond nature” – but it disclosed the possibility to view the moon much more intimately – a mediated view of nature, with a more intimate and immersive knowledge – a breakthrough in the view of technology
  • Tintin – “destination Moon” – actual rockets and clothing inspired by Herge’ comic; project Tintin insterstellar nanosat mission to alpha centauri – Alan Bean (astronaut) – “the only artist who has been to the moon”, painting with moon-dust
  • Andrea Polli (tracking data of hurricane Bob → Atmospheric Weatherworks – acoustic artwork to understand nature on its own terms, complex rhythms and melodies of nature on human scale) & Gavin Starks (translated data from telescope images into sounds – soothing synth sounds – a deception; but the image itself is mediated already (radiowaves translated into image)) discussion at DEAF 2004 – we are always embedded in cultural and historical incorporations of technology – nature is always a mediated event
  • Husserl “an experience of nature is always artificial” – documentaries – mediated, staged, interpreted events
  • Esther Polak – GPS traces through the city “Amsterdam Real Time” (2002) – the mediated event – sky-drawing, “Milk”, fishing boats – different stories emerge than when we look at photographs – new positioning of artists in the field, just breaking ground
  • 3D projections in cinemas, art galleries – contemporary fairgrounds to exercise new perceptions


Anouk Visser & Reinier Kop

Creating Technology for nature conservation, in game reserves and agricultural mapping, Dutch UAS

  • primarily drones
  • motivation:
    • rhino poaching, the anti-poaching drones need to be cheap and simple for the rangers to use
    • game counting (compulsory)
    • elevation/photographic maps and 3D models
  • where to:
    • object detection/recognition – reduces time needed to go through the images, towards 100% accuracy
    • AI counting tool – automatic reporting of current states and changes over time
    • expand to other sensors (multispectral/thermal) for precision agriculture and crop monitoring
    • Earth Observation Platform – gathering analysing and visualisation of data – for any environment
  • “surveillance company for nature” – military algorithms not open sourced


Xavier San Giorgi

Relationships between technology and food forestry

Reading technology or reading nature?

  • Food forest – farming like the forest – perennial plants, complete diet farmed all year around, systems approach – design science from a holistic perspective; robotics can help with monitoring of feedback loops
    • more biodiversity, more biomass, more yield, more lushness
    • low maintenance system
    • Layers of the forest (overstory, understory, shrubs, herbs, ground-cover, root, climber
    • biodiversity – including plants, animals, insects, microbes… – in an equilibrium; if not – more work!
    • healthy soil (springiness of forest soil)
  • Too often we design agricultural spaces in order to adapt to machinery we use
  • Yeoman’s Keyline Scale of permanence (change effort – energy / relative permanence – time)
  • Food forests exist more in tropical/subtropical gardens
  • How do you design a food forest for a city scape? In recreation areas, plants that aren’t commercially viable, that are difficult to harvest industrially

Requirements for technology in foodforests:

  • touch earth lightly
  • broaden our senses, be aware it shapes the way we behave
  • help ppl reconnect to nature
  • be amazed with and learn about the environment, give it meaning
  • not a substitution, it’s always more layered – to design more complex agricultures


ir. Paul Roncken

at Wageningen University

Landscape Machines

  • Deep Longing to own a piece of land
  • Urban agriculture is not going to solve the food problem, but it points to a DIY approach – hands, heart & head, food (consumption), playfulness, fantasy (arcadia)
  • Relationship between food and landscape
  • Olmsted, Frederick Law – landscape architecture (19th ct), Ian McHarg (1970s) – “Design with nature” (1967) (water ecological system of great complexity & ritual)
  • dutch way of making land – engineers, farmers, politicians, NOT landscape architects

Landscape Machines

  • complex systems including the landscape and technology – yes we intervene, but the ecosystem responds to it with more vividness
  • post doomsday landscapes
  • “Venice in the desert”, icebergs cooling cities…
  • “beautiful landscapes, small scale, green (garden) / “sublime landscapes” grand, red, giant, phatasmagoric… (landscape)
  • technology in a landscape – should be sublime – regeneration, over-access of power – energetic vision of landscapes (usually without human beings…)
  • fluctuating results, hidden technology, embodied experience – with “Fremdkörper” in the centre (the ecological body has to work harder to process) – in a constant dynamic environment – continuous adaptation
  • flexible/responsive morphology – designers introduce fremdkörper, the ecosystem responds – is this co-evolution or manipulation?
  • Karim van Wonderen + Sophia Molpheta “De Zeeuwse Tong Project” – “ont-poldering” – nature + agriculture – “saline landscapes”, transition between sea and the land, more biodiversity + more fish yield


Spela Petric

Reified Nature / Natured Technology

… in projects including Miserable Machines (2015), Voyager 140 AU (2013) – metabolic algorithm in interaction with the environment; PSX consultancy, sex toys for plants (2014); Skotopoiesis (2015) confronting the vegetal otherness – how we comprehend the environment, biosemiosis; Naval Gazing

Naval Gazing (is navel gazing)

  • test facility seaweed centre on Tessel
  • nutrients from the Rhine can sustain substantial primary production in the north sea – could it be converted in seaweed biomass? – growing brown seaweed in the winter – it can clean up the ocean, useful in cosmetics… in springtime other organisms would take over… a theory at this point
  • how to make a sea garden? a system where humans and nature co-exist
  • BUT: it isn’t easy to cultivate seaweed in the north sea… – the north sea is a very hostile environment…
  • Rachel Carson “The sea around us” (1951) – cybernetics and ecosystems – interconnectedness of things
  • Harvesting the sea – started in the romantic period
  • Knowing more about strange environments – also allows to exploit it better (for entertainment, extraction…)
  • Inspirations: Strandbeest (Theo Janssens) and others
  • Habiton – Man-made future habitat moved by the wind – it tumbles through the ocean and collects organisms/biomass, eventually it sinks to the bottom; human made object appropriated by nature

Miserable Machines

  • Differences between technology and living organisms
  • “Soot-o-mat” Mussel muscle – ultimate sacrifice of living tissue for the production of ‘excess’ – soot-o-mat
  • Hybridity is a slippery slope – sometimes things should be respected for what they are rather than being forced to ‘hybridise’


Kenzo Kusuda

Attention, movement of water and air in and around the body


Prof. Dr. Guszti Eiben

Evolving robotic ecosystems – nature inspired robotics/computer science (evolution as inspiration – influences language)

Takeaway messages

1. Artificial evolution is real, not an emulation of a ‘real’ evolution, just another form (Darwin evolution, Watson & Crick DNA, Turning & Von Neumann – creating evolution (computers) – programmers set the rules)

  • link between evolution (biology) & problem solving (engineering): individuals (in a biological framework), natural selection (choosing fitness), reproduction (digital sex)
  • evolutionary algorithm (evaluation-selection-variation loop)
  • it can solve hard problems, cope with changes and deliver original solutions
  • Macroscopic view (after Dennett): if you have variation, heredity and selection you must get evolution. Variation – push towards novelty, selection – push towards quality

Historical context

  • (19-20 ct) Wetware (biosphere, we can observe what has happened in the past and present, in vivo)
  • (20-21 ct) Software (evolutionary computing, a generative concept, in silico)
  • (21ct) Hardware (evolution of things, in materio)

2. Robots can be evolved

  • not all humanoid, not all mechatronics (soft robotics)
  • evolution can create intelligence → artificial evolution can create artificial intelligence
  • intelligence and embodiment: environment + body + mind → behaviour (AI in 20ct. narrow view of only the mind – chess, in now body + mind (and hopefully also environment) – football
  • Genotypes (variation – mutation & crossover) & phenotypes (selection) – can be done in robotics too
  • behaviour can evolve in robot populations – we know how to evolve software brains, how to evolve physical bodies → modules/cells or 3d printer (artificial womb)
    • ethical dimension – this can get out of hand… (e.g. radiation hazard, biohazard → robohazard?) – do we need a “kill switch”; we probably don’t want distributed birthing robots, but a centralised birth clinic, with strict control…
  • challenge: simulations don’t scale up very well
  • Cambridge: mother robot that produces ‘a child’ consisting of active and passive parts, that can move on its own
  • application: breeding farm for service robots or pets, entertainment (robotic parcs…); robot colonies for terraforming or ultra deep mining
  • science: “cyclotron for evolution”, understanding life, evolution of body & brain, robosphere

In Nature: From evolutionary computation to the evolution of things


Parallel sessions: Ivan Henriques

Hybrid forms: JAP, PNBM, SM: wet & dry machines

  • interspecimen communication
  • environmental robotics
  • workshop on symbiotic systems, using Amstelpark as a medium, exploring the needs and opportunities of biorobotic systems (abiotic systems – solar, temp, wind, water + biotic systems (plants, animals, bacteria); creating systems to enter a dialogue with the environment – integrated interdependent systems
  • energy systems

Parallel sessions: Judith van der Elst

Forest bathing – digital technologies for the enhancement of sensory experience

  • understanding human spatial intelligence; mapping how native american indians relate to the landscape – our technological system tends to be too flat; flow, relationships, in-between spaces
  • embodied research – what would an embodied education look like, making use of ubiquitous computing related to landscape?
  • extending the bodies with digital technologies; how can they help us improve our senses?
  • understanding processes in the semiosphere
  • exploration in Amstelpark + University of Urbino – birdsong (sonotopes) connected to scents of landscapes + how do smells and sounds interact
  • plants smell different when transplanted from their natural environment to a cultivated environment (e.g. a park) – exploring non human languages in the semiosphere (workshop in the spring)

Parallel sessions: FieldRobotics

Discussion lead by Theun Karelse



By |November 8th, 2015|Uncategorized|307 Comments

Wildfood Kernow


In preparation for our Machine Wilderness workshop coming up in November, the FoAM Kernow team spent a morning exploring the landscape through edible plants around Penryn with Rachel Lambert from Wild Food Foraging.

Read more here: http://chez.io/2015/10/09/wild-food-foraging-thursday/

By |October 17th, 2015|Uncategorized|937 Comments

field_notes: theun

In the furthest north-west corner of Finland well into the Arctic circle lies the Kilpisjärvi biological research station. Our host Erich Berger, director of the Finnish Society of Bioart and his team and partners have brought together over 30 people from various places, practices and backgrounds for a five-day program on Hybrid Matters; a collaborative exploration of topics and issues that emerge from the complex hybrid layers in this landscape and the participants in the 2015 edition of field_notes.


Teams of some 6 or 7 people have been formed around specific themes within that context. Anthropologist Judith van der Elst and Theun Karelse of the Machine Wilderness program were part of different groups in Hybrid Matters. Judith joined the Seven Senses On The Land group lead by Marko Peljhan, Matthew Biederman and Leena Valkeapää. Theun was part of the Encounters in a Layered Landscape group led by Antti Tenetz, these are his notes:

The Layered Landscape group focussed on exploring the landscape around Kilpisjärvi looking at layers through the lenses of history, ecology, sociology, politics, technology, or climate. Northern Lapland, where the biological research station is situated, is particularly suited to this, team host Antti explained, because processes and traces remain visible for so long. In this region the metabolism of vegetation is so slow that a WW2 air-plane crash site remains clearly visible even 80 years after the event. The black scarred soil looks almost as fresh as if it happened weeks ago. Human activity dating back to stone-age inhabitants some 8000 years ago are not disturbed or overlaid by more recent human activity as it would be in many more southern parts of Europe. This makes ‘layers’ traceable. Our team set out on several days of fieldwork exploring sonic, political, microbial, visual, and invisible layers in different areas around Kilpisjärvi, ranging from the aquatic layers in the lake up to the alpine layer up on Saana mountain and ranging from the distant past to the imminent future.


For me personally, my aim was to do first experiments in mapping a landscape as a framework for design. Within Machine Wilderness we want to figure out how a design process for technology works if you start from a landscape; the complexities of a particular local situation. At Kilpisjärvi the Layered Landscape team seemed the perfect opportunity for some first test. I simply took my little field note-book and started thinking of categories that would make sense. The first was Actions. If we want to create machine organisms to be native to a landscape the actions that are displayed in that landscape seemed the way to start. Through the shared exploration with our team this became broader and I started to list states of being, textures, forms, erosion, and realms, which were recorded by Peter Flemming making it an abstract geographic poem (Soundcloud). To explore the perspectives of inhabitants of the landscape I started to list points of view inspired by the notion of kaleidoscopic view in landscape theory. This included many different human and non-human perspectives; a real-estate agent and a historian see different things in a landscape, and so might a bird or a fish. Each forms what Jacob von Uexküll calls an Umwelt. Jens Hauser who was part of the Second Order group described it as (I paraphrase) we can observe an organism, and a second order would be observing how that organism observes us, a third order would be observing ourselves in that interaction. This third order perspective is crucial to Machine Wilderness; the goal of making an artificial creature is to learn to see how we interact with non-human realms.



An unexpected issue to emerge in full force was the idea of being indigenous. Through the presence of the Saami in person and in discussion I became confronted, as I have been recently in the presence of friends belonging to various indigenous peoples from various continents, with my own background and confronted again with the history and erosion of my own local culture and the hybrid shape it is taking today.

Encounters in a Layered Landscape- team: Antti Tenetz Lori Hepner Peter Flemming Maia Lotzova Piibe Piirma Anssi Laiho and Theun Karelse


By |September 24th, 2015|Uncategorized|0 Comments



Field_Notes: an art&science field laboratory on converging ecologies

Machine Wilderness team-members Judith van der Elst and Theun Karelse will be joining the Field_Notes expedition from 14th to 20th of September at the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station. Organised by Bioartsociety Finland HYBRID MATTERs is a two year Nordic art&science network program which investigates the convergence of the physical and digital world into a hybrid ecology.

Anything which has a physical and digital or technological aspect at the same time is hybrid matter, like people with smartphones, animals with a geolocation transponder, networked sensors, genetically altered organisms or bottles where a website is printed as part of the label. The hybrid element matters because we are not talking about exceptions but about our everyday life.

“‘Hybrid Matters’ promises to use art in a fascinating way in order to explore current and future digital developments and show how the relationship between humankind, nature and the environment changes as our physical/organic reality and the virtual merge together ever more completely.” (From the adjudication committee statement)

The digital world is increasingly converging with the physical world, and has become an essential part of our everyday life and environment in various levels. Currently this is mostly seen in human communication, and to some extent for management, and control of machines. But in the recent years we have also witnessed the first experiments in the merger of organic matter and technology, including the field of the arts

The term “hybrid ecology” refers to the interaction and merger between the digital and the living and physical. Hybrid ecology consists of established actors, such as physical spaces, humans, animals, plants, biological processes, and human introduced actors, including virtual spaces, software, networked robots, enhanced humans, genetically transformed organisms, synthetic biological organisms or human designed processes.

The aim of the Hybrid Matters program is to investigate and explore how digital technologies can create new models of communication and form new kinds of connections between the various actors in “hybrid ecology”.

website: hybridmatters.net

By |September 11th, 2015|Uncategorized|0 Comments