I went to see Artbots today with a couple of good friends. It's an annual robot talent show at the Eyebeam Gallery in Chelsea, for art made of robots, and robots that make art. The "guidelines" are very broad: "No firm rules exist on the types of work that can participate; if you think it's a robot and you think it's making art, then it's an art-making robot."
The robots ranged from very functional to totally esoterically artistic. Some of my favorites were the Guitarbot, consisting of four strings rigged up to extremely sophisticated computer-controlled picking mechanisms that play beautifully, and Robots like H20: Photosynthesis Perpetual Motion Machine, a little cart with two plants on it at different distances from the incoming sunlight, whose movement was fueled either by the difference in the direction of their phototropism, or by their different weights due to difference in quality of photosynthesis. We couldn't really figure out which one of those it was, but either way, like whoa.
Max/MSP was everywhere, making me miss the days when university resources let me use 500$ software for whatever dumb shit I wanted to put together. The perils of interactivity also reared their ugly heads - many of the robots involved some user input (noisemaking, petting, dancing, sending e-mails, choosing what kind of house you want, playing an organ, the shape of your face, etc.), but only the best ones made it clear exactly how that input was being transformed into the flashing lights, drawings, or turntable scratching coming out of the robot. That kind of complexity leading to confusion has the tendency to leave even a die-hard interface junkie like myself a little cold.
All in all, it's always amazing to see people doing totally different kinds of work - just coming up with ideas and putting them together out of wood and circuitry. My love for this shit is undiminished by its failings - I've been thinking of applying for a one-day-a-week internship at Harvestworks to maybe get into something like it myself. Well, we'll see.