Thoughts go by air

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sol lewitt: "the idea is a machine that makes art"

Het project Thoughts go by air situeert zich binnen het domein van kunsten technologie. Het onderzoekt de mogelijkheid om een autonoom vliegende zwerm robots te bouwen met een eigen intelligent collectief systeem. Dit past zich op een complexe manier aan aan de omgeving en reageert op de aanwezigheid van mensen.

Le projet Thoughts go by air se situe dans le domaine de l'art et technologique. Le projet vise la realisation d'un groupe de robots, volant d'une facon autonome. La conduite des robots est intelligente etcollective. Ils s'adaptent d'une facon a leur entourage en reagissent ala presence d'etres humains.

Thoughts go by air is a slowly evolving project within the domain of artand technology. It was conceived as a project investigating automous flying artbots with its own systems of collective and collaborative intelligence driving on human mobility as a source and interface. "the machine is an idea that art makes"

Communication for the flight in the icecellars, Brussels, 2004

Origin of the name :

Sir Gibbs-Smith divided airplane inventors into two categories. The first he termed "Chauffeurs d'Air", because they acted as though flying a plane was like driving a car. Maxim is the best example of this large category. In contrast, Gibbs-Smith identified "Airmen" who understood that the fluid medium of air made flight a quite different proposition than land based manoeuvring. Chauffeurs tended to be concerned with obtaining sufficient propulsion, without worrying over much about factors like lift or control. "Airman" often worked on gliders before tackling the problem of powered flight. Otto Lilienthal is the prototype "Airman".

Purpose :

To build a creature, and later on a species.
That is strong, flexible and powerful enough to survive humanlike artificial environments.
Like parties, openings, expositions.
At which occasions they will make humans respond by categorical ignoring and avoiding them or by persistently annoying and following them.
While filling the air with inane distressed chatter.
That is the species.
It should not be too difficult to build a species of independently flying creatures that communicate among each other, using human energy and presence. Like Hitchcock's birds suggest: with their own systems of collective and collaborative intelligence driving on humans mobility as a source and interface.

Creative inspiration :

In 1986 computer scientist Craig Reynolds synthesized birds flocking behaviour on a computer screen, he called them boids. In the wild, a bat can send various types of sounds, i.e. constant and modulated frequencies, and can also control the harmonic content of its sounds. Such controls enable a bat to avoid objects in different environments such as in vegetation or in the open air. The sounds used by individual bats also differ from one bat to another, much as humans have distinct voices, enabling bats to navigate without interference from other bat sounds. Research has shown that a female cricket can find a conspecific male by walking or flying towards the calling song the male produces. This sensory cue is sufficient for finding a mate. Using only auditory cues, the female is able to locate a single male, despite other males and other sounds in the vicinity. Many believed that God would have given man wings if he wanted him to fly. Men like Otto Lilienthal believed that if God had not wanted man to fly, He would not have given him a brain. On December 17, 1903 Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first sustained controlled flights in a powered aircraft. In northern Taiwan, some people still release lanterns into the night sky to beseech the heavenly God for blessings just like the ancients did in the past.

Intention :

To create an complete artificial environment using robots mimicking a combination of animal behaviour To explore the possibilities of technology as a medium of artistic expression. To prove that technologically mediated art is truly authentic and charismatic. To built a mobile, responsive, behavioural, environmentally conscious, and essentially audio-visually perceiving, artificialist species able to create (maybe for the first time in history) a responsible art for all humans, animals and machine. To create machines that deal with people rather then people that deal with machines. [lahaag] Of course due to the lack of wings on human bodies. [chip.kali]

What :

Three sets of independently flying balloons. Each sets consists of max. 20 balloons. Why three sets? This way we can have different sets flying at different locations at the same time and we still have a group to continue working on. e.g. During the artbots showing in New York the balloons will also fly in Brussels at the ijskelders. Or ultimate goal is not only to have the different sets flying at the same time, but also establish communication between them. So the interference of somebody entering the space in New York will cause reaction in Brussels.

Each balloon is about 115 cm/diameter, white latex, estimated lifetime = 1 exhibition. They are filled with helium to provide us with the necessary lift. The balloons fly independently. One scenario could be that they remain buoyant high in the room until they detect human presence. Then they will come down, move in the direction of the humans and start to make sound. The balloons communicate with each other. So when one balloon goes down, it will make the others respond and follow him. They will try to follow the humans at a safe distance for as long as it is possible. A lot of humans in the space means they will split and choose which one to follow. Once the space is empty again they will go quiet, fly up for a safe place, stop moving and remain buoyant again. Another scenario could be that they are floating around in space, quiet content, making soft noisy sounds. From the moment somebody enters the room they get distressed and agitated, fly up to safer heights while making distressed sounds. So the best way to observe them would be from a distance.

To behave like this they need to have the necessary electronics on board. That is: they need to communicate with each other, produce sounds, move around, up and down,detect human presence, detect their position in space and that of the others. To facilitate communication with each other the balloons do not communicate directly with each other, but to a central computer that dispatches the messages to the other balloons. This makes communication easier and less power consuming. We will also need this if we want them to communicate with each other over long distance. We will just hook up the computers to the web. All electronics are hidden in small gondola which also contains the propellers. It is attached to the balloons with a small framework that fits around the balloons. This frame will also be used to attach the balloons to each other in case this is needed. For outside flight or to provide more lift.

To make this work we will have to experiment with technologies of different kinds baring in mind that everything has to be extremely small, light and doesn't consume to much power. Helium doesn't lift to much so heavy components and batteries are out of the question. It is difficult to give the exact electronic details since we are still researching which components to use. Of course, for us this is the biggest challenge, to find the right electronics that give us enough freedom and expressivity, so that our balloons get a mind of their own and become more then just an object of technology. Eventually these balloons should be easy to install so we can send them to different parts of the world and the only thing you have to do is blow them up.

Where :

As mentioned before we are going to show these balloons at the Ice Cellars of the VUB and built them in the space above the cellars. This historical location consists of 2 subterranean connected rooms. With a width of 10 meters, a height of 12 meters and a total length of 60 meters the space takes the proportions of a cathedral. The cellars were built at the end of the 19the century and have enormous historical value. Nowhere in Europe you will find ice cellars of this size. It is a unique location and has specific acoustic and spatial qualities that we think will fit perfectly for our balloons. Because of the limited access, there is only one staircase, and a limited number of people is allowed because of safety reasons, we will also use the space above for public showings and presentations and set up video streams to get this thing to the open. The balloons though will only fly in the cellars.

External links & references

Images & movies

Images from Le mois Multi Festival, Quebec, 2005