Autonomous Robots

(course for Artscience, 2006/7)
Taught together with Robin Deirkauf and JanPeter van der Wenden, with appearances by Maarten Lamers.

Fully autonomous robots are robots which do not need humans anymore, or perhaps only to appreciate the result of their activities. In a much more limited sense robots are called autonomous when they are mobile and able to take decisions based on information they acquire from their environment. As such the most basic autonomous robot consists of an actuator, a sensor and some kind of decision mechanism. What can robots tell us about stones, plants, animals and humans? Is free will a fiction entertained by the spectator? Is there anybody home? Can robots be performers? Can robots be artists? Can robots be art?

The research group’s activity will consist of making responsive, mobile robots, exploring the minimum of responsiveness necessary to give an impression of autonomous behaviour. A basic introduction to< actuators, sensors and decision electronics will be given. Historical examples of automats, mechanical theatre projects and approaches to robot art will be analyzed, and we will discuss the ideas of theoretical biologist Uexküll, artificial intelligence theorist Marvin Minsky and roboticists Rodney Brooks and Mark Tilden. Literature to be discussed in class: - Valentino Braitenberg, "Vehicles", MIT Press, Cambridge, 1984. (fragment here)
– Rodney Brooks, “New Approaches to Robotics
in Science 13 September 1991: Vol. 253. no. 5025.
– Rodney Brooks, “Elephants Don’t Play Chess“,
in Robotics and Autonomous Systems 6 (1990) 3-15

practical background information:

– Massimo Banzi, “Getting Started with Arduino
Arduino homepage
– Tom Igoe’s Physical Computing pages

further literature (never complete: I will keep adding literature and weblinks here):


– The Pneumatics of Hero of Alexandria
– page on al-Jaziri

mechanical theatre:

– Giovanni Lista, “Théâtre Futuriste Italien, anthologie critique, tome I et II”,
La Cité – l’Age d’Homme, Lausanne, 1976.
– Pontus Hulten (ed.), “Futurism & Futurisms”, Thames and Hudson, London, 1987.
– Schlemmer, Moholy-Nagy, Molnar “Die Bühne im Bauhaus”, Kupferberg, Berlin 1985 (1925).


Nicolas Schöffer’s Cybernetic Sculpture
– Simon Penny’s ‘
Petit Mal‘ (1989-2005)
– Simon Penny’s text “Agents as Artworks: and Agent Design as Artistic Practice


– my “Cybernetic Zoo” posting and its follow-up.
– Owen Holland, “Exploration and High Adventure: the legacy of Grey Walter
in Volume 361, Number 1811 of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A

robotics and new AI:

– Rodney Brooks, “Cambrian Intelligence, The early history of the new AI”,
MIT Press, Cambridge, 1999.
– Mark Tilden, “The Design of ‘Living’ Biomech Machines: How low can one go?“, 1997.
– Brosl Hasslacher, Mark Tilden, “Living Machines“.
ethical dilemmas of robotics at the BBC, here too.

Joost Rekveld