THE ORNITORRINCO PROJECT
EDUARDO KAC AND ED BENNETT
Ornitorrinco pioneered the field of telerobotics and telepresence in art since 1989 -- before the Web.-- as the first system which allowed users in public and private spaces to remotely access a fully mobile and wireless robot and alter the remote location (teleoperation) via the telephone network. Already in 1994, the same year of the Web explosion, Ornitorrinco was also experienced on the Internet.
In 1984 Kac created in Rio de Janeiro a telepresence project entitled "Cyborg". The project involved three different galleries (Galeria Cândido Mendes, Funarte, and Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage) and remote control of objects. The project was not realized due to countless technical obstacles.
In 1986 Kac worked with radio-controlled telerobotics in the context of the exhibition "Brasil High Tech", realized at the Centro Empresarial Rio, in Rio de Janeiro. Kac used a 7-feet tall anthropomorphic robot (left) as a host who conversed with exhibition visitors in real time. The robot's voice was that of a human being transmitted via radio. Exhibition visitors did not see the telerobot operator, who was telepresent on the RC Robot's body.
Still in the context of the exhibition, the robot was used in a dialogical performance realized with Otavio Donasci, in which the robot interacted with Donasci's videocreature. Through the robotic body, a human (hidden away) improvised responses to the videocreature's pre-recorded utterances.
The robot was built by Cristovão Batista da Silva.
Between 1987 and 1988, still in Rio de Janeiro, Kac drew sketches for two small telerobots to be controlled by participants in two distant cities. The idea was to enable a participant in city A to control a telerobot in city B and vice-versa. Kac consulted with engineer Wellington Pinheiro in preparation for this work. The ideas explored in these sketches would lay the ground for the development of the Ornitorrinco Project.
Kac started to collaborate with Ed Bennett in Chicago. As a result, Ornitorrinco was designed, tested, and built. It is two feet square and 18 inches high (plus extendible antennae). The fundamentals of the telerobot's network topology were established (including the use of the ubiquitous telephone and the employment of DTMF signals for real-time motion control). Telepresence experiments from private and public telephones were carried out by Kac and Bennett throughout the year.
"Experience 1", Ornitorrinco's first international telepresence work, took place on January 11, 1990, in a link between Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Chicago. From Rio de Janeiro Kac controlled Ornitorrinco in Chicago via a telephone connection. Ornitorrinco was in an environment in the Electronics and Kinetics Area at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. Kac's sketches for this work were published in the Brazilian journal 34 Letras, N. 7, 1990, pp. 80-81. See also: E. Kac, "Ornitorrinco: Exploring Telepresence and Remote Sensing," originally published in Leonardo, Vol. 24, No.2, 1991, p. 233.
"Ornitorrinco in Copacabana" was presented daily at the Siggraph Art Show, in Chicago (July 26-31, 1992). A public telepresence station was located at the McCormick Place, site of the Siggraph Conference. Ornitorrinco was located about 3 miles away, in an environment in the Electronics and Kinetics Area at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. Participants at McCormick Place used a single telephone line and a videophone for motion control and visual feedback. See: E. Kac, "Towards Telepresence Art", Interface, Vol. 4, No. 2, November 1992, Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design, The Ohio State University, 1992, pgs. 2-4.
"Ornitorrinco on the Moon" was presented on May 28, 1993, between The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Kunstlerhaus (Graz, Austria), in the context of the Austrian exhibition "Beyond Borders". A public telepresence station was located at the Kunstlerhaus. Ornitorrinco was in an environment in the Electronics and Kinetics Area at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. Participants at the Kunstlerhaus used a single telephone line and a videophone for motion control and both visual and aural feedback. See: E. Kac, "Telepresence Art", Teleskulptur 3 (book), R. Kriesche and P. Hoffman, eds., Kulturdata and Division of Cultural Affairs of the City of Graz, Graz, Austria (in English and German), 1993, pgs. 48-72.
After numerous successful experiments throughout the year, "Ornitorrinco in Eden" was presented publicly on the Internet on October 23, 1994, in a networked telepresence event. There were two public telepresence stations: one in Seattle and one in Lexington (KY). Ornitorrinco was in an environment in the Art and Technology Department at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. All three environments (Seattle, Lexington, Chicago) were linked via a three-way conference call (for real time motion control). Anonymous participants in Lexington and Seattle shared Ornitorrinco's body. All three environments were also connected to the Internet via CU-SeeMe. A CU-SeeMe Reflector setup in Lexington retransmitted Ornitorrinco's constantly changing point of view worldwide. Viewers from several American cities and many countries (including Finland, Canada, Germany, and Ireland) came on-line and were able to experience the space in Chicago from the point of view of Ornitorrinco. See: E. Kac, "Ornitorrinco and Rara Avis: Telepresence Art on the Internet," Leonardo, Vol. 29, N. 5, 1996, pp. 389-400, with a technical appendix by Ed Bennett.
"Ornitorrinco in the Sahara", a dialogical telepresence event created for the St. Petersburg Biennale, in Russia. This event's topology was based on the use of two separate phone lines. One phone line connected the Museum of St. Petersburg History, in St. Petersburg, to the Art and Technology Department at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). A second line connected SAIC to the Aldo Castillo Gallery, in Chicago (October 5, 1996). Participants from St. Petersburg found themselves on Ornitorrinco's body at SAIC. Participants from the Aldo Castillo Gallery found themselves on a human body contained by the Telepresence Garment at SAIC. Remote participants negotiated their mutual presence in a third space via telerobotic (from St. Petersburg) and telehuman (from Aldo Castillo Gallery) bodies.
Ornitorrinco, the Webot, travels around the world in eighty nanoseconds going from Turkey to Peru and back, a Web telepresence installation created for the exhibition "Metamachines: Where is the Body?", curated by Päivi Talasmaa, Erkki Huhtamo, and Perttu Rastas, at the Otso Gallery, in Espoo, Finland (October 19-November 10, 1996). Ornitorrinco's hard-wired logic was replaced with a programmable controller to enable it to host multiple behaviors (for example: behaviors projected for Uirapuru -- a work in progress). A telepresence station was located on the first floor of Otso Gallery. Viewers found themselves on Ornitorrinco's body through a web browser with embedded 30fps color video feedback. The browser was also used for motion control. In the basement of the gallery, the telerobot shared a nest with two turkeys. Mocking the "information highway" metaphor, the nest was decorated with contradictory signs. In a complex topology designed to further reveal contradictions inherent in networking, every move made on the first floor (which was offline) resulted in images that were in fact immediately uploaded to the Web. Perceiving themselves as subjects in firm control on the first floor, participants became objects of contemplation when they descended to the basement and tried to interact with turkeys and telerobot behind a glass wall. In the basement, participants were watched by who was on the telerobot's body at the moment, by the turkeys, and by those who were visiting the piece's web site.
For more information on other telematic and telepresence works by Eduardo Kac, click here.
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