Feb 20, 2016 | By Kira

Art and Science have become one in a joint 3D printing project between Le Fresnoy, the French National Studio for Contemporary Arts, and INRIA, the National Institute for Computer Science and Applied Mathematic. Known as Exo-biote, the experimental installation brings to ‘life’ 3D printed soft robotic sculptures that mimic natural breathing patterns, regularly inflating and deflating, as though part of a single, living organism.

Exo-biote was carried out by Le Fresnoy sculpture student Jonathan Pêpe with technological cooperation from the Defrost team of the INRIA, dedicated to research in “Deformable Robotic Software”—i.e. soft robots. The Department of Science and Visual Culture (SCV) at Imaginarium also contributed a 3D printer and 3D printing research specialists, while support was provided by the Neuflize OBC bank.

The installation, created in mid-2015, consists of several organically shaped 3D printed sculptures that ‘breathe’ and ‘pulse’ inside a display case. Some vaguely resemble intestines or tentacles, while others are almost entirely abstract.

“These hybrid objects swell with air and seem to be alive, to breathe. These components are part of a whole, they belong to the same body,” explained Pêpe. “A spasmodic choreography leads the viewer on an inner journey.... It is as if the objects presented here were commodities, objects ready to use, mass-produced surrogate organs.”

As we delve deeper into the era of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), with robots becoming increasingly common in our daily lives, improving our relationship to these machines by making them more approachable, adaptable, functional, and safe, will become of paramount importance. The area of research known as Soft Robotics deals precisely with these questions, and 3D printing technology has already enabled great advancements.

Researchers have so far demonstrated the possibility of embedding the natural functions of biological organisms, such as flexible movement and pressure sensitivity, into robotic creations by 3D printing with elastomeric materials available on the consumer market.

The applications for 3D printed soft robotics range from safer and more natural 3D printed prosthetics to exploratory and care robots, industrial grippers, and even 3D printed organs, as demonstrated 3D printed heart made from elastomeric foam.

For the Exo-biote project, however, the artists’ main intention was to explore the intersection between art and emerging technology, and to invent a “typology of possible forms and movements” for the soft robots of the future. The project was also a unique opportunity to bring together the ‘divergent’ fields of art and science, which are often viewed as entirely different disciplines, yet can benefit one another.

“Up to now, we have only explored the technical aspects of robotics,” said Mario Sanz, an R&D engineer and member of Inria’s Defrost team at Lille Nord - Europe. “With this creation, we shall be able for the first time to get a glimpse of the aesthetic aspect, the sensations and impressions that the presence of these robots arouse in humans.”

 “For an emerging technology such as reshapable robotics, the possible applications are becoming an artists’ playground while possibly opening up routes for research and development, to say nothing of the industrial and commercial challenges. Furthermore, this is an association that benefits both sides in terms of visibility, added value and communication,” continued Sanz.

Exo-biote - © Jonathan Pêpe / Julien Guillery

As an artistic project, Exo-biote draws attention to the emerging field of soft robotics and its aesthetic possibilities. As a technological research project, however, Exo-biote reveals the potentials of 3D printing technology to create previously unachievable “organic” robots. These 3D printed soft robots mimic and embody natural organisms, and will play an undeniably strong role in shaping the future of Human-Computer Interaction.

Exo-Biote was part of Le Fresnoy’s Panorama 17 exhibition, an annual creative symposium held between September 2015 and January 2016, with more than 50 works on display covering ever field of contemporary artistic creation. The theme of the 2015/16 Panorama symposium was “Technically Sweet,” and focused on works that question the relationship between the body and technique.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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