Created by Random International and as first observed by Gunnar Johansson as “Biological Motion” in the early 70s, Study for Fifteen Points is the latest experiment in the new body of work by the London based artist collective exploring the minimal amount of information that is necessary for the animated form to be recognised as human; and the fundamental impact created by subtle changes within that information.
When arranged and animated in order, the points of light represent the human anatomy. Instinctually, the brain is able to stitch the disparate points together and recognise them as one human form. Reduced ways of representing complex information have been a sustained source of inspiration to Random International over the past years. Following the artists’ residency the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Fifteen Points investigates these possibilities of motion, representation and perception through a developing vocabulary of industrial material.
The maquette was largely built using technologies and platforms created in-house at Random – some of them pre-existing; others developed specifically for the project. The plinth contains all of the hardware required for the piece to run: power, data distribution, a ‘full fat’ PC and other supporting components. The software running on the PC was developed over about a year using many of their own pre-existing libraries and frameworks. All of Random’s software sits on a Windows-C#-XNA stack.
The MPM software contains virtual models of the piece’s real arms. As the arms move around, the software returns motor angles for the arm joints in real time. The ends of the arms can be bound to many things – such as mouse input, functions (useful for drawing shapes) or more abstract data sets. For testing, the software plays back through a pre-determined data set which contains the walk cycle of a man. As the walk cycle doesn’t change, it is possible to manually account for collisions or range limits in the real world. Moving forward the team will be using a dynamic walking animation system which can be varied in some ways. They have been working with Dr Nikolaus Troje, head of the BioMotionLab in Canada, on methods for generating walk cycles dynamically.
The arms themselves are constructed from sections of printed circuit board. The arrangement of tracks and bearings allows the arms to carry power for the LED which sits at the tip of each limb. The arms are actuated by programmable robotics servos and the LEDs are controlled by circuitry the team developed, that responds to the same command language as the servos. As such, both types of device can co-exist on the same communications bus without interfering with each other.
Once per frame, the software updates the walk animation and then derives motor angles from arm positions. Command packets are generated using the angle data and the packets are sent to the seven motor groups.