Artistic robot plays with light in the heart of Frankfurt

Robotic art in the process of being installed in downtown Frankfurt, Germany.

While it may at first seem odd to see industrial robots creating art, it’s actually not as strange as you might think.

In recent years we’ve seen our robots used for some unexpected creative pursuits, including Jon Bon Jovi concerts, entertaining on cruise shipsmaking art in interesting ways, carving wood and many, many other examples. And this weekend we have another special sort of artistic endeavor going on. At the annual Luminale Festival—devoted to the art of light—an ABB robot has a key role in one of the many light sculptures spread around Frankfurt, Germany… and we have a truly spectacular location in the heart of the city.

As it turns out, our robots aren’t shy of creating light art. During the last Luminale Festival they projected pictures onto the wall of a public building, and in October 2013, one of our robots stood on top of a parking deck in Germany and performed similar non-industrial movements with objects and a “light saber.”

A video from the last Luminale:

At this year’s Luminale Festival, people passing through the Frankfurt Hauptwache will be treated to an unusual scene: An ABB robot placed in the middle of the public square, manipulating a roof during the day and a light fixture by night. The spectacle will happen every day of the show, which runs from March 30 to April 4.

The robot will see an incredible amount of visitors, considering that more than 180,000 people transit through the Hauptwache each and every day with its location at the exit of the subway and the entrance to one of the pre-eminent shopping mall areas in Frankfurt.

Luminale is all about the challenges surrounding innovation, technology and design with light, and takes place parallel to the  light+building architectural convention, where ABB is also be quite well represented.

The project was realized through a cooperation between ABB Robotics and the artist group Realities:United. Valerie Hoegerle, an ABB Student Intern studying Mechatronics at the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University in Mannheim/Germany, took on the role of project manager as part of her education.

“The task of this robot cannot be compared with its work environment in a normal factory,” says Valerie. “First of all, you cannot simply drill holes into the ground of a public place. To move the 1400 kg machine safely, we made a concrete base that was five times heavier than the robot. There were also long conversations about the number and kind of “tools” the robot should use , and a cooperation between technicians and artists is always something special, but in the end we realized the vision in a great way.”

“It is an exceptional event not only for those who will see an industrial robot fort the first time,” she concludes. “Outstretched and with pedestal, the robot is taller than four meters and switches between slow and fast movements, never loses accuracy and, with mechanical endurance, it still has some surprises up its sleeve. The most important and fascinating will always be the fact that these machines apparently move on their own and develop some kind of ‘personality.’”

So, if you are in Frankfurt this weekend, or anytime throughout the rest of the Luminale Festival, please stop by and take a look at this impressive display, both by day and by night. If you’re lucky, you may find yourself being asked to comment about it on camera for a movie we’re making of the project. We will also be installing the robot on Friday and Saturday, which could prove to be an interesting spectacle in and of itself.

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About the author

Nick Chambers

Content is king, and ensuring we have a lot of it at ABB Robotics is what I do as the Content and Editorial Manager for the organization. With a background in both automotive journalism and the natural sciences, I like to translate the highly technical into engaging stories. As a freelancer I was published in outlets such as the New York Times, Scientific American, Motor Trend and Popular Mechanics, always with a focus on the complex and rapidly evolving world of next generation technology--so robotics is a comfortable fit.
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