Schindler collaborates with artists on the impact of robots on urban mobility


Have you ever wondered what it would be like to share an elevator with a robot? What would it feel like? To explore this topic, Schindler is collaborating with artists on a project focusing on robots in urban mobility.

The artist Anna Dumitriu with Loomo the robot.
The artist Anna Dumitriu with Loomo the robot.

Imagining the impact of robots in cities

When thinking about the Arts, engineering innovation and robotics may not be the first things that spring to mind. However, Schindler’s New Technologies team wanted to explore this connection and submitted a proposal to the STARTS artist in residency program.

This initiative, organized by the European Commission, builds linkages between the Arts and technological innovation, supporting the creation of inclusive, sustainable technologies.

Schindler saw the program as an opportunity to view innovation from a new angle and was keen to creatively explore the social implications of robots on urban mobility.

Trends in robotics and urban mobility

Automation and robotics no longer form part of a futuristic view of society – they are increasingly important in the development of the cities. As we move forward, humans will not only outsource work to robots, they will share their work and living spaces with them.

In the context of urban mobility, this raises the question how robots will impact the design of mobility services, buildings, smart cities, and our interaction with them. Looking towards the future, the presence of robots in the built environment has the potential to transform cities into co-mobility spaces, shared between humans and robots.

Through its research and development initiatives, Schindler is anticipating and responding to such trends. For instance, robot prototypes have been developed to support elevator installation; transport individuals horizontally or inside elevators; or to act as an elevator service companion.

Dr. Martin Kusserow, Principal Engineer within the Schindler New Technologies team, was keen to creatively explore innovation in robotics through the STARTS program. “We don’t yet fully understand how robots and humans will interact in everyday life and this will be an important topic in the future. I saw the residency program as a way to think outside the box and create new ideas for the human-robot co-mobility topic in elevators”.

The artists in residence

During the STARTS program, Schindler will collaborate with Anna Dumitriu and Alex May. The artists are pioneers in the creation of robotic artworks that performatively explore our relationships to new technologies. They have extensive experience as artists in residence working on social robotics and, through this project, will build on past collaborations with universities and other research institutions.

Anna Dumitriu

Anna Dumitriu is British and originally trained in Fine Art at the University of Brighton. Her work explores our relationship to microbiology, synthetic biology, and robotics. Her artistic practice is deeply embedded in laboratory settings and she works hands-on with cutting edge biological and digital technologies. She has collaborated with a number of British universities as a visiting research fellow and artist-in-residence. She was also the 2018 President of the Science and Arts section of the British Science Association.

Alex May

Alex May is a British artist exploring a wide range of digital technologies, most notably video projection onto physical objects, interactive installations, generative works, full-size humanoid robots, performance and video art. He exhibits internationally and gives talks about many aspects of digital art, digital preservation, and public engagement with social robotics through art. Alex also serves as a visiting research fellow, artist in residence, and lecturer in British universities.

Since 2011, Anna and Alex have worked collaboratively on digital and robotics projects and have an international exhibition profile at galleries and museums including ZKM, Ars Electronica, and HeK Basel. Through partnerships with a range of research entities they explore ideas around social robotics and how humans understand and interact with robots.

Schindler’s artistic collaboration

During their residency at Schindler, the artists aim to create a new human – robot performance experience and installation where both a wide public audience and scientific researchers can reflect on the current research and speculate on future scenarios which are grounded in the latest research.

They will work closely with the Schindler team to understand the concepts and issues faced. The final work will emerge through the residency process, but they envisage creating a robotic installation that enables the public to experience closeness to robots, various forms of robotic motion, how robots may “observe” us and react to our observations, and the ethical debates associated with humanoid robots.

The final work

In July, the artists spent two-weeks with the New Technologies team where they learnt more about Schindler and the work on robotics.

Over the next few months, the artists will regularly visit Schindler facilities and work in their studio in the United Kingdom. They aim to complete the project in March 2020 and then exhibit their new artwork as part of international exhibitions and festivals.

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