In Babyface, artist-in-residence Kate Ladenheim choreographed a cyborg character exhausted by the performance of hyper-femme gender roles. In collaboration with the artist, RAD Lab developed wings that synced to the performer's breath, extending her body's expressive capacity while blurring the boundary between performer and robot. Babyface has been shown at the Performance Arcade, Barnard Movement Lab, the Conference for Research on Choreographic Interfaces, and the DanceNOW Festival and cited in HRI 2020 and Robotics and AI, among others.
The lab uses embodied inquiry and the academic field of dance to push our basic understanding of robotics. For example, this image comes from A Machine by The RAD Lab, performed at the Krannert Center for Performing Arts and showing Amy LaViers dancing downstage of an audience member's cell phone, which was used alongside others to create part of the soundscape for the piece. The work included excerpts of writings by dance scholar Catherine Elgin and computer scientist Alan Turing and contributed to a series of published works on the foundations of "expressivity" that appeared in Nature, PLOS ONE, and the journal Arts.
RAD Lab's approach to education bridges traditional engineering training, kinesthetic learning, and principles of choreography. In some cases, we provide students with their first exposure to dance and to robots. Both bodies of knowledge are foundational to our research: above, Amy LaViers demonstrates a body half -- an exercise critical to our development of a more expressive bipedal gait system -- for engineering students at UVA. These workshops have resulted in a textbook Making Meaning with Machines co-authored with Certified Movement Analyst Cat Maguire forthcoming from MIT Press in October 2023.
In Time to Compile, artist-in-residence Catie Cuan asks participants to engage with a series of humanoid forms, challenging participants and onlookers to consider the ways in which various bodies can imitate one another. The work has been shown at the Ammerman Center for Art and Technology, the DanceNOW Festival, the International Conference on Movement and Computing, and the Mountain Arts Center (above) and described alongside other outreach initiatives that emphasize creative experiences with robots in Materializing Digital Futures, among others. This and similar initiatives help RAD Lab forge meaningful connections with communities, encouraging a more expansive conception of robotics -- and dance.
Through customer interviews and an iterative prototyping process, basic, curiosity-driven research in the RAD Lab seeded a startup company, AE Machines, translating our research for commercial use. The easy-to-use automation web-based software design tool developed by the startup and underpinned by published research in the lab, won Product Design of the Year at the 4th Revolution Awards in Chicago where RAD Lab and AE Machines representatives were joined by UIUC Research Park director Laura Appenzeller and then-governor Bruce Rauner at the awards ceremony.