Although its creators call it a Petting Zoo, the current installation at the FRAC Centre in Orléans, France is a far cry from the familiar pen of pigs and goats. Designed by the London-based firm, Minimaforms, the exhibit consists of a collection of robotic armatures suspended from transparent ceiling-domes. The self-illuminated cyber-tentacles respond to user interactions, curling and bobbing up-and-down when touched while emitting different colors based on preset behavioral programs.
According to the designers' description on their website, "[p]et interactions are stimulated through interaction with human users or between other pets within the population. Intimacy and curiosity are explored as enabling agents that externalize personal experience through forms of direct visual, haptic, and aural communication."
This dramatic experiment in responsive robotic art is visually compelling, but has it gone far enough? Perhaps the tentacles could be more useful, delivering fresh air at desired temperatures, focusing light in darkened areas, or reconnecting broken electrical circuits. Meanwhile, the unnecessarily heavy emphasis on "petting" could be redirected towards a variety of purposeful human interactions. What is currently a whimsical exploration has the potential to become a much-more meaningful, enabling technology: a semi-autonomous, animate building infrastructural system that ensures optimal delivery of electromechanical services for occupants (while inviting a smile or two).
Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.