Art-ificial intelligence: Co-creating with a robot for the Musée de la civilisation
You’ve likely seen these provocative headlines in the news. Will robots steal your job? What happens when work is automated? How will artificial intelligence impact my life?
While these are valid questions, says Dr. Michelle Chrétien, Director of Sheridan’s Centre for Advanced Manufacturing and Design Technologies (CAMDT), there’s more to the discussion than robots replacing people in the workplace.
“Rather than technology wedging us further apart, we’ll see more examples of collaboration, especially applications of this nature in advanced manufacturing,” says Chrétien. “In many ways, robots are picking up the slack for things that people just aren’t interested in doing anymore. Implementing robotics technology has created new jobs and dynamic work opportunities.”
The complex relationship between humans and technology in an ever-changing world is explored in a new exhibit at the Musée de la civilisation in Quebec City. Entitled Head in the Cloud – it’s a “playful, immersive exhibition that inspires” according to the museum’s website.
Sheridan’s contribution to this educative topic is in collaboration with ABB Inc., a global technology leader that is driving the digital transformation of industries. In 2019, ABB Canada was approached by a team at the museum to explore the concept and immediately turned to Sheridan and its students for inspiration.
Arts and robotics collide for a unique museum experience
ABB’s YuMi® robot, two of which are housed in CAMDT’s state-of-the-art facility at Sheridan’s Davis Campus in Brampton, is the hardware at the centre of the attraction. For this exhibition, the robot was programmed by Electromechanical Engineering Technology student Ramzy Ganady, based on an experience dreamt up by three Bachelor of Business Administration students and Sheridan Creative Campus Gallery summer assistants, Nimrah Ejaz, Sonika Gupta and Natalie Maharaj.
The intent, says Dr. Catherine Hale, Director of Creative Campus at Sheridan, “is to break down the dichotomy of creativity and robotics and see how bringing together technology and human activity can create a remarkable project.” Hale and Valentyna Onisko, Assistant Curator of Sheridan’s Creative Campus Galleries, mentored the Gallery Assistants throughout their internship.
YuMi® is unique in its collaborative capabilities, making it relevant for this challenge. It’s designed for small parts assembly, able to work side-by-side on the same tasks as humans while ensuring the safety of those around it. It has flexible hands, parts feeding systems, camera-based part location and state-of-the-art robot control.
The YuMi robot in action based on an experience designed and programmed by Sheridan students.
For museum visitors, the experience with the Sheridan-designed exhibit is two-fold. In its autonomous mode, YuMi® will be behind glass, continuously drawing on a whiteboard with a series of identical geometric shapes as well as a series of objects, which are similarly geometric but show an aspect of humour and communicative potential. “Since the museum exhibit is catered to young adults and teenagers, we thought emojis would be relevant while demonstrating that the robot can draw a perfect circle, which is challenging for humans to achieve,” says Gupta.
Bridging the efforts of business students with an engineering technologist made for an interesting interdisciplinary opportunity. “I didn’t really expect to be involved in a robotics project while studying at Sheridan,” says Maharaj. “It was a welcome opportunity to experience something so unique,” adds Ejaz. Specializing in Marketing, Gupta remarks: “a big part of marketing is thinking creatively and outside of the box. This project certainly challenged me to look at the experience of a museum visitor through a new lens.”
For Ganady, who’s accustomed to complex technical challenges in his program and through his employment at CAMDT as a technologist, it’s not often he thinks of artistic applications of the technology with which he works. “Having the opportunity to do a project like this helps expand my knowledge,” he says. “In engineering we’re often addressing a specific problem with technology as the solution. This project was more abstract and centered on programming a particular experience.”
In a shorter, interactive setting, a museum attendant will enable YuMi® to co-create with visitors on a drawing. The robot will be rotated to face participants with a clipboard and piece of paper placed between the person and robot. YuMi® will draw on the paper, and the participant will be encouraged to add to the drawing, or colour in the shape. It will serve as a souvenir for the visitor to take away. To bring this to life, Ganady programmed each individual point where the robot moves the marker on the page to form the graphics.
Project provides rich, experiential learning opportunity for students
“After presenting the industry trends of today and themes that ABB envisioned for the application, including collaborative and interactive use of technology, we enlisted the help of the students while encouraging use of their innovative and creativity skills,” says Niclas Sjostrand, Head of Robotics, ABB Canada. “We’re highly impressed with the result of the application and incorporation of our technology for this museum experience.”
“In engineering we’re often addressing a specific problem with technology as the solution. This project was more abstract and centered on programming a particular experience.” – Ramzy Ganady
Sheridan and ABB have a long-standing partnership, a decade strong. “ABB has made amazing contributions to our space to make sure students are working on the most cutting-edge technology,” says Chrétien. “The first YuMi robot in Canada was placed at Sheridan in 2015, and I think that’s an exemplar of the productive relationship we have with them.”
Taking on collaborative, interdisciplinary projects is a Sheridan priority in order to provide rich, experiential learning experiences for all students. “Reaching out from our engineering bubble into our community at Sheridan and beyond benefits the learning of everyone involved. It’s part of the DNA of who we are at Sheridan,” adds Chrétien.
This collision of Sheridan’s creativity with ABB’s cutting-edge technologies is an innovative experience that will be open to the public as part of Head in the Cloud starting November 28, 2019 and running through to January 31, 2021.
Check out this video about the Sheridan-ABB collaboration.
Pictured at top of page (from left to right): Valentyna Onisko, Dr. Catherine Hale, Dr. Michelle Chrétien, Ramzy Ganady, Natalie Maharaj, Nimrah Ejaz.
Story written by: Keiko Kataoka, Manager, Communications and Public Relations at Sheridan.