Boston Dynamics Robot Dog Begins Artist Residency

Three of the company’s robot dogs have been sent to Australia's National Gallery of Victoria to create art over four months

Scarlett Evans, Assistant Editor, IoT World Today

November 17, 2023

3 Min Read
Director of NGV, Tony Ellwood AM and Artist Agnieszka Pilat
Director of NGV, Tony Ellwood AM and Artist Agnieszka Pilat Getty

Boston Dynamics’ robot dog Spot has been deployed in industries including logistics, utilities and search-and-rescue. Now, it’s becoming an artist.

Three of the company’s Spot robots have been sent to Australia's National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), where they are being trained to paint autonomously by Polish-born artist Agnieszka Pilat. 

Over four months, the three robots will work to paint a “monolithic durational work,” to be displayed at the NGV’s Triennial exhibition.

The project was first announced in April, though Pilat and the robots only arrived at the gallery in November.

According to Pilat, the process of training the robots has just begun, with Pilat working closely with Boston Dynamics’ engineers to create custom software to “embody [her] artistic vision.” 

“This involves a blend of machine learning, large language models, and specific programming to develop Spot's unique 'personality,'” she said. “This personality is what guides how Spot expresses itself on the canvas, making each piece a reflection of our combined creativity. Through this process, we're not just programming a robot; we're crafting an artist.”

To create the work, the robots will be given sticks of oil paint which they can autonomously move on the canvas, choosing from a range of pre-programmed brush strokes. The aim is not only to have the robots create a piece of art but also to demonstrate the capabilities of AI and robotics when it comes to creative work. 

Related:Boston Dynamics’ Robot Dog Learns to Paint

“My aim…is to create a deeply meaningful experience, one that prompts visitors to reflect on the future, the nature of consciousness, and the growing power of artificial intelligence,” said Pilat. “By showcasing their playful innocence and embracing their imperfections, I hope to illustrate that these AI-driven robots are akin to young children, experiencing and observing the world for the first time.

“It's an opportunity to explore what creativity means in this new era and to open dialogues about the evolving relationship between technology and art.”

The NGV said the work will explore the “power of technology in contemporary society … Pilat imagines that in a distant future these paintings will be revered as the first primitive art-making of AI-enabled robots.”

The project opens up questions about the use of AI and robotics in the creative industries, with the NGV and Pilat both expressing the need for these technologies to be perceived as collaborative tools rather than replacements.

“As artists, we should reclaim our agency and use AI proactively, shaping how the technology develops and is applied in new mediums,” said Pilat. “We have the unique opportunity to raise awareness about the potential dangers and misuses of AI, as well as its creative possibilities.

AI, like any technology, comes with both positive and negative aspects. The key is how human beings, particularly artists, guide its development and application. 

“We should not resist the tides of modernity but rather empower ourselves with these tools to shape culture and redefine artistic expression in the digital age.”

The NGV’s Triennial opens in December, though members of the public will be able to watch the robots create the artwork in the months before its exhibition.

About the Author(s)

Scarlett Evans

Assistant Editor, IoT World Today

Scarlett Evans is the assistant editor for IoT World Today, with a particular focus on robotics and smart city technologies. Scarlett has previous experience in minerals and resources with Mine Australia, Mine Technology and Power Technology. She joined Informa in April 2022.

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