How do you teach a robot dog new tricks? Throw it a string of hex, a crayon, and a canvas

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Boston Dynamics’ “Spot” robot dog has been deployed as a tour guide, a police officer, and a warehouse worker. At the National Gallery Of Victoria’s Triennial in Melbourne, Australia, it’s now doing duty as an artist.

Spot’s human handler is Agnieszka Pilat, who told The Register she first saw Spot as a new celebrity and therefore worthy of a portrait.

Artist Agnieszka Pilat with Boston Dynamics robodog Spot

She later considered the bot a canvas on which to illustrate what happens when humans reach for new creative tools by exploring the initial attempts to communicate with newly encountered civilizations or species.

To do that, she created a character for each of the 16 hexadecimal symbols and, working with a pair of engineers who connected Spot to a public AI model, devised a system that sees the robot interpret the hex messages she sends it, and depict each character in unique ways each time it is asked to paint.

Software was the easy part. Far harder was how to have Spot wield something capable of making a mark.

Pilat eventually found that Spot’s grippers could handle “oil sticks” – a kind of giant crayon.

Pilat with Spot and one of its paintings

Another challenge was that Spot is good at going up and down, but not side to side. The artworks it creates therefore feature very few horizontal lines.

The results aren’t brilliant. “Medical bots have more sensitivity,” Pilat said, admitting that there are mistakes built into the works. “This is not Michelangelo. The robots are like kids.”

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But the quality of Spot’s output is not the point. Understanding how bots can contribute to art is her interest.

Visitors’ interests include taking a picture with Spot – Pilat’s exhibit has a space for selfies.

Pilat will direct Spot to create 36 works across the Triennial, which ends in April 2024. The resulting works, she says, will spell out a message for those committed enough to consider the work in its entirety. ®


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