Petting Zoo: Interactive Robotic Creatures That Evolve Over Time

Minimaforms creates a series of AI pets that interact and communicate with the public.

Petting Zoo

The pets in the installation Petting Zoo by architecture and design studio MinimaformsStephen and Theodore Spyropoulos—are unlike any pets you've come across before. Not only do they look like they come from another planet, but they're AI creatures that learn from their interactions with participants, displaying life-like qualities to "foster human curiosity, play, forging intimate exchanges that are emotive and evolving over time."

The installation takes the form of neon-lit robotic tentacles that hang from the ceiling. As members of the public draw near these automated helixes react to them, responding to movement and changing their behavior depending on their interactions with the visitors.

Minimaforms' work explores the experimental applications of technology with regards to architecture and design—and this latest project follows on from their previous work that examines cybernetic and behavior-based design systems. It's work that has seen them transform a London square into a smoke-filled environment populated with text messages and design structures ranging from a cellular gateway for a university campus to metamorphosing vehicles for war veterans.

For Petting Zoo they cite the work of British cybernetic sculptor Edward Ihnatowicz, particularly his The Senster which is the first sculpture to be controlled by a robot, as inspiratiion. Gordon Pask's The Colloquy of Mobiles and Walter Gray Walter's electronic autonomous robots Elmer and Elsie from the 1940s are also influences.

As well as being robotic pets the piece also explores how we might begin to interact differently with our environment as it becomes more responsive and roboticized and objects take on personalities. Using camera-tracking the pets can identify when someone comes near, so they appear as though they're greeting visitors by moving towards them or seeking out affection. The pets are also imbued with a personality, helping them form a stronger bond with the public as they engage with them through touch and sound.

Minimaforms explain:

Conceived as an immersive installation environment, social and synthetic forms of systemic interactions allow the pets to engage and evolve their behaviors over time. Pets interact and stimulate participation with users through the use of animate behaviors communicated through kinesis, sound and illumination. These behaviors evolve over time through interaction enabling each pet to develop personalities. Pet interactions are stimulated through interaction with human users or between other pets within the population. Each pet constructs a framework pattern, behaviors that act as memory and enable each pet to learn [and] evolve over time. Intimacy and curiosity are explored as enabling agents that externalize personal experience through forms of direct visual, haptic and aural communication. 

The piece is on display at the FRAC Centre in Orléans, France.