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Flower Dance

A bed of colorful robotic flowers that respond to human movement is causing a stir at the National Design Triennial at the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City. Created by Cynthia Breazeal, PhD ‘00, and her robotic-life group at the Media Laboratory, the flowers were designed to challenge commonly held assumptions about what robots can be.

“People think robots are utilitarian, but they can touch you on an emotional and aesthetic level, too,” says Breazeal.

The 60-centimeter-high flowers, made of materials including translucent acrylic, aluminum, and copper, sit in a “soil” of metal shavings atop a table sheathed in brushed aluminum. At rest, the flowers pulse like a heartbeat, but when their built-in sensors detect a visitor approaching, they perk up and sway in response to the visitor’s movements.

“Children are dazzled by them, and adults are amazed,” says curator Donald Albrecht. “Then they want to know how they work.” Two large cutouts in the table show the G4 Macintosh below that runs the exhibit, some of the 58 motors that power the flowers, and a huge tangle of cables.

The exhibition runs through January 25 and also includes work by Media Lab professor Tod Machover, Benjamin Fry, SM ‘00, and Maggie Orth, SM ‘93, PhD ‘01.

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