First look: Wooden sculpture which robots helped make for V&A Dundee unveiled as they are honoured in new exhibition

Dundee's V&A museum has unveiled a vast new installation partly built by robots to herald the opening of a new exhibition exploring how they are changing the world.

V&A Dundee's new installation is made out of more than 2000 spruce planks and beech dowels.
V&A Dundee's new installation is made out of more than 2000 spruce planks and beech dowels.

The venue’s first international exhibition will explore how the latest robots are working side-by-side with humans in factories, being used as “household helpers and digital companions”, and even feeding babies.

The Hello, Robot exhibition, which opens today, will examine “the increasing blurring of the boundaries between human and machine”, if the robots can have feelings, and whether they will replace human beings in social contexts.

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Highlights include a therapeutic robot seal designed to provide affection and comfort to elderly people and dementia patients, a desktop device that monitors stress levels and can pat a human arm, fashion that can sense oncoming danger, and a robot that responds to the “tone” of a discussion and trembles if it senses aggression.

The Up-Sticks sculpture is said to be inspired by the timber frame architecture of the traditional Scottish croft.

The exhibition also features 3D printed platform shoes, a mini swarm of bionic ants, drones which have been designed to look less threatening and eco pods which use robot arms to help generate biofuels.

Visitors to the show will be able to pass through a huge timber structure, dubbed “Up-Sticks”, which has been made out of around 2,000 wooden planks and timber dowels.

It has been created for the museum since the start of the year by a Swiss “robotic architecture” practice, Gramazio Kohler, which is also featured in the exhibition for its work on structures made entirely by drones which could help build the villages of the future.

Inspired by traditional techniques used to build croft houses in Scotland, the various pieces of the installation were shipped from Zurich to Dundee and pieced together over the past ten days at the museum.

Dutch fashion designer Anouk Wipprecht's "spider dress" is one of the star attractions in the Hello, Robot exhibition.

Project curator Mhairi Maxwell said: “When we were researching Hello, Robot, we thought that Gramazio Kohler’s prototypes did not quite capture the scale of their work.

“We were really keen to commission a full-scale piece and it’s a perfect fit for the exhibition, which looks at the interplay between human and machine. It’s a real collaboration.

“Up-Sticks is an informal turn of phrase dating back to the 19th century to express leaving your home in haste, which is thought to originate from the rough cut, unseasoned timber frame architecture of the Scottish croft designed for temporary occupation, which would literally be taken with the household from place to place.”

The show, which explores how robots have shaped popular culture, includes an original 1926 poster for the silent film Metropolis, artwork for the cartoon character Inspector Gadget and a 1957 robot made by the Japanese manufacturer Yonezawa.

This robot is able to move like an ant with the help of complex control algorithms.

Also featured are excerpts from music videos by Icelandic singer-songwriter Bjork and German electronica band Kraftwerk, as well as footage from the hit TV show Knight Rider and James Cameron’s classic science fiction movie Terminator. V&A Dundee’s new show is an updated version of the exhibition that was originally created by the Vitra Design Museum in Ghent, in Germany, Vienna’s Mak Museum in Austria, and the Design Museum in Gent, Belgium.

V&A Dundee curator Kirsty Hassard said: “Robots are part of our everyday and not a moment goes by without new developments in robotic technology.

"How and where we encounter robots, the sort of relationships we form with them, and how we interact with them – or they with us – is no longer the exclusive domain of engineers and IT experts. Designers are now often at the centre of these decisions.

"This is an exciting time, and the right moment, to be asking big questions about the role robots should and will play in all our lives.”