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Speculating the Possibilities for Remote Collaborative Design Research:The Experimentations of a Drawing Robot

For the past three-years Cat Normoyle (Assistant Professor, Memphis College of Art) and I have been practicing a critical and speculative approach to design making and research. Our research uses present technologies to speculate future possibilities for remote design collaboration, where interactions and exchanges are limited to those mediated by technological devices. 

This research was initiated with a survey we conducted of the current tools available for collaboration that takes place in a digital space. Our findings led us to question whether these same tools could support a remote collaborative making process that takes place in the physical space. As a response to these inquiries, we built and tested multiple robots to function as an additional tool in augmenting the remote-collaborative making process.

The robots are our drawing instruments we control in real time through an online interface. Drawing with the robots is a way for us to learn the limitations and abilities of the tool; with each use, a range of opportunities for future development surfaces. The process is prioritized over the outcomes by utilizing prompts that challenge the abilities of the tool and by operating under unexpectedness, surprise, and experimentation.

Recently we published "Speculating the Possibilities for Remote Collaborative Design Research:The Experimentations of a Drawing Robot" in The Design Journal and presented our working process to date as well as future speculations at the Design for Next conference in Rome, Italy. A drawing robot was in an exhibition at the MSU Broad Art Museum, this robot was text-enabled allowing for museum visitors to send a text to the robot in order to draw with it on a shared working surface.

Process, Experimentation, Play

The artifacts created from the robots are a direct result of the collaborative process that was defined at the beginning of our experimentations. With this process, we collaborated in real-time to produce drawn artifacts; each working session typically ran for two hours, although durations of time for the collaborative-making process were varied.

To provide more direction and set common goals in the working sessions, we introduced prompts to our experimentations and play. Prompts functioned as catalysts to our drawing activities and sometimes consisted of one or more work sessions. The prompts allowed for us to remain focused on the task at hand, narrowing our processes in ways that allowed for specified scrutiny on the robot and/or the making process.