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Joybots - story of the Expo2000 robots


Today

In early summer 2009, BMW´s brand presentation management called the artist group BBM to ask for an installation in their fabulous Coop Himmelb(l)au showroom "BMW Welt", see http://www.coop-himmelblau.at/


perfekte_kurve1100520173947They specified: "can we get a flock of your smart robots"? ofcourse they could! but the flock had to be trained to meet all the complex requirements of such an extraordinary space with its thousands of "obstacles" like super flat landings, with hallways in between that should be "no go areas", with open down staircases, a hyper deconstructive and irregular ceiling of between 17 and 20 mtrs height completely made from metal - which is a "nightmare" for all tracking systems and -last but not least - how to deal with up to 12.000 visitors per day!?

BBM took on the challenge and developed within an extreme short time span of only 6 months a complete new stearing and tracking system, based on infrared beacons that have been used in a beta version during their TROIA project (see TROIA here)



One of the most difficult aspect was to solve the task not to touch any detail of the existing design and install all the technology in a way that it is invisible for the visitors and still works 100% reliable. BBM installed the IR positioning behind the ceiling in almost 25 mtrs height and covered a "playground" of alomst 1000 sqm.

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As well BBM developed and manufactured a brand new display system for BMW: a 2 mtrs long 8 dot matrix for each joybot that is bended over two axis to fit into the ampourphous inside of the robot´s shell, plus they re-equiped the inside with an interactive RGB color lighting that makes the joybots look like floating automatons.

In May 2010 BBM completed installation in situ within two weeks. now 6 "joybots" are fostering BMWs 2010 campaign "joy is the perfect bend".

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History

When the artist group BBM‘s (Observers of Operators of Machines; www.bbm.de) robots emerged into the light of day at the Expo in Hanover in June 2000 after two years of development, it only took seconds for the media to give them a nickname.

They were called the “Expo Eggs” because of their unusual form and creamy white shells reminiscent of the origins of all life.
When the very first “Expo Egg” was presented to the public a year before the Expo opening, the “S¤ddeutsche Zeitung” newspaper dedicated an entire page to this spectacular project by BBM founder, Olaf Arndt:
ŃDer Zukunftsmacher”!
At last the first German Expo had the sensation it had been seeking for so long: friendly robots, and a whole flock of them ą 72 loveable beings.
1.3 million people came from all over the world, peered, puzzled and played with the robots: an enduring symbol of intelligent communication1.

German news magazines STERN, SPIEGEL and FOCUS as well as TV broadcasters outdid each other with their euphoric reports. The “eggs” were promptly dubbed “An Eiffel Tower for the 21st Century”.

DIE WOCHE praised the project, “An Oscar for the Expo’s cleverest production!” and the architect of the German Pavilion, Johannes Milla, described the “Blue-white Revolution” as simply the “best media space ever created.”
This mammoth project (with production costing 11 million Euros) was run by the artists themselves with support from Europe‘s biggest media art centre, ZKM Karlsruhe, the Fraunhofer Research Institute and Multiplex, a high-tech company from Bremen, who produced the robots’ striking shells.

Project Director Olaf Arndt honed the concept, working with the most well-known of the interested parties, Disney Imagineering. Orrin Shively, Head of Development for Walt Disney‘s Theme Parks, wanted to take the robots back to its EPCOT® theme park in Orlando, Florida after Expo 2000.

But the Expo company had other ideas, selling the robots to the city of Oberhausen, where they were to become part of the gigantic “Ovision” science park.

When the “Ovision” project was finally shelved in 2006, Olaf Arndt was able to privately reacquire the project and update its technology. To do this, Olaf Arndt enlisted robotics world champion Dr. Holger Kenn (Robocup 2006), who currently works for the Microsoft research department, EMIC.

Almost a decade after their acclaimed premiere at the millennial Expo and a guest appearance at the Expo World’s Fair Japan in 2005, the “eggs” are again underway. They are now cleverer than ever, equipped with the most modern high-tech laser sensors and new software enabling them to orient themselves “autonomously” (independently) in space.
BBM has succeeded in creating an “Attraction of the E-Category” (O. Shively). The E stands for Entertain, Educate and Empower.

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Robots‘ Technical Details

Each of the 72 machines, regardless of its size, is equipped with the following basic components:
- Hokuyo laser scanner
- Robust drive unit with 24 V electric motor from Meyra
(wheelchair manufacturer)
- solid steel frame, painted
- adjustable engine management system
- high-quality incremental encoder for precision measurement of
wheel revolutions
- Control computer
- “Embedded board” computer to control movementjools_ei10052510333
- Transformers for low voltage power supply to the computer
- 2 batteries of 12 volt 160 ampere lead gel each, maintenance-free
 Sonnenschein brand, manufactured in Europe by Exide
- Battery charger, industry standard, from Tebechop
- DC converter for a 220 V power supply (1,000 W)

GRP shells

Maunfactured using a vacuum injection process
available in 3 versions
Maxi : L 450 cm, B 225 cm, H 300 cm,
Floor surface area 7.9m
Midi : L 240 cm, B 150 cm, H 160 cm,
Floor surface area 2.6 m
Mini : L 165 cm, B 122 cm, H 110 cm,
Floor surface area 1.6 m

The German Trades Bidding Consortium (Bieter-Gemeinschaft des deutschen Handwerks - BIEGE) was responsible for production.

72 x 85,000 Euros has been invested in the robots’ equipment.
The hardware and software was updated at a further cost of 15,000 Euros per unit in 2008/2009.
Developed with support from

Prof. Maja Mataric, USC Los Angeles, USA                                               
Technologiezentrum Informatik TZI Bremen, www.tzi.de
Sentek Solutions UK, www.sentekeurope.com
Hokuyo Automatic Co., Osaka Japan, www.hokuyo-aut.jp
Bernd-Artin Wessels, Wessels Immobilien-Gesellschaft Stuhr
Carsten Plötner, Sechsbälle Bremen, www.sechsbaelle.de


Artistic Director: Olaf Arndt
Project Manager: Jan Katzenstein
Project CI: Janneke Schönenbach, Berlin
Project Director Software Motion Behaviour: Dr. Holger Kenn, Programming
Motion Behaviour: Zsolt Barat, BBM Berlin und Christian “Jason” Peper
Hardware Developer: Lars Vaupel, BBM Hamburg
Chassis: Maarten Kippenbroek and Mikis Vierath, BBM Bremen
Shells: Multiplex GmbH, Jan Reiners Bremen


Personel

Olaf Arndt, artist, curator, author. Founder of the performance group “Beobachter der Bediener von Maschinen“ BBM (Observers of Machine Operators) (Berlin 1989). Responsible for the scenography of the “Knowledge” Theme Park at the  Expo 2000 World Exhibition. Artistic Director of the EU Culture 2000 project TROIA (Berlin 2004-2006). Curator of “EMBEDDED ART: Art in the name of security” (Berlin 2009). www.bbm.de

Dr. Holger Kenn, “software engineering”, world “Rescue Roboting” champion, Robocup 2006. He has worked at the AI Lab VUC Brüssel, IUB/Jacobs University Bremen; TZI Bremen, and currently works at Microsoft Corp’s EMIC research centre in Aachen, www.cubeos.org/kenn

Prof. Maja Mataric was involved with the “Expo Robots” from the outset and wrote the vital report for the feasibility study. She began her career at MIT Boston working in Rodney Brooks’ Mars research group and is now Professor of Computer Science and Neuroscience and Director of the Center for Robotics and Embedded Systems (CRES) at the University of Southern California. www-robotics.usc.edu/~maja


Zsolt Barat, open-source developer, co-author of MPlayer, winner of many awards, incl. the Linux Award 2005. On from 2005 he developed the new open-source based control- and behaviour software for the “Expo Robots”. www.softmonsters.com

Lars Vaupel, electrical engineer, developer of custom made control systems for international artists such as Stelarc (AUS), Jon Kessler (USA) and Lutz Dammbeck (D). www.bbm.de

Janneke Schönenbach, graphic designer and artist. Artistic Director of the EU Culture 2000 project TROIA (Berlin 2004-2006). Curator of “EMBEDDED ART: Art in the name of security (Berlin 2009). www.bbm.de, www.flexipix.de


Press Articles in English


To see everything the World Trade Fair has to offer you would need several days
DIE WOCHE lists ten attractions at Expo 2000 in Hanover that nobody should miss.

Compiled by Till Briegler, Christian Tröster and Reinhardt Büning.

While scenographers from all over the world have spared no effort to get their content across, the Oscar for the best and cleverest production must go to the Centre for Art and Media Technology in Karlsruhe. They have developed the world’d  biggest free-roaming flock of computers for the topic “Knowledge, information, communication”. 72 of these objects, translucent and glowing slightly on the inside, drift slowly across a kind of arena, through which visitors also roam freely.  The dome-shaped computer “eggs” use sensors to react to people and to their ‘fellows’ and form larger or smaller groups like schools of fish. Because every “egg” knows from a central computer who is closest to it, smaller units “agree” on topics on which films and pictures are projected onto their “shells”. The whole thing is a playful example of what our knowledge could organise and transmit in future, through self-organising computers, non-hierarchical networks, and especially  through the possibilities for communication reaching far beyond the screen and keyboard.

DIE WOCHE 5/2000
Making the future

Somewhere on the heavy soil of the state of Lower Saxony, a major project for Expo 2000 is burgeoning – a “super-organism” of 75 robots.
By Arne Boecker
Hanover, May 31st

We’ll have a herd of elephants float over Hanover”, says Olaf Arndt, who’s working on a project with the Karlsruhe Centre for Art and Media Technology to make the future today. A serious declaration? Anyone who gets immersed for a couple of days in the still rather vague world of Expo 2000 learns to imagine what might happen in ten, fifty or a hundred years. Rarely have so many castles in the air and prognoses been made, and that in the earthily stolid state of Lower Saxony. Visions run riot in the minds of the Expo bosses and press releases teem with phrases such as “next century” and “global outlook”, but so far only one thing is certain. The world trade fair will begin in Hanover in a year’s time.
 gSoon I won’t have to travel quite so much”, is Martin Roth’s personal prognosis. Roth 44, drops into his chair. He has just returned from negotiations in Spain. The pile of papers on his desk forms a neat square. Martin Roth is used to dealing with artists but he also has to establish some order; after all he’s dealing not just with people but with sums in the millions. He has been in charge of the theme park at the heart of the Expo since March 1997.

Castles in the air
Martin Roth is on leave from his post as Director of the German Hygiene Museum Dresden until after the Expo. He works in an office in Hanover, surrounded by construction drawings (on official business) and children’s’ paintings (private). A pair of yellow rubber boots in the corner are a reminder that the castles in the air he is building still have to be wrested out of a muddy building site.
 gHuman – Nature – Technology” is the Expo 2000 motto and the theme park wants to orchestrate this triad. Roth’s team has separated the monstrous motto into eleven sections, ranging from “Environment – Landscape – Climate” through “Nutrition” and “Energy” to “The Future of Work”. Previous world trade fairs have been grouped around such a core, which usually involved the presentation of foreign ethnicities. “Now that we have Internet, nobody needs a world trade fair for that any more“, adds Roth. “In the magical year 2000” he would therefore rather go on a “journey into the interior of humanity”.
Martin Roth hasn’t reinvented the Expo theme park, but has powerfully revitalised the concept. He would especially like to use this “mixture of cathedral and power station”, as he calls the theme park, to drum up support for Agenda 21, the action programme of the Rio Environment Conference in 1992. “Sustainable development” is for him not synonymous with renunciation, rather he believes that it opens up a wide range of chances. He wants to pull out all the technical stops to enthral his visitors. “The word “interactivity” is over-used now, “ he explains, “but here the visitors really can act like actors in a three-dimensional film.” Among all the valuable (Tschingderassabum ?) with which they want to improve the world from Hanover within one year, the heads of the Expo currently don’t have much more to show for it than drawings, models and animated film clips. And even if they are blessed with Mr Roth’s verbal eloquence, discussions always take the same course. Their gazes fixed on a distant point, they gesticulate with a certain “grandezza”, as if already describing the outlines of their aerial castles. It’s evident that they’ve already peeked behind the curtain which for the rest of the world will only go up on June 1st 2000.

There’s not a single ‘light as air’ elephant in Martin Roth’s office. One piece of the future close enough to touch is however sitting in a car repair workshop among rusty screws and oily rags. It’s as high as a human, looks like a dented egg and is rather dusty. Olaf Arndt is examining its milk-white shell for scratches, saying things like, “We’re exhibiting a super-organism with qualities that distinguish the individual but at the same time are intrinsic to the group.” Could someone with so much imagination perhaps get elephants to float?
Back to Earth. Olaf Arndt, 38, is on the team of the Karlsruhe Centre for Art and Media Technology (ZKM). The group is working on the Eiffel Theme Park entitled “Knowledge – Information – Communication”. The “super-organism” he’s talking about is really nothing more than a flock, like those formed by birds and fish, yet one of the most spectacular projects of Expo 2000 is currently taking shape in this workshop. Because this ‘flock’ that Olaf Arndt and his team are attempting to breathe ‘life’ into consists of 75 robots.

Two wheels with rubber tyres support a base plate which carries a commercially-available wheelchair motor and two car batteries and is covered with a transparent dome. Three different versions of this construction are currently planned. The prototypes are between one and three metres high. This 75-member ‘family’ of robots will sweep through Expo Hall Number 4 at a maximum speed of one kilometre an hour. “A cocktail of sensors,” adds Olaf Arndt, enables the rolling robots to maintain an equal distance from each other as they dance the choreographies that the ZKM team will store in their computer.
Pressure rings and medium-range recognition sensors react to molecular density and therefore to people. “The visitors’ physical presence is also an intervention in the flock” explains Olaf Arndt and you can already imagine children driving these funny “eggs” through the Expo Hall with howls of excitement.
The 75 robots are however much more than “just for fun”. In their bellies they also nurture projectors that project films and information on topics like “mass media”, “the archive” or “the map of the body” onto the egg’s “shell”. The information flows freely and is largely self-organising, but every exterior event changes the content. Above all else, it’s also a parable on the Internet that the ZKM is presenting with this project.

In the media artists’ loft, just a few minutes away from the workshop, a note on a “Russian EKIP ship’s motor that imitates the movement of a fish” is stuck to Olaf Arndt’s pin board. For Olaf Arndt this flock is a “hybrid of biological and technological forms”. In his constructions he and his colleagues are following nature, “which also copies cells”. On the other hand, there into interventions the nature of humanity are also increasing. As a positive example of this, Olaf Arndt mentions microchips, which can enable the deaf to hear again. “At the end of this path,” he prophesizes, “we find the post-biological human being”. He adds quickly that he doesn’t regard himself an apologist for these kinds of developments, but instead quotes Kurt Schwitters, who said, “If there’s a screw, it will be turned”.
They’re not nutters, they’re making the future
The Northern German TÜV’s blue logo looks over the shoulders of the ZKM group from the other side of the street. Those masters of standards, rules and regulations naturally want to ensure that Olaf Arndt’s machines can’t run amok and massacre Expo visitors. They have therefore written in their risk assessment report ESL 1/ No. 98 that “The emergency shutoff telegram must be saved so that a safety distance of at least 3 is reached”.
This prosaic TÜV ‘lyric’ might make readers smile, but it poses Olaf Arndt a very philosophical question. How much autonomy can his experiment stand? “Of course we would love to provide each capsule with its own intelligence; less control would result in more efficiency. But TÜV insisted that we have a central computer.” Referring to the social critique inherent in his robot flock Arndt adds, “The world’s major ideological systems have collapsed, so we need orders that build themselves up from below. Nature shows us how.“
Olaf Arndt is helping to shape the future, he’s certainly not a nutter, so there’s one promise he’ll never make; “we’ll have a herd of elephants floating over Hanover”

Süddeutsche Zeitung, 6/1999


Game pass
Endangered species, unfamiliar and all too familiar creatures – a visit to the Expo.
By Arno Widmann

There’s a space at the Expo that everybody who has seen is enthusiastic about. It’s in the “Knowledge” Pavilion, behind the Science Tunnel and the space with the Eli Noam quote. It’s a huge, almost completely darkened hall into which the visitor initially stumbles rather than walks. Seventy two giant eggs, ranging in height from 50 centimetres to well over two metres, drift through the hall with the gravity of a pod of whales. Apart from the whispers of the visitors and the sounds of the monsters, it is almost completely silent. All the visitors have read about them, they already know that they will approach them and get out of their way, but all of them would be initially alarmed to see most of them calmly but inexorably approaching. The visitors get out of the robots’ way. They don’t want to admit it, but they’re scared. The robots are big, there are lots of them, and they know their way around their gloomy habitat, their realm, which the visitor, curious and self-assured, is entering for the first time. The visitor glances towards the exit; now comes the decision as to whether to pass through quickly, take a stand against them, or to watch first and try and assess the situation more clearly.
The visitor observes the other visitors. Men stand a few centimetres in front of the biggest robots and are annoyed when they don’t get out of their way. They go quickly to the next monster, stand in front of it again and are annoyed again. After three, four or five attempts they start to rail at it, “What a lot of shit”, “It’s a con”. They stride towards the exit, signalising to everyone that they’re not going to let themselves be made a monkey of by this place, the darkness and certainly not by these quietly humming machines that seem so incapable of doing what they were built to do. Women on the other hand, embrace the robots, stroking and patting their wonderfully smooth skins. But even for them, the robots don’t do what the newspapers say they do; they don’t approach them and they don’t get out of their way. But the  women don’t seem to mind. They like these smooth, gigantic babies and find out how they work. As long as they give them and themselves the time.
The robots are to be approached like any wild animal. You stop a certain distance away so it can see and smell you and you hope that it doesn’t go bounding away. This robot from the Karlsruhe Centre for Art and Media Technology reacts like a young seal: it slides up close, it wants to smell you and get to know you. If you retreat, you will notice that it and the whole flock will follow you, albeit slowly. The visitor feels fear returning, then, taking courage, remembers everything he has read about these monsters and stands still. The robots continue to approach, but the visitor notices that the lead robot has changed direction somewhat. It glides past like a three-masted schooner, the entire flock in its wake.
A moment of relief. The visitor recalls ET’s finger and that not everything we’re afraid of is necessarily evil, that we have to give our emotions time and shouldn’t override them because we need them if we’re to have any experiences. The men who apparently so bravely confronted these strange beings have not got to know them. They now lack that experience. And they’re dumber for it.
That’s a lesson pupils must learn by example from their teachers, who can’t teach what they haven’t learnt themselves.

Berliner Zeitung, 6/2000
The world of the future is now

Rolling robots are a great attraction Even before the Expo, these rolling “egg-heads” were a very popular attraction. The rounded, autonomous robots glide in flocks through the space, usually flexibly avoiding visitors. Bathed in blue light, this flock is a reference to the global knowledge network.

Siemens Expo-Journal, 11/2000, 5/2000