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Prix 1987 - 2007

Ars Electronica Linz & ORF Oberösterreich

Amanda Parkes, Hayes Raffles

What is it like to sculpt with motion? Topobo is a 3D constructive assembly system with embedded kinetic memory, the ability to record and play-back physical motion. By snapping together a combination of passive (static) and active (motorized) components, people can quickly assemble dynamic biomorphic forms like plants, animals and skeletons with Topobo, animate those forms by pushing, pulling and twisting them, and observe the system repeatedly playing back those motions. For example, a moose can be constructed and then taught to gesture and walk by twisting its body and legs. The moose will then repeat those movements and walk repeatedly. Topobo works like an extension of the body giving one’s gestural fluency computation and memory.

Topobo is inspired by current trends in computational media design and by the work of artists and scientists such as Ernst Haeckel, D’Arcy Thompson, Muybridge, Maret and Michael Grey. These artists and empiricists used visual explorations and models of natural phenomena to more deeply appreciate patterns found in the natural world. In this spirit, Topobo is designed to allow people to use experimentation, play, and selfexpression to discover and explore common natural relationships between natural forms and dynamic motion.

Topobo—for “topology” and “robotics”—is designed to retail the best qualities of existing manipulative materials while giving the material a new identity—an identity that can both reveal new patterns and processes to people, and that allows people to creatively express patterns and processes that cannot be expressed with existing materials. The system is comprised of ten different primitives, that can be snapped together in a variety of ways. Nine of these primitives are called “Passive” because they form static connections. One “Active” primitive is built with state-of-the-art modular robotics technology and is programmed by demonstration. These motorized components are the only ones that move, so the system is able to faithfully record and replay every dynamic manipulation to a structure.