Archive for the ‘D’Andrea Response’ Category

Dr. Raffaelo D’Andrea’s talk was the most inspiring lectures of the entire series. As a designer, I was drawn to all of his creative ‘inventions’ which were concepts built into successful products using complex heuristic strategies. What made his lecture interesting was the ability of the audience to view his revolutionary concepts through videos, and listen to the collaborative, multidisciplinary efforts required to achieve them with the help of engineers, computer scientists and industrial designers.
One of his comments that I really valued was his opinion of simplicity in design in his creations. He mentioned that working with the basic functional components of a system usually determine the aesthetics of the final product. Elaborating on his way of working, he talked about how he commences on a project with a basic concept to fulfill a specific requirement. Eventualy, through a design process of intricate computation he achieves the complex behavior envisioned for the intial concept for the product. The aesthetics he mentioned, evolved around the requirements of the concept. This is evident in the ‘Robotic Chair’ and ‘The Table’. Even though both creations are technologically highly sophisticated and complex, instead of being designed to sport a modern appearance in furniture trends, they have the minimal physical aesthetics of basic wooden furniture.
Dr. D’Andrea did not offer his views on the future of robotics. However, among all the work that he shared in his lectures, I enjoyed Kiva the most. It is the closest experience I have encountered to the creation of intelligent robots in the real world to replace human labor.

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  I really enjoyed Dr. D’Andrea’s lecture.  He didn’t specifically focus on his process of creation, but at the lecture he highlighted the creative projects with which he has been involved. The main thing that I took away from his lecture was that, for him, creativity is a collaborative process. Experts in many fields combine their knowledge, operating within a set of requirements and goals, to create something new, and often useful. While it seemed that his most enjoyable projects, or at least the most notable, were projects with more of an aesthetic value than a practical one, he did stress that the table and chair were learning tools and thus useful exercises.

D’Andrea, like Crewdson, relies on the talents of his peers to fully develop his creativity. That connection got me to thinking about my creative writing, an interest that I normally consider to be a lonely pursuit. Then I realized that I am in a workshopping group. I think the workshop functions in a similarly collaborative role. While they don’t do the actual work of creating a story or developing characters or plotlines for me, they do provide valuable feedback.  They see things that are contradictory, missing, or things that could be flushed out for a richer story. 

Creativity is a work in development, and I’m not sure that it is ever absolutely perfect. I’m sure that if Crewdson had the time and capability to have his crew and set waiting for the best possible moment for a week or longer, he’d take that time to get the best composition. I think collaboration gives you that ability to perfect your work close to what you envisioned, but it also allows you to let go at some point and accept that it is finished.

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Raffaello D’Andrea’s approach to the creative act may seem different from most engineers because he believes that one should design, or create, for the mere sake of creativity. He had stated that the engineer does not need to address a certain problem, for with innovation, the application can come later. But does the engineer create without a problem to solve? For instance, D’Andrea offers the examples of the chair, the balancing object, and the flying objects, and for each of them, there is a problem that needs to be solved: the chair needs to reassemble, the objects needs to balance, or the objects need to fly. Perhaps, it is that there is no reason, either monetary or practical, for the innovation. But this approach to technological innovation is nothing new. Tesla had the same approach over a hundred years ago. For example, during the 1893 world exposition in Chicago, he displayed the “Egg of Columbus,” which is an egg that will stand up from spinning. With the Egg, Tesla used a spinning magnetic field to prove that he could make an egg spin.

Check it out on You Tube:

Innovation is important and necessary, but there is a cost. When asked about the ethics of robotics replacing jobs, D’Andrea responded that technological innovation is a must, and he used the tractor as an example since it has made farming easier and less tiresome. But I am not sure that this is a valid excuse. When one considers the food industry today, she must be reminded of all the small farmers across the world that were forced out of work because of technology. Industrial farming has forced many small American farms to close because they could not keep up with the production of the larger, industrial farms that had the money for technology and thus, the capability to charge lower prices; moreover, small farmers in third world countries struggle even more to compete with technology. Many of them were still using older methods like the plow, and since they did not have the money for a tractor, they went under.

There is a fine line when it comes to the ethics of technology. Jobs are at stake, and not only that, but our health too. Again, when one looks at the food industry and its reliance on technology for production, she must ask herself who the technology is good for.

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Dr. Raffaello D’Andrea’s collaboration with the artist, Max Dean on the piece titled, Robot Chair is intriguing, as it seems to offer hope for artificial intelligence. However, D’Andrea does not make this assertion. He instead discounts such claims. When asked if robotics, and artificial intelligence were on the cusp of some breakthrough, if the field was in fact on the verge of mastering the complex motions necessary to mimic human movement,  D’Andrea dismisses the assertions of many of his colleagues in the field. He also refuses to predict where robotics will be in the unforeseeable future. D’Andrea seems to be most proud of the chair as a nonfunctional  object. One cannot sit in the chair.  It is simply designed to fall apart, and pull itself together. But it is not designed to support the weight of a person.  Perhaps serving a nonfunctional purpose is D’Andrea’s contribution to robotics. His other collaboration with Dean, titled, The Table, 2001, was featured in the Venice Biennale The Table is perhaps even more interesting than Robot Chair, due to the interaction of the Table with the viewers.  Whenever a visitor to the exhibition comes into contact with the table, it reacts by moving away from the viewer, and seems to refuse to cooperate, and serve its utilitarian purpose. By a certain definition, it is the nonfunctional aspect of his collaborations with Dean that qualifies these works as art, and not utilitarian objects. It is also telling of our love/hate relationship with technology.  We are sometimes frustrated with things when they do not function as we want them to function. Our preconceptions, and our tendency to view objects(especially functional objects, such as cars), and in this case, even furniture as anthropomorphic tends to make us distrust of technology, and even see it as a bad thing. When this is played with, as D’Andrea and Dean do in their collaborations, it is fun, and perhaps even instructive. From these nonfunctional/functional objects, we can learn a whole lot about our own attitudes towards technology, and how misguided they can be.

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Where to begin?  This was a very interesting presentation and lecture.  First off, he is a computer engineer, and I was very impressed by his desire to extend his creative techniques to a variety of mediums.  He built the RoboCup team, the chair, the table, and many other pieces.  But it seemed very important to him that he collaborated on his projects; all of them very with people of different backgrounds.  Some were computer scientists, engineers, artists, physicists, etc.  What seemed so important about his work is the idea that creativity, as he applied it, was in creating things that are closer to autonomy than, say, a painting that requires full interpretation from the observer.  I was so surprised by  the advancement of RoboCup I to RoboCup IV.  The speed was much greater, and the machines seemed to react faster and more “thoughtfully.”

There is an aspect of his originality that seems fundamental to human beings and creative human beings in particular.  This idea of procreating or extending cognitive abilities and autonomous reaction to something original, ex nihilo, is a main concern of D’Andrea.  It was evident from the crowd that seeing these robots move around on their own was some how novel, inspiring, or even paradigmatic in nature.  But what is to be said about the interaction of these things with humans?  I am thinking of the table and its movement toward people in its gallery space; the people were freaking out! and trying to touch the table as if it were alive or possessed.  In this, there is an inherent fear of autonomous things, something that is “other” in the art of creation, specifically through interaction with these things.  D’Andrea’s work is cutting edge, no doubt, and I wonder if we were to see a robot that is close to human form, almost a replica, would we still see that as creative, or would we be scared of the thing as the people in the gallery were scared of the table; would creativity, in this regard, be something feared?

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          This Creativity in Science, Technology, and Medicine class is one of the most interesting classes I have ever taken. Distinguished speakers from diversified backgrounds coupled with Dr. Brown’s insightful teaching with carefully selected reading materials touched almost every aspect of creativity from many angles.  Meeting Professor Raffaello D’Andrea is another exciting and memorable experience to learn about creativity from the science perspective.

          D’Andrea regards himself as a system person rather than a robot designer. He believes the robotic systems are to enhance what people can do. Each design is unique and problem specific. During the morning meeting, I asked him what his thought of creativity was, whether people were born with creativity or they developed it along the way. He stated that it was a combination of both. “Creativity could be innate, but if it is not fostered, it would wither”. It is very convincing to hear this statement from a well-accomplished creative person. Besides his academic achievement, D’Andrea is also one of the founders of the company, Kiva Systems, which uses robotic control units to assist fulfilling purchase orders in the warehouse.  I think his creativity fits exactly Sternberg’s “buy low” and “sell high” theory.  He sees the potential of an idea.  But it is interesting that Sternberg thinks creativity is not inborn, which contradicts the belief of this award-winning genius scientist.

         One remarkable uniqueness about D’Andrea’s creativity I notice is his collaboration with other talents worldwide. The evening lecture Professor D’Andrea gave was eye-opening. He shared with us his designs from the old days through the most recent projects he and his students have been working on. All the works displayed are products of his collaboration with other scientists, engineers, artists and graduate students. Many of the collaborations are international. I especially like the World Robocup competition video.  A few years ago, D’Andrea and his Cornell soccer team participated in the World Robocup competition each year. After the competition, the teams exchanged ideas of their designs to further improve their technology. Nothing can be more inspiring and exciting to foster creativity than events like these. This type of collaboration and exposure is what I am hoping to see in other academic worlds, especially in Psychology research.

          In his closure of the lecture, D’Andrea encouraged the audience to “work on fun and challenge problems”. He also pointed out the importance of a harmonious relationship between technology and society. In his words, “creativity for its own sake inevitably leads to innovation.” In the process, it is a great vehicle for education. Eventually “it leads to a more healthy relationship to technology.” It seems to me that the essence of his success is collaborating with talents, finding investors and bringing in customers. To accomplish this, one needs to, as he repeatedly mentioned, “push the boundaries”. This reminds me of what Sternberg suggested, the courage to take risks, which I call “the spirit of creativity”.

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The single concept I find most intriguing and replicable from D’Andrea’s approach to creating is his consistent collaboration with innovators from other fields.  It seems this kind of approach could benefit any type of creative endeavor. It will always broaden possibilities, ideas, approaches, expertise and apparently, success.  I have found in my own experience that this approach can be incredibly useful. I have a creative group I meet with regularly in which we all critique, review and advise each other’s work. Among the group is a writer, a singer/songwriter, a jewelry maker, and visual artist and a chef. The types of feedback from this group are completely different, and in many ways, much broader and unique than the feedback I get from only visual artist.  Hearing D’Andrea speak has encouraged me to more activity pursuer this idea of assembling collaborators not only for feedback, but to actually work together on creative projects.

I read that D’Andrea, while contemplating the idea of changing the way a distribution warehouse works, asked himself the following question, “What if the products could walk and talk?” What a simple approach to an incredibly complicated and massive task. He didn’t start with fancy algorithms, focus groups, or expensive research. Instead, he started looking at the warehouse and the distribution warehouse from the eyes and ears of the robot. As a result, he has completely changed the way in which distribution warehouses for several large companies are run, saving many man hours and cost. I have started to use this approach in my own problem solving. Already, it has altered my creative process, and how I approach creative problem solving for the better.

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