2018 - pres


Protesters are automated.

Protesters are automated.

As I was moving to Portugal in 2015, I was following some of the anti-austerity movements in Southern Europe — eg, the Indignado Movement in Spain and Greece — protesting the nearly total youth unemployment and other harsh outcomes of the neoliberal policies imposed upon Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain following the global financial crisis. It was a difficult time in Southern Europe — Italy’s manufacturing utilization roughly halved between 1995 and 2015, and my own salary was cut by 20% until Madeira could work off some of its €7 Billion debt (for an island with a population of 250,000). 

A Spanish friend of mine, Julio Fernandez Ostolaza, who had first invited me to demo an art robot at a conference he organized at the University of Chicago in 1993, sought to create robot protestors in the mid-2000s. Since I’d already built a robotic war journalist, drones for anti-fascists, and drones to protest at Guantanamo, I was happy to help him with a variety of initial designs. Indeed, he did release a robot based on our joint design at G8 protests. But I felt that neither of us had yet come up with a scalable robot that could really be used to protest, one that was truly cloneable and expendable, or capable of being clubbed or shot by the police without worrying too much.

From 2015-2017, working with engineers Victor Hugo Aguiar and Victor Azevedo, I developed a large, self-balancing robot that fit the bill reasonably. Far less agile than a Boston Dynamics robot, it can nonetheless work a picket line for eight hours (we don’t want to get in trouble with the robot’s union) and shout voice-synthesized protests and carry a placard. It can be made with scrap lumber, a single-board computer and a few integrated circuits, a lithium-polymer (drone) battery, and some gears, motors, and wheels.

I debuted the piece at a conference on art and activism, https://creativeinterruptions.com/, at the BFI in London.

If you want to make your own ProBot, and are reasonably technical, you can find the code and electronics here: https://github.com/VitorHugoAguiar/ProBot … and step-by-step (very detailed) instructions here: https://www.instructables.com/id/ProBot-the-Protesting-Robot/

We’re always looking for suggestions on improving; in particular I’d like to port the ProBot to an ODrive motor driver (or similar) to use fast three phase motors and regeneration. The Beaglebone running Xenomai is occasionally freezing; none of us are experts in real-time systems. But the Probot surprisingly durable and able to navigate most urban and interior spaces (though not stairs).

  1. Nicolau Ferreira. Robôs dissidentes? Rádio livre no Uganda? Esta tecnologia social veio da Madeira. PÚBLICO. Retrieved July 22, 2016 from https://www.publico.pt/ciencia/noticia/robos-dissidentes-radio-livre-no-uganda-esta-tecnologia-social-veio-da-madeira-1738462

  2. Circuitos para la revolución: el artista que construye robots ‘indignados.’ Retrieved November 25, 2014 from http://www.eldiario.es/hojaderouter/tecnologia/hardware/MIT-Media_Lab-robots-tecnologia_social-indignados_0_326167491.html

  3. George Dvorsky. Meet The Man Who’s Building Robots For Political Resistance. io9. Retrieved July 30, 2018 from https://io9.gizmodo.com/meet-the-man-whos-building-robots-for-political-resista-1647659294

  4. Photini Vrikki. Festival of Arts and Activism: Operate a Human-Sized Protest Robot. Creative Interruptions. Retrieved June 19, 2019 from https://creativeinterruptions.com/operate-a-human-sized-protest-robot/

  5. Luke Yoquinto. 2014. The Robots of Resistance. The Big Roundtable. Retrieved November 6, 2017 from https://thebigroundtable.com/the-robots-of-resistance-667998b10ff0

  6. MIT Professor Wants To Build Robots To Free You From Your Robot Overlords | True Activist. Retrieved September 14, 2016 from http://www.trueactivist.com/mit-professor-wants-to-build-robots-to-free-you-from-your-robot-overlords/