We are on the brink of a new world of living with robots. But, as with any technology, what we make in turn remakes us. Academics from the School of Architecture, Design and Planning see that now is the time to critically question who participates in creating new forms of robots and how.
We are witnessing the rise of the Female Future, where women are leading and radically reshaping design, industrial, construction, manufacturing, social and cultural robotics practices.
“We are rethinking how robots can help women participate in male-dominated fields such as construction or manufacturing, anchored in body and power inequalities, and asking how we can move away from typical gender roles to unsettle the status quo,” Said Dr Dagmar Reinhardt, Associate Professor of Architecture.
Dr Dagmar Reinhardt and Dr Lian Loke collaborated with Dr Deborah Turnbull Tillman (UNSW) to conduct research that charts and builds upon the history and output of women pioneering work in robotics. It’s drawn from a global cross-disciplinary network across Australia, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Japan, the UK Netherlands and United States.
“Feminist values infuse research approaches, ways of working together and the production of robotic processes, prototypes or artefacts that mirror, subvert or transform accepted ideas,” said Dr Lian Loke, Associate Professor of Design.
The research and forthcoming exhibition, SHE Robots: Tool, Toy & Companion, is a cross-section between the different fields of construction robotics, architectural robotics, creative robotics, and social robots from across the globe through the lens of female perspectives.
The exhibition, which is the first of its kind in Australia, provides a platform for engagement with this ongoing research and creative practice, showcasing how women are experimenting and willing to work in new ways and in more sustainable methods; how they apply new technologies to continue traditions that are thousands of years old, such as shaping, weaving, caring, or growing; how they are building their own robots stimulate and engage humans, not solely for the sake of mechanical understanding.
The exhibition highlights how robots - through female agency - have been adopted across the domains of construction robotics and creative and social robots: as tools, toys or companions.
Robots as tools have a rich history in architecture: including new building techniques, new material applications and new construction processes such as 3D printed building modules, carbon-fibre woven onsite structures, or the robotically fabricated, bio-based materials for finely detailed sustainable fabrication technologies in Cellulose Enclosures by Gabriella Rossi and Mette Ramsgaard Thomsen (Denmark), or the bio-cyber-physical pods that support more-than-human species in the work of Henriette Bier (Netherlands).
The toy category foregrounds the idea of play, game, interaction and interfaces. It showcases new collaborative work forms such as programmed robots as in the foundational work of Sigrid Brell-Cokcan (Germany) and user experiences or interacting human behaviour and user experiences in the work by Muge Belek Fialho Teixeira, Maryam Shafiei and Glenda Caldwell.
It also reviews feminist critiques of gender and cultural stereotypes through conceptual re-imaginings, with artist Elena Knox’s (Japan) Gynoid Survival Kit posing troubling issues of power, agency and personal safety embedded in the making of gynoid robots (a robot that resembles or pertains to the female human form).
The companion category is exemplified by Australian media artist Mari Velonaki’s pioneering social robotics artwork Fish-Bird, which portrays two robotic agents (wheelchairs to be exact) engaged in poetic dialogue with the audience they encounter and its return after 20 years to the University of Sydney where it was created.
Showcasing female roboticists, as they have been working in the different fields, for the last 20 years, SHE Robots seeks to seed new opportunities and collaborations for female voices leading the disruption into traditional robotics towards a network of critical and creative practice, as well as inspiring women and girls to consider STEAM as an exciting career path. The associated program of events includes public talks, onsite and online workshops, and live performances.
Image: Cellulose Enclosures, 2021 by Gabriella Rossi and Mette Ramsgaard Thomsen. Photo by Anders Ingvartsen