Telerobotics and Archaeology

While doing some reading for my dissertation, I came across a reference in The Robot and the Garden to the Mercury Project, an art installation based out of USC in 1994-95.  The Mercury Project was co-directed by Ken Goldberg and Michael Mascha, the former now being at UC Berkeley, and with whom I took a class two years ago as part of my designated emphasis in New Media. Telerobotics is controlling robots at a distance, like the Mars rovers or those remote hunting websites that were in the news a few years ago.  As a side note, the main website for remote hunting no longer exists and the Texas legislature passed a ban on such activities in 2005. Lo, marginalia.

Anyway, the installation involved a robotic arm and a pneumatic puffer that WWW users could use to remotely excavate objects in a sand-filled terrarium.  The buried artifacts included a watch, a pipe, a lock, and other objects inspired by Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth.  As they state on their webpage, “we viewed the process of discovering artifacts as a metaphor for the Internet itself.  Choosing artifacts with some ‘underlying logic’ presented a challenge for collective interaction which motivated users to return to the site.”  While this all emphasizes archaeology as a rather Victorian, fantastic enterprise, I’m still pretty chuffed that the first example of telerobotics on the web was an archaeologist.

For those with academic access, here’s a link to the article in Computer Networks and ISDN Systems.

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2 responses to “Telerobotics and Archaeology

  1. Telerobotics now = drones. Remember the story about the soldier who got really sad about his robotic cohort getting destroyed in Iraq? I’m going to get the new Peter Singer book [http://wiredforwar.pwsinger.com/] for the plane ride, and I’ll tell you about it.

    (sorry, I can’t tell if html is enabled in comments or not, and am not going to make it look weird in case it’s not.) (also, why is the font enormous in comments?)

  2. Robots, Jules Verne, and archaeology…three of my favorite things!
    Would the hunting count though? I thought the only thing the web hunting thing did was pull the trigger. I suppose that could be robotic depending on the trigger-pulling mechanism.
    Oddly enough, I was telling people about web hunting in the field the week before last.

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