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.