The Hippo


Jun 6, 2020








Robotic Art exhibition robot sculptures. Courtesy photo.

“Robotic Art” pop-up exhibition

Where: Aviation Museum of New Hampshire, 13 Navigator Road, Manchester 
When: Thursday, Dec. 7, from 5 to 8 p.m. 
More info:, 

State of the art
Robotics team creates tech-inspired artwork

By Angie Sykeny

 A student robotics team is merging science and art in a robotics-themed pop-up art exhibition on Thursday, Dec. 7, at the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire in Londonderry. 

FIRST Robotics Competition Team 238 of Manchester was looking for a way to raise funds to compete at the International FIRST competition in Detroit, Michigan. 
Deirdre Cleary, who does marketing for Sunrise Labs (one of the robotics team’s longtime sponsors) and is an artist herself, proposed the idea for the exhibition last January. 
“You can only do so many spaghetti dinner fundraisers, so I said we should do something different and fun,” Cleary said. “I thought having a show of robotic art would be really unique and would challenge the kids to think outside the box and be creative.” 
Sixteen students are participating in the project, creating about 25 mini moving robot sculptures and 35 tech-inspired abstract wall art pieces using materials such as wire, metal and aluminum bits, circuit boards and computer parts, old camera lenses, springs, heat sinks, gears, stained glass, jewelry and various found objects. 
“Some of these kids have never been asked to make a piece of art,” Cleary said, “but here, they were able to use their imagination and take different materials that didn’t necessarily have a function and create these unique, one-of-a-kind pieces that are functional and really cool to look at.” 
The robot sculptures are 8 to 12 inches long and are powered by a AA battery to move in one direction. Some are simple and mechanical looking while others are more animated and resemble robotic creatures. In addition to the aforementioned materials, the team was given a collection of circa-1929 antique radio vacuum tubes and Westinghouse Electric light bulbs to incorporate into the robots. 
“That’s what makes the robots really special — that we’re able to repurpose old technology and use it as a design element for something new,” Cleary said. 
The wall art pieces include modified and spray painted materials arranged on 6x6-inch hangable sheets of metal. The pieces are also interactive in that they have colored LED lights on the back panel, designed by Sunrise Labs system and electrical engineers, that light up when the surface of the piece is touched.  
Starting last summer, the students have spent a couple hours each week planning out their pieces and collecting and modifying materials, culminating with a “build day” earlier this month during which they assembled all of their prepared materials into complete works of art. To modify the materials, they used some of the same machinery and equipment they use for cutting, bending, drilling and engineering components for their competition robots. 
“There are a lot of processes for the art project that are similar to the processes for building the robots,” team leader Kimberley Prygocki-Jeakins said. “[Students] are learning how to construct something based on a design idea, how to pull together the pieces needed for it and how to work through trial and error. It’s been a great way for them to get some experience before they start building a robot for the competition.” 
In other ways, the art project is a very different experience from what the robotics students are used to, Prygocki-Jeakins said, and some of the students were hesitant about it at first. 
“There’s a lot of structure with building the robots. There’s a set of instructions and defined criteria to meet,” she said, “but the artistic process is fluid and flexible. For a group that’s used to following instructions, that can be a little daunting.” 
Cleary said her goal for the project is to show the students and others in the STEM community how science and art can relate to each other. 
“[The students] had to wear different hats at different stages [of making the art] — first the engineering hat, then the aesthetics hat, then back to engineering, and I think that’s important,” Cleary said. “It’s important in any engineering discipline to develop a mind for creativity and to realize that science doesn’t exist without art. It’s technical, yes, but it also takes creativity.” 

®2020 Hippo Press. site by wedu