Guest Lecture 3: Peter van der Putten - "Bots like you"

Guest Lecture 3: Peter van der Putten - "Bots like you"

Jun 19, 2020
💡Guest Lecture
Computer Vision

1.1 About the talk

About Peter

Project work

Recent podcast

1.2 Key Takeaways

In a nutshell: Snippets of thoughts I took from the talk itself
The entire talk gave me a good overview about the overall field of robots, which apparently consists of way more categories than I ever assumed.
  • Pooping robots (Wim Cloaca...)
  • Creative robots (Cyclograveur...)
  • Curious robots
  • Helpless robots (Furby...)
  • Religious robots

2.1 My personal highlight project: Religious robots

Select which of the presented projects you find most interesting in a technological sense
Despite the fact, Peter ran through various interesting categories of robots, I consider the religious robots as most interesting, both from a technological point of view, but also out of personal curiosity as described later.
I did not know, they existed, nor I expected them to be. What I usually connect with the church or any religion is the opposite of progression. That's why I saw me pretty surprised about the fact, religious robots already existed in the 14th century and wanted to learn more about it.
Within this article, I will showcase two of them. Why two? I consider both of them interesting from a technological point of view taking into account, when they were created.

Religious robot: Friar (1562)

Did you expect there were robots 450 years ago? Me neither. It was conceivable that there were embodiments of religious icons creatures from way earlier times, the next level was reached with Friar, which featured a high grade of automation.
Although the history behind this clockwork masterpiece is not entirely clear, the complexity in how it moves is remarkable and I am wondering, whether Cardinals or religious folks' opinion on that was back then. Were they happy about it? Scared? Did it just mock and demystify religious life to them or even reinforce their strong belief in a higher instance?
According to the given sources, the robot was officially ordered by the church itself as miracle.
The prince's father, Philip II, vowed “a miracle for a miracle” and commissioned this automaton representing the monk, who was canonized as a saint
Video preview

Religious robot: BlessU-2

500 years later, in 2017, another church commissioned a robot as well. As this one is a considerable threat for the future of church employees
Fabian Vogt, student of theology developed the robot, that can bless people in 7 different languages.
I consider this project very interesting, as just in the "Slaapwandeling" project discussed in
Guest Lecture 2: NextEmpire
, the robot in such a traditional setting is a truely disruptive project.
This is also reflected in the comments of the showcase video, where people see it as a smear towards the church, a "terrifying stupid thing with lack of empathy", a derision of god.
Overall you can clearly see the fears people emit and thus reflect one main aspect, that characterises disruption: Discomfort.
notion image

2.2 Further research & related projects

Look up more information about the project and its creator. (And possibly related projects
During the last years, the world has seen a variety of other religious robots
So far we only discussed robots from monotheistic religions. But what about other religions?
In India, some kind of symbolism happened. In the last article
Guest Lecture 2: NextEmpire
we were talking about the role of darkness, and how we humans deal with that. As Indians, just as everyone else, fears Automation as disruptive innovation,Patil Automation, an India-based company, had the idea to let the Aarti-ritual, which is mostly about "giving light", execute by a robot. Thus this robot gave light in the darkness with the clear objective to communicate, that automation is not the end, but the light at the end of the tunnel - a new beginning.
A buddhist community in Beijing created this virtual robot monk following a more educational approach. While being able to chant mantras, the robot can also explain things about the religion to people who are interested .
In Kyoto, Japan, the local community went even further - with a robot being able to perform funerals.
But why does the buddhistic religion seem to be way more open and progressive in that sense?
In the above article, Tensho Goto describes the following and thereby delivers an on-point answer on that question:
“Buddhism isn’t a belief in a God; it’s pursuing Buddha’s path. It doesn’t matter whether it’s represented by a machine, a piece of scrap metal, or a tree.”

2.3 The overall objective of BlessU-2

Explain the intended goal of the installation
According to some interviews, the robot was created to question the role of blessing and bring up the discussion, if it really requires a person employed by the church to read out pre-written blessing phrases. Furthermore another objective was to highlight the existence and importance of individual blessing. While church services are held rather general, this robot can be tailored more to the individual's needs.
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2.4 What BlessU-2 does

Explain what the installation is and does.
The installation can both read and print-out personalised blessings to people.
The seeking person is lead through the following procedure:
  • Select between 7 languages 🇩🇪🇮🇪🇫🇷🇵🇱🇮🇹🇹🇷🇷🇺 (Fun fact: the Italian voice was spoken by his local pizza baker, as the Italian priest cancelled the appointment)
  • Select what kind of blessing you need
    • 🚀 Encouragement
    • 👥 Backing / Companionship
    • ♻️ Recharge
    • ⛪️ Traditional
  • Do you prefer a male or female voice?
  • Do you want to print out your blessings?
notion image
"Highlighting the contrast of classical church and the future was the reason we gave him a robot-like appearance instead mocking a human"

2.5 How BlessU-2 works

Explain how it works, which technology, sensors, actuators are used?
In this robot I see quite a lot of sensors and other components used, that already came to play in my project assignments, especially the most recent one (
Challenge 4: Playful Interaction
). In addition to that, a touch interface is used to display the possible choices. I think though, that an interaction solely based on voice would be possible as well, especially due to the current 🦠situation.
  • LED matrix as mouth
  • Moving hands with LED light (Servos, joint connections, LEDs)
  • Distance sensor to detect approaching people
  • Thermal printer for the printed blessings
Technically speaking, the robot does not seem to be overly complicated, as the logic it follows is quite linear. Could basically be done by some if conditions and randomised blessings from an array.

2.6 Why BlessU-2 is interesting in the field of HCI

Explain why this project is interesting in the light of the field of HCI.
I was always wondering why the church claims "to be open to everyone at evey time" but often when I wanted to enter churches, e.g. on my trips, the doors were locked.
While I personally do not really care about church or rely on it as "social net" in terms of community and beliefs, I know that certainly there are people who are religious and dedicate their life to god.
In times where you can order a pizza 27/7, get customer support at any time of the day I am wondering, why the line to god should only be available for a few hours per day, only on Sundays - or even worse: Not at all, as services during the corona-crisis were cancelled entirely. But the people have problems in every time of the day. I think, nobody should suffer by such restrictions during hard times. People need someone to talk to.
A robot like BlessU-2 however can offer the basic service of a priest basically 24 hours a day, accessible to everyone. It might even possible to wrap it into a business model and use the coin detection mechanism I included in
Challenge 4: Playful Interaction
and sell letters of indulgence 🤑 - just as in the 15th century.
BlessU-Bots might be placed in public places in the world, support different languages, wait - maybe different religions and change their apperance accordingly? A robot always heading in the direction of the religion's origin, e.g. Mekka, Jerusalem, Nepal, India?

2.7 Conclusion: Why BlessU-2 is meaningful to me

Explain why you find this project interesting
Funny enough that after choosing a Jesus robot for my 4th project (Playful interaction), in his talk he got to mention a robot created by the exact same protestantian church district in Germany I basically made this project for, without knowing a robot like this actually existed.
Inspired by the overall theme of the talk "Robots like you" I chose this one in particular, as I am not religious whatsoever but certainly interested in the role of religion in society and how even the church comes up with innovative and disruptive solutions. So this is basically the least "robot like me" - what does not mean, that I would not use it. Indeed I really like the fact you can take the personal blessing home on a paper. Or why else would fortune cookies be a success? They tell you what you want to hear - often in a surprisingly relevant way. Including this part enables people, to take something really meaningful home, reflect on it and maybe even put it somewhere where they are constantly reminded at it. I could not imagine a better retention machine for the church.
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