Friday, July 9, 2021

Waddle Waddle

RSS 2021: Robotics x Arts Workshop

Diedra Krieger (

Diedra Krieger is an artist, and a lab coordinator for the legged robotics research group Kod*lab at the University of Pennsylvania. The work presented in “Waddle Waddle” applies strategies from her art practice – play, social practice and documentary video making – to lab life, legged robotics researchers’ processes and her own learning about robotics.

As play is unscripted, unexpected, and spontaneous, and perhaps even absurd, Diedra finds herself drawn to gestures and movements made by the legged robotic platforms in Kod*lab. She isolates moments of play through video and performance. Curiosity and learning drive her documentary video of process, where life in lab becomes art. Robots and researchers’ relationships to machines are explored as she develops her own relationship to the physical production of the Penguin robot.

“Stool” recontextualizes two found performances as split screen video art using a strategy of serious play with endurance art. On the right, PhD researcher Turner Topping, frustrated from the robot not behaving, breaks for a moment to show Minitaur just how to waddle over to the stool by pretending to be a four-legged robot himself. On the left, Minitaur shows Turner it can actually do that.

To build skills to create robotic art, Diedra took a summer course for non-engineers to make a Penguin robot recommended to her by Professor Mark Yim. Here she gets a glimpse of the effort it takes to make a legged robot. The class includes machining, 3d printing, laser cutting, circuits, coding, math and design. Jeremy Wang from the PERCH Machine Shop mentored her through to the finish line. When the lights go out, Penguin Robot dances, and when the lights go on, Penguin walks.
Not only is the Penguin Robot a benchmark in Diedra’s own artistic journey with robotics, but by sharing it with a broader audience, she helps communicate the difference between DIY robotics and academic robotics research.

Diedra creates short documentary videos to observe the legged robotics researchers’ process and Kod*lab life. They explore what brings someone into robotics, a high level view of a legged robotics researchers’ questions, and what they might hope to achieve. From Feifei Qian, we learn it’s okay to make mistakes and that they can lead to new ideas and discoveries. While a postdoc with Kodlab, Feifei developed a framework that allows robots to view obstacles or disturbances as opportunities, and use their legs as “disturbance selectors” to choose which disturbance to keep and which to skip.

From Turner Topping, we learn that sometimes it takes a long time to figure something out -- and sometimes, that’s just what it takes. Thinking about control systems and coordinated limbs, Turner’s research asks what agile behaviors are possible for a four legged robot called Minitaur.
From these documentary shorts of lab life, Diedra has established her voice in documentary filmmaking in robotics research. The lens of serious play provides an intervention into robotics, showing the relationship between the robotics researcher and machine. This cultural production allows for a broader audience to access academic legged robotics research.

All info credited to the artists listed above.