We’re all afraid of our future robot overlords, but what if those robots were afraid of us, too?
Over the course of the last week, California's Coachella Valley hosted a strange, anti-social visitor. Its name was Shybot, a six-wheeled rover whose only purpose in life is to roam the Sonoran desert avoiding humans at all costs.
Designed by the Italian artist Norma Jeane and a team of engineers for the DesertX biennial, Shybot was equipped with a camera that would transmit its perspective live to spectators at The Lab, a San Francisco art gallery. For just under a week, the algorithm allowed the little bot to roam the desert freely, avoiding obstacles, and most importantly, any signs of human life.
To get around the bot's programmed shyness, the artist employed drones to follow the robot from the air (although Shybot would still get spooked if they got too close) and equipped it with GPS so that Shybot could be tracked in real time (you can watch its entire weeklong journey here).
According to Norma Jeane's artist's statement, Shybot's weeklong sojourn in the American southwest was their "fantasy of the desert sublime: the machine is let loose in the landscape, free of the human determinism that thus far framed its existence, and we, in turn, are free to imagine a world liberated from the indeterminacy of us."
For many roboticists, the most pressing design task is to create social robots to ease the human awkwardness of interfacing with a machine. But the for the introverts among us, Norma Jeane's Shybot might be the most humanoid bot yet.