Constructing Soft Robot Aesthetics - Art, Sensation, and Materiality in Practice

Jonas Jørgensen

Research output: Book / Anthology / Report / Ph.D. thesisPh.D. thesis


Over the past decade, robots have spread throughout society, entering the everyday lives of an increasing number of people. Concurrently with this development, a novel class of robots has seen the light of day. Soft robotics designates a new approach to designing robots, anchored in the simple idea of using pliable and elastic materials such as silicone rubbers rather than metal or plastic.
This thesis presents a study of soft robots that spans art and science. It explores alternative versions of what soft robotics might be or become if approached from the point of view of art and aesthetics. The overarching problem addressed is how artistic and aesthetic practices might augment soft robotics and contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the potentials and
consequences of rendering a robot soft. The thesis combines analytical and practice-based research methods to address this problem, drawing on the fields and disciplines of artistic research, art history, human-robot interaction, and soft robotics.
The thesis consists of seven research publications bound together by an introduction.
The research presented examines what qualities and capacities of soft robots that emerge in contemporary projects within fields of aesthetic practice that incorporate soft robotics technology. It contributes both to rethinking and contextualizing soft robot aesthetics in relation to historical artworks and art practices and to constructing an aesthetic genealogy of soft robotic art that can help elucidate its aesthetics.
By means of an empirical human-robot interaction experiment, the thesis seeks to nuance statements and claims made about human perceptions of soft robots within technical literature and to gain insights into the spontaneous interaction behaviors elicited by soft robots. Through artistic practice, the thesis explores how soft robotics technology can function as an artistic medium.
Furthermore, it shows how artistic and aesthetic practices can be productive of other types of knowledge about soft robots and, as a byproduct, generate outcomes that are of use to robotics research in a broader context.
A central insight that emerges from the thesis’ transdisciplinary engagements with soft robotics is that in practice, the softness of a soft robot can come to matter in several ways. Different versions of softness in a robot are actualized within different practices with dissimilar consequences. Accordingly, the thesis argues that in order to fully unfold the technology’s potential, a transdisciplinary perspective on softness is required.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherIT-Universitetet i København
Number of pages219
ISBN (Print)978-87-7949-027-7
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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