A Night At The Museum ... With Robots : All Tech Considered For five nights at London's Tate Britain museum, four robots are roving through the halls controlled by people around the world.
NPR logo

A Night At The Museum ... With Robots

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/340890393/340947142" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
A Night At The Museum ... With Robots

A Night At The Museum ... With Robots

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/340890393/340947142" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

TESS VIGELAND, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. Arun Rath is away, I'm Tess Vigeland. As I speak, there are four robots roaming around the Tate Britain Museum in London. They're about 4-feet tall with an oval shaped base and two slender gold polls leading up to a black box with two little lights and a camera. And since Wednesday night, they've been roving the museum hall, after hours, streaming video to the world. NPR's Priska Neely reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF TATE BRITAIN'S AFTER DARK)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hello to everybody who is taking control of the robots and everybody else who's listening to us this evening.

PRISKA NEELY, BYLINE: This is audio from a live stream of the Tate Britain's After Dark project. As the robots move through the museum, their little lights illuminate hundreds of statues and paintings. Works of historic and contemporary British art spread over roughly 20 rooms. If it's not cool enough that the robots are there in the first place, there's another cool factor - regular people all around the world are controlling their movements from their computers.

DAVID DI DUCA: They have controls for navigating around the galleries. So they can go forwards, left, right, tilt the head up and down, look around.

NEELY: David Di Duca is one of the project designers.

DI DUCA: When someone's controlling the robot, they're effectively curating the feed or the experience for a much wider audience.

NEELY: Much wider as in anyone, anywhere with access to the Internet. Every night since Wednesday, people have been able to visit the site and fill out a simple form for a chance to take the robots for a spin. Behind the project is a digital design studio called The Workers. They won a prize from the Tate Museum to put this together. Besides the cool factor, it's a chance to reach people who may never visit the museum. People from all over the world may log on for the robots and stay to explore 500 years of British art. There's commentary from art experts and gallery guides along the way.

(SOUNDBITE OF TATE BRITAIN'S AFTER DARK)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Kind of contemporary, isn't it?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yeah, it's quite a modern painting.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: It's almost like a photograph.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: And she's quite feisty, I think.

NEELY: They're working in shifts in the middle of the night. So when you send robots into a museum at night and let people around the world take the reins, how do you make sure the precious works don't get ruined? David Di Duca says there are a lot of precautions in place.

DI DUCA: The robots are designed with a wide lower base and the outside edge of that is a kill switch, which takes out the power to the robots. Some artworks are directly on the floor and so we have to put barriers around them so there's something of a kill switch to hit in that worst-case scenario.

(SOUNDBITE OF TATE BRITAIN'S AFTER DARK)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Wow, we're being blinded there by Steven's robot.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Robot three is on the move.

NEELY: And there are humans behind the scenes in case something goes wrong. Ross Cairns is also working on the project.

ROSS CAIRNS: So we have a sort of HQ in the dungeons of the Tate where we're just making sure everything is running while upstairs in the galleries, the robots are roaming free.

NEELY: David Di Duca says things are generally running pretty smoothly.

DI DUCA: Some of the best moments are when two of the robots actually meet each other in the gallery and they, you know, they sort of look at each other and you have no idea who the two people controlling them are. And they're never going to meet each other, but they're, for some split moment, staring at each other with these funny robot faces in a gallery in London.

(SOUNDBITE OF TATE BRITAIN'S AFTER DARK)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: So we got two images of the Stack there, robot two and robot four. Oh, wow, maybe the two robots are going to meet.

NEELY: Di Duca says the best way to enjoy art is to actually go to a museum. They're not trying to replace that experience.

DI DUCA: It is meant to be something else - some experience on its own - in its own right - which allows you to see things in a way which, you know, it hasn't been seen before.

NEELY: You can watch that live feed right now at the After Dark website and again tomorrow evening, and maybe even get the chance to take control. Priska Neely, NPR News.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.