The Art of Robots

Have you ever seen a blind, juggling robot? After the evening’s discussion between scientists, artists, and a science fiction specialist, you’ll be able to answer yes.

Event Details


swissnex San Francisco
730 Montgomery St., San Francisco, 94111 United States


November 01, 2011 from 6:30 pm to 10:00 pm America/Los Angeles (UTC-07:00)

Born in the imagination of science fiction novelists, robots are now also the focus of scientists and artists alike. swissnex San Francisco brings together all three of these seemingly disparate disciplines to examine robotics from each perspective—and to admire the sweet spot where robotics research and robotic art coincide.

As part of swissnex San Francisco’s series on robotics as well as the inaugural Bay Area Science Festival, Marc Atallah, Director of the Maison d’Ailleurs, the Museum of Science Fiction Utopia and Extraordinary Journeys in Yverdon, Switzerland, looks back on the history of robots and other fantastic creatures in literature and asks the question, ‘Are robots passé?’

Renowned artist Ken Goldberg, Professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research at UC Berkley and Co-Founder of the Berkeley Center for New Media, presents insights on Post-Robotic Robots, including human-centered robots and cloud robotics.

Raffaello d’Andrea, Professor of Dynamic Systems and Control at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) is a strong believer in creative research. He and Philip Reist show off the Blind Juggler, a robot that keeps multiple balls bouncing on a paddle without any sensory input, and discusses why and what this bot has in comon with his other projects, such as the Flying Machine Arena, Distributed Flight Array, and Robotic Chair.

In Alan Rath‘s hands, electrical wires become nervous systems and machines sprout feathers and come alive. A Bay Area artist with a degree in electrical engineering from MIT, Rath brings his latest kinetic sculpture for audiences to enjoy.

The evening ends with a panel discussion between the presenters, moderated by Goldberg.


6:30 pm  doors open
7:00 pm  presentations by Marc Atallah, Ken Goldberg, Raffaello d’Andrea, and Alan Rath
8:00 pm  panel discussion moderated by Ken Goldberg and audience Q-n-A
8:45 pm  reception, networking, and demos
10:00 pm  doors close


Marc Atallah

Marc Atallah is Director of the Maison d’Ailleurs in Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland, the one and only Museum of Science-Fiction, Utopia and Extraordinary Journeys. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Philosophy, Epistemology and Language and French Literature from the University of Lausanne (UNIL). Parallel to his primary field of study, he attended classes in physics at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL). In 2008, he earned his Ph.D. from UNIL and is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Language and French Literature. His research focuses on conjectural literature, Utopia, Dystopia, imaginary and extraordinary journeys, and science fiction.

Raffaello D’Andrea

Raffaello D’Andrea is a Professor of Dynamic Systems and Control at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich). He also is technical co-founder and chief technology advisor for Kiva Systems, a Boston area high-tech company that has developed a revolutionary material handling system utilizing hundreds of fully autonomous mobile robots. In addition, he is an artist who has exhibited at various international venues, including the Venice Biennale, Ars Electronica, and ideaCity. Two of his collaborative projects are in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Canada. D’Andrea is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and a recipient of the Invention and Entrepreneurship in Robotics and Automation Award, the United States Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering, and two best paper awards from the American Automatic Control Council and the IEEE. He has received the National Science Foundation Career Award, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Golden Owl, and several teaching awards in the area of project-based learning.

Alan Rath

Alan Rath’s path to becoming one of the country’s most respected and successful artists working with electronic media and kinetic sculpture did not follow a predictable trajectory. With childhood influences ranging from NASA to Jimi Hendrix and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from MIT, Rath seemed destined for a job in Silicon Valley instead of an artist’s studio in Oakland, California. Since the early 1980s, however, Rath has gained increasingly wide recognition for his robotic sculptures that incorporate electronically manipulated images and moving parts within beautifully handcrafted armatures of aluminum, steel, glass, and plastic. His work explores the nexus between art and science in objects with often human-like and humorous characteristics, and has been included in important exhibitions and collections both nationally and internationally.

Ken Goldberg

Ken Goldberg is a Professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research (IEOR), with a joint appointment in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley). He is also a Co-Founder of the Berkeley Center for New Media. He is an artist, writer, inventor, and researcher in the field of robotics and automation. Goldberg is credited with developing the first robot with web interface (August 1994). For his research, Goldberg was awarded the National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award in 1994, the National Science Foundation Presidential Faculty Fellowship in 1995, the Joseph F. Engelberger Robotics Award in 2000, the IEEE Major Educational Innovation Award in 2001. As an artist, Goldberg’s work has been exhibited at the Whitney Biennial, Venice Biennale, Pompidou Center (Paris), Walker Art Center, Ars Electronica (Linz Austria), File festival (São Paulo), ZKM (Karlsruhe), ICC Biennale (Tokyo), Kwangju Biennale (Seoul), Artists Space, and The Kitchen (New York).

Philipp Reist

Philipp Reist grew up in Zurich, Switzerland and obtained a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from  ETH Zurich, where he built the Blind Juggler for his thesis. During his studies, he spent two exchange semesters at MIT, where he worked on his bachelor’s thesis and on a randomized control algorithm. He has been pursuing his Ph.D. at ETH Zurich since 2009 in controls engineering at the Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control under Professor Raffaello D’Andrea. Among other projects, Reist explores chaos for motion planning and control of nonlinear dynamical systems. In addition to research, he is interested in mechatronic art and teaching mechatronics to high school students.

More Info

Bay Area Science Festival
From October 29th to November 6th, the Bay Area will come alive with over 100 science and technology activities – lectures, debates, exhibitions, concerts, plays, workshops, and more. This ambitious collaborative public education initiative brings together leading academic, scientific, corporate, and non-profit institutions to showcase the region as an international leader in innovation. Science happens all around us and directly impacts our daily lives – are you ready to unleash your inner scientist? Learn more. #basf11

This event is part of our Robots Among Us series and is a project of the U.S.-wide program ThinkSwiss-Brainstorm the Future. As a leading country in science, research, and technology, Switzerland is working with its American counterparts to address key global topics such as sustainability to better understand trends and arrive at solutions.


 Photo: Myleen Hollero

Event Photos