QB1: Staring At You

Premiering QB1, a robot that alters the fundamentals of human-machine interaction

Event Details


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


April 25, 2009 from 6:00 pm to 9:30 pm America/Los Angeles (UTC-08:00)


7:00 pm doors open, networking reception
7:30 pm conference talk by Frédéric Kaplan and Martino d’Esposito
8:00 pm reception and QB1 demonstration setting – sound environment by Christopher Willits / Overlap
10:30 pm doors close

Although great progress has been made on keyboards, monitors and mouses in recent decades, user-computer relationships are stuck on one major hinge: regardless of technological advances, it is always the user who must make a move, both physically and mentally, to the computer, and adjust to the machine’s environment.

Engineer Frédéric Kaplan and designer Martino d’Esposito are determined to reverse this process. The Lausanne-based duo (Kaplan is an artificial intelligence researcher at EPFL, the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne; d’Esposito is a designer who also teaches at ECAL, the University of Art and Design Lausanne)  have started designing machines able to identify their user, put forward choices and perform services.

A prototype robot named “Wizkid” had a first outing in February 2008 on the occasion of the “Design and the Elastic Mind” exhibition at the New York Museum of Modern Art. swissnex San Francisco is proud to present the North American premiere of a much more sophisticated robot called QB1.

QB1 will be presented in a special environment: the robot itself will be in full demonstration mode in our lobby (thanks to a special setting elaborated in collaboration with Zinc Details), while our event space displays a “behind the scenes” panel exhibit and hosts an introductory conference by Frédéric Kaplan and Martino d’Esposito, revealing all the work hidden within the robot.

Digital composer and textured guitar whiz Christopher Willits and the Overlap collective will also be with us, providing a live sound environment directly inspired by QB1- expect generative sound creations as well as Djing interventions from one of the Bay Area’s most talented constellation of electronic artists. UPDATE: Overlap wants YOU to participate – via MIDI file submission – in the evening’s sound construction. See details here on the Overlap homepage.

Dressed in a fabric slipcover that stands in sharp contrast to the plastic shells of personal computers, QB1 turns its attention to users as soon as it identifies someone in its field of vision. No need for a keyboard or mouse to interact – you navigate with simple gestures. QB1 is able to simultaneously take into account movements by both hands. The closer the user gets, the more information it provides.

The first full application presented on the machine is a jukebox: at a distance QB1 can fulfill the user’s desires – choice of records and songs, volume up or down, etc. But it also recognizes who it is interacting with and gradually adjusts its interface, making increasingly relevant suggestions.

Frédéric Kaplan, working within the EPFL CRAFT Laboratory, applied the findings of his academic and industrial research in the field of advanced interfaces to QB1, combining robotics and artificial intelligence. Martino d’Esposito, contributing his joint experience as industrial designer and lecturer at ECAL, created the machine’s formal language to enhance its new status in relations with humans.

The type of 3D gesture interaction featured in QB1 is based on several inventions developed at EPFL over the past two years. Several Swiss high-tech companies were involved in the development of the hardware parts of the machine, among them the robotics firm Bluebotics.

The high potential of this new generation of machines led Frédéric Kaplan and Martino d’Esposito to found the company OZWE together – a spin-off from EPFL – to open up marketing prospects and to build upon the support the project has received from its inception at the EPFL+ECAL Lab, an innovative venture bent on leveraging both of the Lausanne-based schools’ assets by executing common projects. Nicolas Henchoz, the Director of this joint lab, explains that “Design too often comes into consideration only a step beyond the engineer’s work. This project combines both skills at every strategic stage”.


More information, images and videos of QB1 on the OZWE website.



Frédéric Kaplan


graduated as an engineer of the Ecole Nationale Supérieur des Télécommunications in Paris and received a PhD degreee in Artificial Intelligence from the University Paris VI. After ten years of research at the Sony Computer Science Laboratory in Paris, he now supervises a new team on interactive furniture at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). In his research, he has been exploring technologies endowing objects with a personal history, thus creating ecosystems in perpetual evolution thanks to differentiation and learning processes. In parralel with his research in artificial intelligence, Kaplan collaborates with developemtal psychologists, ethologists, neuroscientists, designers and architects. He authored two books available in French, “La naissance d’une langue chez les robots” (“The Birth of a Language Among Robots”) (Hermes, 2001) and “Les machines apprivoisées: comprendre les robots de loisir” (Tamed Machines: Understanding Entertainment Robots”) (Vuibert, 2005)

Martino d’Esposito


is the co-founder of Lausanne-based design agency D’Esposito & Gaillard. A product design graduate from the Lausanne University of Art and Design (ECAL), d’Esposito designs objects and furniture for companies such as Ligne Roset, Cinna, Neweba and Monodor. He also rejoined ECAL  on the faculty side and is currently a Professor in the Industrial Design department of the school.




supports the diverse community and culture surrounding experimental media releases, unique events and sharing. OVERLAP.ORG releases and shares new independent music, video, and experimental art, produces innovative special events, and provides anyone with a free blog to share their media with the world. Overlap was founded by musican and artist Christopher Willits and has been steadily growing with the help of Jon Phillips, Louis Rawlins, Kenric McDowell, Lucky Banks-Kenny, and other devoted artists.

Christopher Willits


has been instrumental in redefining the guitar in the digital age. Using custom-built software, Willits morphs his guitar playing into warm folded rhythms of texture and melody. Named “the center cell of a complex indie rock-avant-garde-electronic art Venn diagram in the Bay Area” (San Francisco Bay Guardian), and “The Picasso of Sound” (Tokafi Magazine), Willits defies genre distinctions while still defining a sound of his own. His guitar lines fold and weave into each other creating complex patterns of interlocking rhythm, melody, and texture. 2006 marked the release of “Surf Boundaries,” a critically acclaimed wash of Willits’ guitars and vocal harmonies on the revered Ghostly International label. Every release sees Willits taking chances and expanding his creative vision. In addition to his solo work, a vast range of music collaborations, sound installations, and film/video projects compel him, among these his band projects Flossin (with Zach Hill of Hella, Kid606, Nate Boyce, and Matmos) and The North Valley Subconscious Orchestra (with Brad Laner). Other frequent collaborators include Scott Pagano, Taylor Deupree, and Ryuichi Sakamoto. Willits’ numerous releases and collaborative projects cover a broad spectrum of musical styles, and include one main commonality: his unique approach to the guitar and sound.


Photo: Myleen Hollero