Braitenberg Acrobats

Braitenberg Acrobats is a system of suspended animated lights that move around in 3D space. Observers may see a system that looks orderly and well-coordinated or chaotic, depending on the current state of the system. Observers may become a part of the system by attempting to focus light (from a phone or other light source) at the light sensors on the acrobats.

This system is inspired by Vehicles, Experiments in Synthetic Psychology, by Valentino Braitenberg. Braitenberg Acrobats are robotic “marionette” systems. Three motors change the length of three strings from which each acrobat is suspended, allowing three-dimensional control of their position. Each acrobat is a self-contained unit of motors, light sensors, and LED light emitters. Simple programming of each acrobat determines a relation between sensory input and actuator (light and motor) output. The proximity of one acrobat to another allows them to energetically couple (one sensing the light of another), resulting in an emergent pattern of light and movement that is determined by their initial states, their internally defined sensory-motor linkages, and chance. This robotic system is inspired by biological and neurological mechanisms that are energetically open but informationally closed to one another. Any “communication” between them is determined by their internal structures, which may be changed if they are sensitive to an external energy to which they are exposed. Such systems are often structurally simple but appear highly complex, both in their physically manifest behaviors and in their hidden but seemingly present psychological states.