Burning Man 2007 Proposal

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Finished Proposal

Find the finished submitted proposal here: http://lee.org/swarm/proposal

Example Proposals

Serpent Mother 2006 Proposal, The Flaming Lotus Girls

Sunflower Robots Proposal, 2006

Sunflower Robots Outline

Future of Energy - A Field of Sunflower Robots

  • Manifesto
  • What
  • Detailed Description
  • Dimensions
  • Interactivity, Content, and Physical Impact
  • Timeline
  • Drawings, Sketches, and Plans
  • Clean-Up Plan
  • Crew
  • Leave No Trace

Outline V0


  • Manifesto (or Artistic Message)

"What is life?" asked eminent Nobelist Erwin Schrödinger. A good question. For the physicist, the Universe is a thermodynamic engine on a one-way trip to heat death. Nothing escapes the ineluctable embrace of entropy. Yet at least on one small sphere, our planet, there is a rude and surprising exception: life. The Second Law of Thermodynamics insists everything gets less organized as time progresses. But life doesn't. Life gets more complicated -- and more interesting. Bacterial colonies emerge from primordial goop; vertebrates evolve from single cells, mind arises from animal brains, culture evolves from intelligence. Schrödinger called this organizational drive negentropy -- when things want to become more complicated, more organized -- when things want to be alive. Negentropy is the sound of birdsong in a forest on a planet that the Second Law of Thermodynamics insists should be sterile rock. Negentropy is a honeybee colony and a night at the opera. Negentropy is a Bronx cheer in the face of Death.

Some optimists insist that technology is the next step; that the relentless drive towards complexity doesn't stop with one particular primate species. We don't know about that, but we do know we are driven to push the boundaries of what is possible, to make things in the future that don't exist now. We want to make -- we will make -- things that that want to be alive. We, like artists and creators everywhere, say "screw you" to the Second Law. More details follow, but we propose a swarm of autonomous beings that by their very nature will have emergent and complex behavior. They will flock and flirt and dance, and their actions will surprise and confuse even us, their creators. They are simple, but together they will behave in ways more complex than we can predict. They will be vehicles for beauty and unpredictability. A lot like life. Are they alive? What is life?

  • What

"Swarm" is a kinetic art piece for Burning Man 2007, consisting of a number of rolling spherical vehicles. These would actuated by a non-rolling interior with a counterweight. Turning would be accomplished by tilting the axis of rotation relative to the counterweight. With GPS guidance and computer control, the spheres can execute motions evocative of animals and dancers.

Imagine walking across the desert plain at night. The bright moonlight illuminates the cracks in the alkali surface as you listen to your foot steps and the sound of your breath. Suddenly, your attention is drawn to a strange motion in front of you. Balls of light move in elaborate formations, evoking swarms of insects or schools of fish. As you approach and find company with your fellow nocturnal travellers, the spheres in front of you progress to new movements, reminding you of birds in flight and the time you saw the ballet with your parents. The orbs express themselves by changing colors and making sounds. After a period of silent wonder, you begin to talk to your cohorts about the things you have seen, comparing the products of your imaginations like children watching clouds. Later, you approach a fantastic human powered vehicle, to talk about how these otherwordly creatures came to life, and to participate in keeping them alive with your own labor.

A SWARM of illuminated robotic orbs performing choreographed dances of light and pattern.

    • A motion and a spirit, that impels
    • All thinking things, all objects of all thought
    • And rolls through all things.
    • Wordsworth
    • The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
    • Dylan Thomas
    • Kinetic Art
  • Detailed Description
    • Enabling Tech
    • Schematic
    • Mothership
  • Green Man
The Orbs are an 'interdependent members of a complex and emergent culture.'
    • A motion and a spirit, that impels / All thinking things, all objects of all thought / And rolls through all things. -- Wordsworth
  • Power:

It is our intention to be as carbon-neutral and nonpolluting as possible given our needs. Nothing is burned; our objects are lightweight, we will purchase carbon credits to offset our impact. We are putting considerable effort into energy flexibility.Our Orbs will use the latest in battery technology.

We have been in contact with Tom Price to ensure our battery and charging process is compatible with the Burning Man organization photovoltaic system. We are also investigating photovoltaic leasing arrangements from Snow Koan Camp. If these options are not available, we can recharge our batteries from any mains or generator source including biodiesel. Though it is not practical to consider this our primary energy source, we are plan at least one bicycle powered charging station for participant interaction. In keeping with our low impact approach, our Mother Ship is pedal-powered to minimize playa impact and motor vehicle traffic.

    • The force that through the green fuse drives the flower --Dylan Thomas
  • Behavior and Interactivity

  • Choreography: In the process of testing, we will compose "choreographed" behavior that will be beautiful in their own right. We are contemplating radially-symmetric "Busby Berkeley" patterns, sinusoidal waves, bunching-and-relaxing traffic "jams," interweaving "Square Dances" and "Polyhedral Dances" and other effects as technology permits. Rapidly moving the counterweight will enable "wobble," "Hula," "shimmy" and "shudder" motions. The spheres will be unusually and surprisingly expressive for solid objects.

    • Sphere Push Game
    • Color Changing: Orb spheres will be equipped with several watts of RGB superbright LEDs for nighttime operation. These serve for anti-collision visibility as well as artistic purposes. They add several more dimensions to the choreography of the Orb Swarm. Lights will be able to range over the full color spectrum, and will be autonomously and remotely controllable as part of the Orb behavior. Orb lighting effects will include chasing, strobing, and bright and subdued color effects based on Swarm configuration and behavior.
    • Magic Staff: Another primary interaction element is the Magic Staff or Wand. This will have the same location and radio communication circuitry as the Orbs, and can be configured to affect the Swarm behavior. Possible effects are Follow the Leader -- Orbs will follow the person carrying the Staff; Swarm Attract and Repulse -- depending on staff orientation, Orbs will approach or avoid the Staff carrier; and adaptive and emergent behaviors as the Swarm adapts to the behavior of a non-spherical member.
    • Follow the Leader: In this mode, one sphere is designated the leader and is under remote control of a human, or follows a random or pre-programmed path. Other spheres mimic the leader with greater or lesser fidelity; for example, they could turn synchronously with the leader but at a fraction of the angle or speed, or have small random deviations from the leader's behavior. This will give rise to interestingly complicated snake- and caterpillar-like effects.
    • Autonomous mode:

Perhaps the most interesting behaviors will be emergent. Programming each sphere to avoid other spheres but to head towards the center of the group yields flocking behaviors (often used to model animal herds or crowds in computer-generated imagery). "Chaining" is another approach to interestingly recursive behavior. Each sphere in the chain is programmed to copy the behavior of the next sphere, while the last sphere in the chain follows the first. Time delays and random physical effects will ensure unpredictable but coherent behaviors. To be truthful, we don't know the ultimate kinds of behaviors that are possible and experimentation -- even on the playa -- will be an integral part of the artwork.

  • Crew

This is a combined project featuring members of the Flaming Lotus Girls, the Sunflower Robots Project, members of the robotics and kinetic art communities, and new burners.

We have an experienced, diverse, and technically sophisticated crew featuring many veteran Burning Man artists and engineers. In past years, crew members have made major contributions to the following Burning Man artworks:

    • Sunflower Robots (2006)
    • The Flaming Lotus Girls' Serpent Mother (2006), Angel of the Apocalypse (2005), Seven Sisters (2004), Hand of God (2003)
    • The Mad Scientist's L3K (2006) and STS (2004)
    • Al Honig's Hope/Fear Gauge (2006)
    • Dana Albany's Bone Tree (1999)

In addition, we have years of experience with robotics and kinetic artworks presented in such challenging venues as Robogames, Combots, the Power Tool Drag Races, and Robodock (in the Netherlands).

We are experienced in the special requirements of playa engineering. We make stuff that works.

Appendix X contains artistic resumes of a few of the Orb Swarm principals.

  • Timeline

use formatting and concept from Sunflower Robots proposal. Design and Protying moves to December/Jan given our already extant prototype

  • Clean-Up Plan

Our installation is primarily mobile. Playa impact is negligible beyond area demarcation and nighttime anti-collision lights. Nothing is burned. Clean-up is therefore straightforward:

    • Monday 3: All Orbs are collected and packed for transport. Mothership is broken down for loading.
    • Tuesday 4: Truck loaded. Any playa impact (stake holes, etc.) is remediated. Installation area and surrounding area swept for MOOP. Artery staff inspect area and check off Swarm project.
    • No trace will be left. We will Leave no trace.

  • Budget
  • Technical Appendix
    • Wind resistance calculations
  • Principal Crew resumes

Tell me more

An early concept drawing
"Swarm" is a concept for a kinetic art piece consisting of a number of rolling spherical vehicles. These would be perhaps 2 feet in diameter, and would be actuated by a non-rolling interior with a counterweight. Turning would be accomplished by tilting the axis of rotation relative to the counterweight.

The spheres' exterior could be made of rod, sheet metal, or transparent plastic. This shell would be split in two, so that a periscope-like stalk could stick out the top. Mounted on this stalk would be antennae for GPS and two way wireless data. Each sphere would be equipped with accelerometers and possibly yaw rate sensors, so in combination with the GPS, each sphere is aware of its position to within a foot or so. Each sphere would have a microcontroller, and control tasks would be split between the individual spheres and a central control station.

The target cost, after the design is developed and refined, would be about $500-$1000 per sphere. A swarm of 4 to 8 spheres would spread out in an area, and zoom around in formation (somewhat like a pack of Shriners on scooters, or synchronized swimmers...) Each sphere would have LED's, strobes, and/or fire effects for greater visibility.

Swarm can be designed to include fire, but it doesn't necessarily have to. It's primarily a kind of kinetic art that has probably never been explored before, especially since cheap and effective GPS technology wasn't available until the last 5 years or so.

The Green Man

This project creates the impression of a large, lively space with a few, relatively small and efficient objects. This inherently efficient system is predominantly powered by electricity, making it possible to use photovoltaics (solar cells) and other green power sources.

One could envision many parallels from nature, like insects skitting across the surface of a pond, or ants swarming. Human society sometimes exhibits an uncanny resemblance to insect societies, and this is even more true of our creations.

Photovoltaics are about $4 per Watt. A first guess is that to charge the batteries, 500 Watts are necessary. Any thoughts on buying, borrowing, renting cheap PV are appreciated.

So far, two other sources of energy have been suggested- human power and wind power.

I'm posting a few links to pages which explore the Green Man image in medieval art, the image Larry seems to be referring to as the seed for the Green Man theme of Burning Man 07. It is a bit tricky to tie a robotic swarm to this image of some mysterious vegatative god cult that must have existed. 'Green' in those days would not have suggested Al Gore though it no doubt will at grant giving time. The green man seems to demonstrate the enormous fecundity of the earth. l don't think that the people who carved these old images saw themselves as a threat to nature as we so clearly do now. The motion of the spheres does suggest very natural behaviors. It can be as if these machines want to move as living things in flocks, packs, mating swarms or whatever. It might be cool for the swarm to grow and appear to be multiplying. But whether or not this is useful to know, it might be entertaining.

I saw a curious reference to 12th century descriptions of "green children" whose behavior we would probably see as atutistic.


and a good wikipedia page


some interesting current Green Man stone carving