Professor has students create artwork from machines

Interactive Robotics and Art, a new special topics class, turns robotics into artwork.

“This course is a new area of media exploration,” art department faculty member Brad McCombs said. McCombs, who teaches the course, said the class is structured to change and enhance the conventional ways of thinking.

“This course will really push the idea of exploring new avenues of making art,” he said.

McCombs came to NKU last fall with a mission to create new classes for the College of Arts and Sciences. He presented the idea of a robotics art class to the curriculum committee. That idea turned into reality this semester.

Seven students are enrolled in the Interactive Robotics and Art class. Four are traditional students, but the other three are faculty members.

“It’s the best class I have ever taken,” part-time faculty member Mark Shafer said. When Shafer found out that adjunct professors are allowed to take classes, he rushed to sign up for Interactive Robotics and Art.

“It seemed like a good opportunity to take advantage of,” Shafer said. “I have always had an interest in robotics. So when I found out that this class was going to be offered in the spring I knew I had to take it.”

The students have worked on several projects, including a hacking project.

“The goal is to hack a device and make it do something that it is not originally intended to do,” McCombs said.

Shafer hacked a Barbie Karaoke Machine.

“I changed it so it plays the music tape either really slow or really fast so that it sounds like Bugs Bunny,” he said.

McCombs hopes the class will open up discussion of new ways to engage people in art presentation.

“Most art galleries are very static,” he said. “When you go to an art gallery, all you can do with a painting or a sculpture is look at it. A robot in a gallery can provide participation and interaction with the viewer.”

Senior art major Matt Ashton said the course provides you with the ability to produce a different form of artwork.

“The class opens up another avenue to express myself,” he said. “It helps students make nontraditional artwork that is just as interesting to look at as other forms of art.”

Even though the class is currently labeled a special topics course and hosts only seven students, Shafer hopes that the class continues to grow.

“I really hope the course goes to the moon,” he said.