The Story of SYNTH RIDE
For years it has been my mission to bring robots in people’s daily lives, so people can really experience the interaction with a robot, and hopefully, end up having less fear about the future with robots.
A few years ago I started working on a new project called ARTR. (short for ART-Robot)
He was set out to become a robot platform that could explore different forms of creativity and cultural endeavors.
In the 80’s and early 90’s, I was a very famous DJ in my street, so what else are robots good for, then to use them to fulfill your lost dreams from your youth. ARTR was going to become a DJ. The first real Robot-DJ, a meat free Daft Punk act, Kraftwerk without the squishy insides.
But a DJ is more than his “act” on stage. Anybody can start an pre recorded mix from a stick. A DJ is also her or his lifestyle choices, the taste in fashion and coffee blends, not just the tunes they buy and play. It has to be clear that ARTR enjoys his life on any other moment. What better place to enjoy great music then in a car on the road.
This is when I started thinking about the concept of riding with my robot buddy through the city at night, listening to awesome synthwave tracks. Preferably in a convertible car, so the street lights would reflect of his shiny head, so nobody would doubt that this is a real physical robot, not some fancy CG trick.
As much as I enjoy EDM, I am not the physical hero on a dancefloor. Enjoying music in public limits my physical involvement to foot-tapping and head-bobbing. Ever since a failed experiment on Robin, the first robot DJ I created, I had been obsessing over a very versatile neck that could “bob” like humans do. Most abstract robots move their head over 1 axis. R2D2 just turns left or right. More flexible robots add an extra axis, so they can look up and down. When I was working on Yummy 6 years ago, I needed an extra axis, so he could tilt his head left or right. This was totally unnecessary from a functional point, but I needed it to express more emotions. This 3 axis neck has been the norm for many of my robots since.
But 3 wasn’t enough for some serious head bobbing… I needed a fourth axis…
"I choose quiet places at night, but despite that, there were plenty of bystanders wondering WTF was going on :)"One year later, early 2018, after half a dozen failed attempts, I was finally ready to test the 4 axis neck, with the relatively heavy head I had created for ARTR. It worked. With the learnings from WALT at Audi and VERn, I installed a flexible LED panel, with a real time audio analyser so I could connect my phone to the robot and play and see music, anywhere I wanted, also in my car.
So next step was making a short film to demonstrate my idea. I needed music and … a car.
A few years ago I discovered the new Synthwave music trend. A bunch of kids were taking the style and atmosphere of 80’s music, and making it sound over the top cool again. Hundreds of bands were making this music in all kinds of sub genres. Lately this style has been popping up in more popular culture too, like the movie Drive, Kung Fury, Stranger Things and Thor Ragnarok. The huge popularity of an artist like James White shows that this style is still very popular and even growing in appreciation with younger generations. Youtube hosts dozens of awesome Synthwave mixes that can turn your studio into a scene from any dark 80’s horror movie.
Last summer I created a short film with VERn and BRCLY, in a setting with lots of blue, red and pink. With this release I got in contact with the guys from the band “Dance With The Dead”, one of my favorite synthwave bands. So early this year I asked them permission to use one of their tracks for my short film, and they said yes !
Then I started looking at possibilities to rent or lend a convertible car, but not just any cheesy car. It had to fit into the synthwave atmosphere. The car had to be a character in itself. What other car brand fits this idea better than Porsche ? So I contacted my friend Pierre-Philippe and he said he could arrange a Porsche 718 Boxter for me, thanks to Porsche Centre Brussels. Not only that, through a fortunate flow of events, my car got upgraded to a Porsche 718 Boxter GTS ! in chalk-grey !
The date was set. I got the car for one day and night, on a very cold but sunny winter day. The next day a winter storm would hit the country, so there was no room for delays.
On Thursday the 1th of March, I got all my ski underwear out of the closet, and picked up the most awesome car I had ever driven in. I spend almost 16 hours in that car, that day. I was ready to move in that car, preferable with ARTR and in a tunnel. It was a memorable day.
ARTR felt immediately at home in the Boxter. Synthwave music was what the BOSE surround sound system of the 718 was made for. Although the car really looks the business, it is very comfortable to drive in. But if you turn the steering wheel dial to Sport, it turns into a very tight and loud machine, that really brings you into the moment. I believe that is the car’s most important feature. You can not ignore being in the 718 GTS. The driving experience is absolutely overwhelming.
All the pieces fit perfectly. First we drove to Doel, one of my favorite shooting locations. Despite it’s unfortunate history, the small almost abandoned town in the harbor of Antwerp, always brings me in a creative mood.
ARTR was behaving as expected and as the sun set we were getting ready for the night. At this stage in ARTR’s development I still perceive this as a test shoot. So there are no fancy camera rigs, and no production crew. It is just me, a robot, a car and a gopro camera. But that didn’t keep me from making some very exciting shots, despite ARTR breaking his neck several times. It turns out that testing his 4 axis neck in my studio, is not exactly the same as in a 365 horsepower sports car. At the end of the shoot only one of the 12 screws, that hold his neck together, was still properly tight. Two printed parts broke in half during the night. I learned a lot, but all these defects have been fixed and made stronger already.
I really hope you enjoy the movie, not the least for the awesome soundtrack and the boxer engine sounds, but lets not forget what this experiment is all about. I was out on the street, in an awesome car with a robot by my side. In order to avoid difficult conversations with law enforcement, I choose quiet places at night, but despite that, there were plenty of bystanders wondering WTF was going on :)
It is hard to avoid articles about self driving cars these days. The conversation is mostly about safety to other people at this stage, as it should. But driving on the road is for many people more than just transportation. The self driving car is going to be more than a horizontal elevator cabin with more windows. It will take you places and during those journeys you will listen to cool music and dream away.
When I think about the happiest moments in my life as a teenager, then I think about sitting in the backseat of the car, with my walkman, listening to synthesizer music, and dreaming about the future.
Today is that future. If a robot like ARTR can help bring this happiness in a (self-driving) car then every car should have one, or at least the cars you drive in when you are living in the moment.
Thanks for your interest in this project.
Jan De Coster
Please rewatch the movie below or at this link.
I would like to express my appreciation to these partners, that helped with the realization of this project: