MISSION ONE

Exploiting the markets of scale of the toy industry, specifically in the realm of entertainment robotics; the hardware distribution power of national and multinational corporations (and the cultural imperialism); to provide a readymade, inexpensive and highly distributed hardware platform. The robotic dogs currently on the international market provide the most inexpensive source of compatible motors, actuation, and sensing mechanisms available [$15-$200 for the dog adaptation].

 
MISSION TWO

To use this distributed hardware platform to build a networked (knowledge) community interested in the transformation of robotic dogs from their intended entertainment use to activists instruments for exploring (and contesting) local material conditions. The web-based community openly shares low cost adaptation strategies and techniques for updating the rationale (i.e. hacking) of these and similar toys. This is a community that is built on a particular post-purchase activity with the toy rather than the act of consumption itself in contrast to a community of SONY AIBO owners, and it is designed to exploit the popular culture references of these toys to involve youth in the interpretation of environmental conditions and a critique of the corporate imagination.

 
MISSION THREE

To create a local mediagenic event: the feral robotic dog pack release. The feral dogs have a simple communication system added in their adaptation, that allows the coordinate behavior of a pack. The dogs will cover different portions of a terrain (maintaining a radius) for effective space filling, but will converge if one dog gets a particularly strong signal. This functionality is intended to provide information that is displayed in a form that is legible to diverse participants i.e. the movement of the dogs. The dogs paths provide immediate imagery to sustain discussion and interpretation of an otherwise imperceptible environmental condition of interest (e.g. radioactivity; air quality issues and the re-opening of English powerstation; class-based environmental discrimination). Because the dog’s space-filling logic emulates a familiar behavior, i.e. they appear to be “sniffing something out”, participants can watch and try to make sense of this data without the technical or scientific training required to be comfortable interpreting a EPA document on the same material. Furthermore, I argue that by using the movement of the dogs as the display this renders the information at an appropriate level of accuracy (the data looks fuzzy). An emblematic feature of the adapted dogs is placement of the webcams in the non-barking end of the dogs, whereas traditional robotics and AIBO place the cameras in the ‘eyes’ of the agent. The rear end placement in the Ferals collects footage of the spectators and their actual interpretation of the dog’s behavior, privileging this as information rather than just the data collected and stored onboard for later interpretation. The feral dog pack event is designed as an opportunity to enable public discourse and open-ended interpretation of the evidence at hand, and an opportunity to coordinate diverse interpretations (for instance at the English Power Station release attendees invited include activists who have opposed the reopening, residents, politicians, and power company representatives). The display of the empirical evidence on the local pollutant is intended to enable and change typical lay-expert communication patterns, by raising the standards of evidence, or at least changing who produces this evidence.