Robots offer night at the museum

Robots have been roaming London’s Tate Britain at night – providing live visual feeds of its art treasures via the web to users worldwide.

The project, called After Dark, also features live commentary by a panel of experts and was developed using space technology.

It allows web-users to join a queue to access the feeds and they are then given control of the robots, which can wander throughout the 500 years of art housed in the museum.

The machines are programmed not to knock anything over or bump into walls to prevent damage to priceless objects or paintings.

David di Duca, one of the three-man team which developed the project, said the idea came from design work they were already doing at Tate Modern and the Sainsbury Centre collection at UEA in Norwich.

They were struck by the magic of having the quiet galleries to themselves at night, and how powerful and different the experience was from their daytime life.

Each robot is mounted on a circular wheeled base that can move in any direction, with two slender stalks supporting a tilting “head” equipped with two cameras and LED lights, running on powerful batteries which will power them for a five-hour session.

They were built with help from RAL Space which works with the UK Space Agency on exploration technology.

“You’ll see four video feeds of these robots, we’re also going to have commentators who are going to be talking through some of the works which come on the screen, and then you can request to take control, and this is where a lot of our effort is focused on at the moment. We want to digitally create the experience of being in the collection alone at night,” robotic designer Ross Cairns, who is behind the project, said.

Jane Burton, Creative Director of Tate Media said it is a chance to make the galleries more accessible.

She explained: “Here at Tate we’ve got the national collection of British art so we’ve got 500 years of British art, from 1500 right up to the present day, and we would love people to explore that, and the idea that the robots can walk through time driven by people and stop at painting they like and hear a live commentary from our tour guides is just fascinating and exciting, and we also hope it will be a bit of fun.”