Do 21st century robots and artificial intelligence systems qualify as living organisms? I explore this question through my project Vellus machina, an interactive, breathing robotic organism. With the creation of Vellus machina, I hope to push the viewer to question if humanity’s definition of life should change. Inspiration for Vellus machina came from my work Consumerism as Manifestation of Eugenics.

To generate the form for Vellus machina, I soaked reeds in water and wove them around a manikin form to create its body. I repeated this process three times to generate the whole form.

In process shot of Vellus machina's form, 2016

The completed form that resulted from weaving on the manikin, 2016

I decided to recreate the first iteration of Vellus machina's form in RhinoCAD and Grasshopper so that I could make sure that Vellus machina would fit on the stand for the Digital Fabrication Studio Research: Unrvl the Code 2016 group show. I also chose to remodel in Grasshopper and Rhino so that I could tweak the original form.

Grasshopper file for Vellus machina modeling

The Rhino form that resulted from the Grasshopper file previously shown, 2016

After I modeled Vellus machina in Rhino and Grasshopper, I laser cut the generated form. I used the generated form to weave the final form of Vellus machina

Image of form after it was lasercut, 2016

Cardboard model of digital rendering, 2016

Final reed form that resulted from weaving around the cardboard model, 2016

I decided to wet felt uncarded wool to create Vellus machina's fur. I wanted its fur to be reminiscent of a mammal's. Initially, I wanted the fur to be naturally dyed gray with sunflower heads, but I realized that this was not needed to convey my idea. Instead, I utilized the original coloring of the material.

Natural dye samples for Vellus machina done with sunflower heads, 2016

Wet felting sample for Vellus machina

Vellus machina in its final form, 2016

To create Vellus machina's change in breathing rate, I worked with  engineer to develop a calibration code that caused Vellus machina to breathe slower when touched. The mechanics that caused this movement include an Arduino, conductive fabric that senses touch, and a touch capacitance sensor. The final result can be seen on my page Fiber + Technology.

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