LDF10: Outrace

We nipped across to Trafalgar Square last night to check out Outrace, one of the centrepieces of this year’s London Design Festival.

Outrace is a large scale installation of eight industrial robots (on loan from Audi), each of which has a powerful LED head attached to the end of its arm. If you log on to the Outrace website you can submit a message of up to 70 characters which the robots will then recreate in a 3D cursive graffiti font written in light (assuming they deem your message interesting enough – we quite liked “Bow to your robot overlords puny humans” which someone has already posted). Long exposure cameras placed round the base of the installation then capture these interactive light paintings, and display them on screens just below the robots, as well as sending them to their YouTube channel (it’s 2010, nothing exists unless it’s on YouTube), and emailing them back to you. Here’s ours (with a couple of stray characters, guess those robots aren’t infallible…):

The project was designed by Clemens Weisshaar and Reed Kram, who in the newspaper handed out at the installation are described as being very different from standard ‘professional designers’: “You will know these genteel people by their office pallor and their dainty Apple iPhones. Reed Kram and Clemens Weisshaar do not fit this mould.”

Well boys, judging by your bio shots on the Outrace site, you fit the mould just fine:

To be fair, the newspaper has a fairly tongue-in-cheek tone (in parts – other parts are dripping with painfully sincere academic analysis of the project) so perhaps us genteel folk shouldn’t get too worked up…

The project is evidently mind-blowingly complex as a piece of software engineering, which is all well and good, but what’s the actual experience like?

Well, it’s kinda groovy to have a gang of beautiful robots girating around in Trafalgar Square – you can check out the live stream to see them doing their thing – they’re like a nest of rhythmic vipers, dancing to some unheard tune (Bjork’s All is Full of Love perhaps?) Very beautiful.

As an interactive text piece though it works far better online than it does as a physical piece – when you’re in the square you can’t see the letterforms left by the light traces (unless you photograph them at night as we did, which means taking an SLR and a tripod along), and the screens below the robots showing the messages don’t feel entirely connected to what’s going on above them. And while we were there they’d run out of the explanatory newspapers, which was leaving people in the dark, as it were. The online films are great though, and the graffiti font works well for the kinds of messages that are being sent in (‘Kirstin, I love you with all of my heart. A xxx’ being one of the latest), pleasantly undercutting the mechanical movements of the robots.

All in all a fine centrepiece to the festival. Outrace continues until tomorrow evening (23 September) so get down there sharpish if you want to take a look.

Larger versions of our shots are on Alistair’s LDF10 Flickr set.

  • Jon

    Love this Alistair! I went on launch day (daylight hours), submitted my own message and when I landed home, had a video of it waiting in my inbox. Looking forward to going tomorrow after work to snap this.