An interactive telerobotic installation by
Bill Vorn & Simon Penny
Montréal (Québec) Canada, Irvine (California) USA
© 2003

Produced with the help of
The Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science and Technology
The Canada Council for the Arts



Bedlam explores the dislocation and permutation of subjectivity by computation and telematics. Bedlam is a telematic and teleoperative art installation comprising telerobotics, multicamera machine vision, spatialised interactive sound, video and web. Unlike most network experiments, Bedlam links, not just computers and virtual environments, but real spatial locations containing physically active people. This commitment to embodiment is a critical experimental intervention in the development of wide bandwidth multimodal networking.

Bedlam is an interdisciplinary project which models a novel cultural environment from a complex of emerging technologies including pneumatics and robotics, digital video systems, digital sound and network communication. Bedlam is equal parts play, critique, creative and technological R+D. It offers a critique of academic and popular discourses of cybernetics, artificial intelligence, robotics, 'virtual reality' and ‘artificial life’. It also constitutes experimental research in human computer interaction. Bedlam proposes a model of telematic interaction which actively critiques paradigms of computer-human interaction and of VR. We emphasize full-body interaction in which the user, unencumbered by hardware, training or highly symbolic interaction protocols, can drive remote and local systems by the ongoing behavior of their entire body.

At each of two sites, a participant moves within an interaction stage facing a coordinated array of hissing and clanking telerobotic prosthetics actuated by 'pneumatic muscles', driven by data from the remote user’s digitized 3D image. Video imagery mixed from the vision system cameras and other video inputs is displayed on large screens flanking the robotic installations at each site.

At ‘siteA’ the user stands within an ‘interaction stage’, a roughly 10’ open walled cube. Beside this interaction stage is a structure of custom robotic devices. Audiences at both sites view the action from behind and beside the interaction stage. As the users move, they generate real time 8 channel spatialized sound tightly coupled to their movement and gesture. Data about the users movement is passed to the remote ‘site B’. This data actuates the robotic devices at ‘site B’. The robotic devices are vaguely anthropomorphic, that is they may be reminiscent of animal or human body parts, but they are not assembled in the form of a body. The dynamics of their behavior however reflects the dynamics of the users behavior. The user at site B moves in response to the behavior of the robotic devices and creates local spatialized sound and data about his/her movement is passed back to site A, actuating the robotic devices there. In this way a highly mediated gestural communication loop is formed.

In an alternative interaction scheme, user at siteA influences or perturbs the behavior of robots at siteA. This robot behavior is passed to robots at site B, and vice versa. In this version, the robots are in a constant feedback loop of communication, and that system is perturbed by human users at both ends.
Unlike most interactive systems, our custom multi-camera machine vision system allows for radically active behavior without any hardware or tethers. Real time spatialized sound in each ‘interaction stage’ is generated by the real time 3D model of the user built by the vision system.

‘Sound agents’ also share the same virtual space as the user’s body model and behave sometimes in a completely autonomous manner sometimes in direct response to the viewer’s actions, as their coordinates in the virtual space are mapped onto 3D sound positioning in the real space.

The general effect (for each participant and for on-site audiences) is of a space of partial and quasi- identities in flux, which nonetheless carries strong suggestions of a communicative loop between the two users, mediated by network, robotic and media elements.




• Subtle Technologies 2003 symposium, Signal show
(Toronto, Canada)
From May 22 to June 7, 2003




High Resolution Pictures


Bedlam at Subtle Technologies 2003, 6.9 MB, TIFF format, 300 dpi, 2048 x 1536


Bedlam at Subtle Technologies 2003, 4.4 MB, TIFF format, 300 dpi, 2048 x 1536


Bedlam at Subtle Technologies 2003, 8.0 MB, TIFF format, 300 dpi, 2048 x 1536

QuickTime Video


Bedlam in the EART studio and at Subtle Technologies 2003, 22.2 MB, QuickTime format, 320 x 240, 2:34 min

YouTube Video


Bedlam in the EART studio and at Subtle Technologies 2003

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