Wired Video: Artist Creates Robot Slaves, Spinning Sculpture

By Priya Ganapati

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Tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood of San Francisco is a little workshop that opens its doors rather infrequently to the outside world. But when it does, it is an electro-mechanical wonderland.

Called Area 2881, after its address, it is a 400-square-foot installation of kinetic and light art housed in an hardware store from the early 1900s.

The Willy Wonka behind it, Carl Pisaturo is an applications engineer by day at Stanford University. When he’s not at work, Pisaturo spends his time fashioning the most elaborate objects — an upper body robot with humanoid range of movements, a 3-D photograph viewer and a strobe illusion device that he calls a transmutoscope.

“I wanted to create a living environment of kinetic sculptures,” he says.

The transmutoscope, for instance, has a series of slightly different but similar looking cylindrical objects arranged in a circle on a a rotating disk. When strobe lamps fire in sync with the object positions, the transmutoscope pulsates. The cylinders appears stationary yet contracting and expanding.

Other Pisaturo creations include two electro-mechanical robots he calls “slave robots” that can be handled using an external controller, and a three-motor Tilt-a-Whirl-type carousel based on an amusement park ride.

Pisaturo has posted detailed material, design and electrical notes for his creations on his website.

Each sculpture can take months to finish, with all parts custom-made by him.”Fully custom mechanical objects with lighting can take a long time,” says Pisaturo who does the machining for the metal himself, “from three months to two years in case of the slave robots.”

The Area 2881 studio isn’t for walk-in tourists. Every few months, Pisaturo has an open house in the evening to let those interested come see his objects. Most of them are self-explantory, he says. Pisaturo rarely gives personal guided tours but made an exception for Wired.com when we visited last week.

The art is not a way for him to make money. “Rather it’s a money sink,” he says. And it doesn’t come cheap. It takes more than a few thousand dollars to buy one of his mechanical beauties.

In this video, Pisaturo shows us his best creation, the slave robot that has an almost humanoid upper-body motion.


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