RMIT Health Transformation Lab’s robot dog becomes artist and research subject

RMIT Health Transformation Lab’s robot dog becomes artist and research subject

Spot, RMIT Health Transformation Lab’s robot dog, will play a lead role in the development of a new artwork by Agnieszka Pilat at the NGV Triennial opening December this year.

Over four months, Spot and other robots will be trained by Pilat to paint a monolithic, durational work to be hung at the gallery.  

The exhibition is the latest in Pilat’s body of work that traces the lineage of 21st-century robotics and artificial intelligence through painting.

Research conducted by the Health Transformation Lab will coincide with the exhibition, contributing to ongoing research and an applied innovation program at RMIT that looks at how members of the public and particular professions respond to the introduction of autonomous robots into their spaces.

Four people stand with two robot dogs in front of a wall of art Sai Ram Gitte, Nithya Solomon and Mondo K from RMIT's Health Transformation Lab with artist Agnieszka Pilat (centre right) 

Chief investigator Brad Crammond said the research is distinct because most social robotics research is currently focused on improving human-robot interaction from a technical perspective.

“There is no existing research on the scale of this project looking at public sentiment around the desirability of regular and widespread interaction with robots in the community,” he said.

Crammond added that the NGV exhibition provided a unique context to expand his research in this area.

“Art is thought of as a uniquely human endeavour, indicative of the difference between humanity and other creatures,” he said.

"Seeing a robot creating art, in Melbourne’s premier gallery, challenges our ideas about what a robotic future could look like.”

In 2022 the Health Transformation Lab acquired a Boston Dynamics Spot robot to enable a range of applied innovation research and collaborations.

Director of the Health Transformation Lab, Nithya Solomon said RMIT’s investment in Spot helps the University tackle a systemic question about how robotics and humans can co-exist for a more optimised future. 

“Our social robotics collaborations are pushing boundaries on the myriad elements of human-robot relationships and interactions, and deepening our understanding of the interface between the two” she said. 

“This partnership with NGV is another avenue for looking at that interplay on a large scale.

“It will assist us on numerous fronts, from providing insights on community perceptions to catalysing public discourse on themes of robotics in life.”

the robot dog looks into the camera in front of the wall of art Spot the Robot will be featured at NGV Triennial, opening December this year

The RMIT Health Transformation Lab is a premier destination for establishing new and anti-disciplinary ways of working across the health system and beyond, bringing together design, technology, enterprise and other applied innovation.  

“Our work and the location of the Lab forms part of RMIT’s efforts to collaboratively activate a social innovation precinct in Melbourne’s City North,” Solomon said.  

“It promises be an exciting destination for social robotics.” 

As the use of robots becomes more widespread, Crammond said it was important to build insights around public responses to their appearance in society.  

“Without research in this area we are likely to see more failed attempts at automation,” he said. 

“The integration of robots is a two-way dilemma: they must be robust and intelligent but, perhaps more importantly, the people they interact with must find them helpful. 

“This human aspect is key to getting the most efficient and equitable results from robotic automation and that’s why we are so interested in understanding human perceptions and reactions to the robots.” 

Learn more about the work of RMIT’s Health Transformation Lab

RMIT is the NGV Design Partner and the Health Transformation Lab is Research Partner for Agnieszka Pilat’s commission at the NGV Triennial. 


Story by: Rosie Shepherdson-Cullen


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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.