Digital Intimacy

Year: 2020
Institution: Swissnex Boston
Location: Marseille, FR

Commissioned by Swissnex Boston
Curator: Alexandra Müller-Crepon
Concept, Design & Development: AATB
Prop Design: Eva Jauss
Production assistants: Nicolas Moreau,
Héloïse Charital and Ismaël Rifaï
Communication Design: Dualroom.ch

Swissnex Boston
Digital Intimacy

As the COVID-19 pandemic has escalated, the potential role of robotics has been becoming increasingly clear. Robots are gaining importance in creating new forms of interaction in times of physical distancing and managing this public health crisis. They bear the potential to be deployed for disinfection, delivering medications and food, measuring vital signs, and assisting border controls. But can they help us overcome the perhaps biggest challenge of living in isolation and over physical distance: missing the human touch?

Handshake is an interactive robotic installation by the collaborative design practice AATB that addresses this question from an artistic perspective. In times of physical distancing, when touching becomes impossible, Handshake is a platform on which strangers can interact with each other, virtually but also physically. Shake hands with us and share some digital intimacy through this unique online experience.

Test Caption, © AATB

The physical installation consists of two robotic arms, each equipped with an over-sized hand. They are facing each other and moving together, following the directions of two people from afar. This virtual platform enables visitors to take control of the robots. The chance to control a large and complex robot with ease, no manual needed here! An interaction as simple as reaching out and shaking your own hand but with a friend across the globe.

Visitors are matched in pairs as they join the site, each remotely controlling one robotic arm in their browser in real-time via mouse and touch input. They then interact with one another aiming to shake hands, to touch. After a certain amount of time, (depending on the amount of visitors in line) the scene is reset, and the next two visitors in the line take over control of the robots. All visitors to the website can observe this interaction between the two robots happening in real time over a live feed, as they wait on line or just view the site. The project builds on AATB’s strong expertise in robotics systems, web development and interactive installations.

The installation was live and on display May 28 – June 30, 2020.
It was accompanied by a series of conversations that explore some of the questions raised by AATB and created an active exchange with robotics experts from Switzerland and around the globe.

Handshake was initiated by swissnex Boston and AATB, in close collaboration with the Consulate General of Switzerland in New York, the Swiss Federal Office of Culture, and swissnex San Francisco. This project and its global reach were made possible by the generous support of the global swissnex network, Présence Suisse, and Pro Helvetia.