D4D robot at Saatchi Gallery

Robot gives disabled people in isolation unique access to art gallery as part of university research project

Wednesday, 11 November, 2020

A robot from the D4D research project led by a Bath Spa University professor, in partnership with the Bristol Robotics Lab, has been designed to give disabled people in extreme isolation a unique way to remotely view an art exhibition at London’s renowned Saatchi Gallery.

The telepresence robot is a remote-controlled, wheeled device with wireless internet connectivity. It is being used to give those shielding, and anyone in self-isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic, their very own virtual tour of contemporary artist Philip Colbert’s artwork.

The virtual experience enables visitors to move around the gallery via their smartphone or computer and zoom into the detail of the paintings and sculptures on display. A similar initiative using a D4D robot at Sussex-based gallery, Hastings Contemporary, has already been well-received.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Connected Communities stream, the D4D project is an ongoing research programme that is investigating the evolving ways in which disabled people express, perform, experience and practise ‘community’.

Martin Levinson, Professor of Cultural Identities at Bath Spa University and D4D project lead said: “The Covid pandemic has served to augment a situation that already existed - the lonely, secluded lives of some people. We need to find ways of preventing this in the future. Technology is only part of the solution.

"We all share responsibility for the situation in normal times whereby elderly and disabled people can spend much of their lives in isolation. Let’s hope we emerge from all this as stronger and more compassionate communities. In the meantime, in a dreary period of lockdown, we hope that this technology serves to connect such individuals to the vivid world of art.”

Praminda Caleb-Solly, Professor of Assistive Robotics and Intelligent Health Technologies at the University of the West of England’s Bristol Robotics Laboratory, is co-ordinating and researching the use of the robots and their impact on people’s ability to contribute and stay connected as part of the ‘Leaky Robots’ strand of the D4D project.

Praminda said: “There are numerous applications for telepresence robots within health and social care, and it is disappointing that we are not making more use of these to support people, particularly in these exceptional times.

“I hope the use of the telepresence robot at the Saatchi Gallery will help to normalise these technologies and make people more open and willing to explore their potential.”

To find out more about the D4D project visit d4d.org.uk or @D4Dproject on Twitter.

Bookings for the exhibition can be made via Eventbrite.

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