Sometimes you see a video and really can't make up your mind if this is good, bad or just silly. In this case we have quadruped robots masquerading as garden lanterns in a traditional Japanese style. Just take a look.
I have to admit that there is very little new technical content here. We have an off the shelf quad robot base from Trossen Robotics. An infrared rangefinder is used to detect people and the software can make the robots react accordingly.
Each lamp has been coded to have a different "personality" created using a Markov chain of states. They communicate with a central computer via a XBee network. The lamps can also be tracked using an infrared LED and a camera. This could be used to allow the lamps to roam autonamously - but at the moment it's central control that is responsible for their behaviour.
Before you watch the video you need to know something about the aesthetics of the Japense garden:
"A traditional Japanese garden strives to represent a miniature natural landscape. Following clear aesthetic principles (such as miniaturisation, concealment and asymmetry), a Japanese garden is designed to recreate the eyes and foster contemplation and meditation. Inspired by nature, it is however a work of art: a production of the human mind. Human beings create that order, and then retreat to contemplate it, intervening from time to time to tweak details and maintain the order."
So does it work for you?
I think in the right setting it might. A dark shady place with some water and a place to sit.
The project is part of a larger more ambitious goal.
We propose here a garden that takes care of itself, that somehow understands and re-interprets the rules of harmony and equilibrium, and reconfigures itself depending on the season, the presence or absence of a human observers - that develops structure in a generative way, creating a dynamic conversation between the elements in the garden.
So far the only two lanterns ready for a "generative garden" are those currently being exhibited in Tokyo in the gardens of the French Institute as part of an installation by Alvaro Cassinelli called Songe d'une nuit d'hiver.
It might be slightly spooky to walk out into your garden and have things move around in response to your position.
It brings a whole new meaning to "uncanny valley".