Introduction and Art Portfolio

Hello Everyone! My name is Nathan, and I am currently a senior in Robotics Engineering and Computer Science. While I was born in Boise, Idaho, my parents moved to Massachusetts when I was three, so I consider myself a hardened New-Englander. Both art and programming have had a big influence on my life, since my mom is an artist/typographer/seamstress, and my dad is a software architect. From my understanding, light art is the union of these two influences.

My experience with art-making is relatively limited. Before college I sometimes dabbled in watercolor, costume-making, and photography (shown below). I didn’t really do anything formally in the space of visual arts until I went to WPI. Here, I took Animation I, Animation II, and 3D modeling. I was most interested in finding ways to show motion. In animation, this is how the characters move through frames, and in 3D modeling, the motion took the form of wind flowing through cloth and the shapes of silhouettes in scenes.

An example of the kiwi face on a physical robot (this one was used to help in forming healthy walking habits in elderly populations)

Computer Science and Robotics Engineering has given me quite a bit of experience in the more technical aspects of light art. I have experience in programming Arduinos, FPGAs, and other Microcontrollers. I also have done more web-based applications that have a somewhat art-like component. An example of this is a project I worked on over the summer at a human-robot interaction lab at the University of Southern California. The idea of the application was to have a face that could be displayed on a smartphone that can move its mouth to “speak” any text phrase (using Amazon Polly text to speech). It could also show different expressions and the color and shapes of the facial features could also be modulated to work for any robot.

A comparison of two versions of the Kiwi face saying text-to-speech phrases
(mine is the top one)

My MQP also gave me more physical experience with things related to manufacturing. It involved making a tactile sensor for a robotic hand, which used LED lights shining on a silicone pad to understand the topographic information of objects depressing the surface of the sensor. I like to consider this functional light art, because the three differently-colored LEDs make some interesting looking patterns when the objects are pressed into the sensor’s surface.

Here is the raw sensor feed of the touch sensor. After some fancy processing, you can get the depth information because the intensity of the colors is related to the surface normals, but I think this version of the feed is more visually interesting.
Here is a photo of my pairs partner and I taking the ice at Sectionals

Aside from visual arts, I spent a lot of time doing more performance art things. My main activity outside of school was figure skating. I started skating when I was 6 and competed as a pairs skater on the national circuit for 5 years, up until last year. I still sometimes go skating and I choreographed my final test program, which is a fun creative outlet. I also played the flute for 6 years in my high school’s concert and marching band, and I played the violin for 4 years in a community orchestra.

In terms of inspiration, I’ve found myself drawn to a lot of graphic artists lately (I followed a bunch on Instagram out of the blue and I’m kind of living for it). I also find a lot of inspiration from different museums. I spent a lot of time at different museums in LA over the summer, and I was super interested in an exhibit on fashion photography I saw at the Getty.

My long term goal is to become a professor in Robotics, where I plan to have my research area in Human-Robot Interaction. Specifically, I am interested in finding ways to model human intentions and internal states to facilitate better interactions. I think that art is an important part of this since viewing art can have a huge effect on people’s internal states. Understanding how people react to different ideas and aesthetics is important to get a feel for to gain intuition in this field.

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