We be Cyborgs!


In collaboration with Kati Hyyppä, Namur, Belgium, 2013
“A cyborg, short for ‘cybernetic organism’, is a being with both organic and artificial parts.”
[ Wikipedia ]

KIKK invited Kati and me to give a workshop in Namur around the theme “Next Utopia”. We were free to make what we wanted, and decided that it would be cool to transform ourselves into cyborgs! The workshop space was also ideal for reaching the next level of human development: A Renaissance style, empty church full of divine iconography.

Regarding the cyborg building materials, we decided to leave computers and electronics out. Instead, we relied on post-apocalyptic plastic trash from one Euro shops, some medical gear and plenty of useful things from the hardware store around the corner:

Some of the materials that we used to transform ourselves into cyborgs.

We spread piles of the inspiring materials on the church floor, and the participants started to sketch their cyborg ideas.

Sketching the first ideas

Soon after the first plans emerged, building began. Once again, hot glue and cordless drill proved to be tinkerer's best friends. Here we see Hugo working on his cyborg gear for surviving in a hostile environment:

Becoming a hardware store cyborg involves a lot of drilling and hot‑glueing

One of his wearable devices was shooting a magnet attached to a string. After shooting, he could use a crank from a fishing rod to pull objects caught with the magnet towards him. This could be useful, for instance, when shopping tomato cans in a supermarket. Already the first tests showed that the shooting worked well:

Testing of the spider-man-like magnet shooting mechanism

After three days of hard work, all parts of Hugo's rather complex construction were brought to perfection. Equipped with his new superpowers, he was now able to:

  • shoot a magnet and return it
  • find light sources very precisely with a strand of optic fiber connected to his right hand index finger
  • absorb liquids with his right hand pinky (he had to operate a toy pump to do so, though)

This impressed us a lot and we wish Hugo good luck – we strongly believe that he'll survive any challenging circumstances in the uncertain future!

The finished cyborg gear for surviving in a hostile environment

Drinking and liquids were also Camille's main inspiration when she decided to transform herself into a drink dispensing Bar-Borg! She built a glamorous wearable contraption with which others could play a special kind of roulette: Two modified ashtrays generated a random price for a random drink on the push of a button. Based on the results, she served the surprise drink directly out of the reservoirs inside her shiny backpack.

Camille serves a random drink as Bar-Borg

Below is the inside of the chrome mannequin backpack revealed: With the air pressure of two hand pumps, Camille could tap five different drinks. No need for thirsty throats on planet Next Utopia.

Bar-Borg could mix and serve five different liquids

With a strong vision of an audiophile future, Yordi and Sam developed their sonic cyborg system. Powered by the walking steps of its host organism, the mechanical music machine produced stereophonic sounds. This instant symphony of random tones and rattles was transmitted from the backpack directly into the ears via a set of transparent hoses.

The sonic cyborg system in action

You can listen to a sound sample of this cyborg while watching the gif:

A graffiti painting exoskeleton was the fruit of Martin's and Xavier's hard work. Mostly built out of PVC pipes, this lightweight construction moved a spray can in 3.5m height on a rope controlled x-y plotter mechanism. Tagging up the hood in unreachable heights? No problem with this rig!

Details of the PVC pipe connections

The simple technique of connecting the pipes with hot air and tie wraps was strongly inspired by Theo Jansen's Strandbeests (in this video you can see Jansen's tie wrap construction technique quite well). And as the result shows: Three days of sweating in the blazing breeze of the hot air gun paid certainly off for Xavier and Martin.

The finished graffiti painting exoskeleton
Testing the exoskeleton

But Kati and me have also not been lazy! In preparation of the workshop, we built already two cyborg constructions in Berlin. Kati's personal rainbow generator was a combination of an umbrella hat and a garden sprayer. The only additional thing which was required was sunlight.

The personal rainbow generator in action

Here's the detailed material list of the rainbow generator:

  1. rainbow umbrella hat
  2. rainbow release nozzle
  3. custom adaptor piece (soldered out of brass sheet and copper pipe)
  4. hand pump (to pressurize water container)
  5. water pressure container
  6. rainbow strap shoulder mount
  7. rainbow release button
  8. decorative rainbow glitter foil on the rainbow container
Different parts of the personal rainbow generator

And I built a head level extender for myself:

Being one head taller with the head level extender

Here's what I used to build it:

  1. Large piece of mirroring polystyrol glued on foam PVC
  2. Plastic funnel (upper sonic pickup)
  3. Smaller piece of mirroring polystyrol glued on foam PVC
  4. Custom built manual mirror adjustment knobs (foam PVC with soft blue rubber coating)
  5. PVC foam frame construction
  6. Driving belt and gears from an old ink-jet printer (mirror adjustment system)
  7. Plastic hose (for upper sound transmission)
  8. Shoe laces (for hose position adjustment)
  9. Construction helmet (I cut off a lot of unnecessary plastic)
  10. Still some plastic hose
  11. Earmuffs (reconfigurated as stereophonic playback adaptors)
Different parts of the head level extender

Special thanks

Thanks again to Marie du Chastel from KIKK for organizing this three days of awesome experience!

And we also thank the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles for generously funding this workshop, which was part of their Quinzaine Numérique.

Additional resources