In 2014, the Tate Britain hosted the After Dark project, taking museum tours boldly into the robot-powered future. Five robotic, remote-controlled, wheel-mounted cameras live-streamed video from the gallery after closing time, opening up art appreciation to those whose schedules—or geographic locations—don't regularly permit a visit. The robots roam freely throughout the darkened museum, splashing light across the artwork their controllers decide to approach. This has all the fun of breaking into a museum with none of the illegality.
Developed by The Workers production studio, the After Dark robots are meant to recreate the feeling of being alone in the museum at night. "It's a space in which, during the day you can go and be a part of the public," said Ross Cairns—one half of The Workers' design team along with Tommaso Lanza—in an interview with the museum. "But at night you get the space to yourself and experience it—it's a place you're not supposed to be." Anybody with an internet connection can request to control a robot as it meanders through the gallery, but since there are only five, most viewers will be pushed to the alternative, hands-off live streams.
After Dark is the inaugural winner of the IK Prize, an award recognizing innovation in the field of digital art. Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut made famous for his cover of David Bowie's Space Oddity in the ISS, field tested the robots, and he thinks they've more than earned the prize. "You start to forget what you're really doing and you just become curious about the painting itself," he told the museum.
We'd love to see this kind of technology spread to museums across the globe, especially since the real-time aspect feels more intimate than just a digitized or virtual gallery space. But one thing keeps sticking out in our heads: If someone could figure out how to hack one of these 'bots, then the art crime game could get a whole lot more interesting.
You can find more of The Workers' work here.
This article was originally published on August 13, 2014.