Robotic Herd is a kinetic installation funded by the Canada Council for the Arts and will be completed in 2021.

The piece consists of a community of autonomous robots who migrate according to the laws of emergent behaviour. The herd, modelled after Bathurst Caribou, is pursued by three predator robots who attempt to capture individuals from the herd. The robotic caribou cluster to avoid predation as they migrate across a fabricated landscape on the gallery floor. The robotic predators are modelled after Grey Wolves, who work together to unsettle the herd, isolating the vulnerable for prey.

It is the outcomes of these generated behaviours that generate intrigue. There is an element of the unexpected embedded in this piece: each of the robots has been given a set of rules to follow. From the perspective of the robots, these rules are inherent—they are “born” with them, if you will. The rules describe how they should move within the space, how they should react to other caribou, to predators, and so on. But there is an elegant realm that exists between the rules that they have been given (order), and their interpretation and execution of those rules (chaos).

The amount of leeway that each robot has within the set of rules that they are given is written into the rules themselves. If there is not enough leeway and room for creative interpretation or execution, then the theatre of their lives is mundane and unintriguing to the viewer—it is too predictable. If the rules are too ambiguous and do not deliver enough direction, then the display is equally uninteresting because it is not predicable enough. But if the perfect balance is struck between order and chaos, the most beautiful of events can be observed—one can witness both emergent and divergent behaviour. We can see both the expected and the unexpected. The slight variation in behaviour from just one individual can influence and change the fate of the herd as a whole. To what degree can an individual within the herd (and the herd itself) influence its own future and influence its own fate?