Requiem for Rhinos at the MIT Media Lab

A few months back I reprised my role as robotics mercenary and general fixer, spending a week working on David Nunez’s Requiem for Rhinos installation at Illuminus Boston. David is a researcher with Todd Machover’s Opera of the Future group at the MIT Media Lab. The idea at the core of the sculpture is the passing of Nabire, one of the last northern white rhinos in existence. Only four remain and they are so closely related that rekindling the species is impossible. The sculpture was conceived as a grand send-off, with Nabire’s kin descending from the ceiling to wish her on her way.

Requiem for Rhinocerous @ ILLUMINUS from Illuminus Boston on Vimeo.

The sculpture consists of five 1/3 scale mechanical rhinos made from laser cut plywood and wire. They all have animatronic gimbals to control head and neck movement. They also have LED lighting tucked inside and a few stepper motor controlled aesthetic gears. They are rigged to travel vertically through a distributor plate and stepper controlled winch. My role in the project became managing the timetable and deliverables, designing and fabricating the remaining elements, coordinating volunteers, and assisting the install. Although we had to reduce scope and perform some last minute triage to deliver on time we got five animatronic rhinos installed and the audience seemed pretty positive about the whole thing.

Making mechanisms.

A photo posted by Matthew Borgatti (@gianteye) on

One of the exciting elements of the project was that it was designed and assembled at the MIT Media Lab. The lab has been on my radar for a while as a potential place to continue my soft robotics development projects. It was illuminating connecting with students and researchers there, hearing their opinions on the organization, and learning about their work. I’m curious to see where my research may fit in. My current plan is to keep developing projects that advance the ease of designing and fabricating soft robots and releasing what I learn into the open source and see where things go from there.