Fleet of robots by The Workers allow the public to explore galleries by night

Dezeen and MINI Frontiers: last year London studio The Workers built a fleet of robots that allowed the public to remotely explore galleries and museums from their computers at home. In this interview, studio co-founder Tommaso Lanza explains how they did it (+ movie).

After Dark by The Workers at TATE Britain

Called After Dark, the project initially ran over five nights at the Tate Britain gallery in London in August 2014.

"After Dark involved four robots running in the darkened galleries at night," explains Lanza, who founded The Workers with partner Ross Cairns. "The robots were let free to effectively explore 500 years of British art."

After Dark by The Workers at TATE Britain

Each of the four robots could be remotely controlled by a member of the public over the internet through a standard web browser. There was also a live feed from each of the robots that people could watch online.

The robots each feature a round base containing the wheels and motors, and a tilting head on the end of a long neck. Seven sonar sensors ensure they don't bump into each other, or other objects.

"You don't want to do that in a museum," Lanza says in the movie.

After Dark by The Workers at TATE Britain

The robots also feature two spotlights on their heads, allowing viewers to see the exhibits in the dark.

"You see the galleries through the eyes of these robots," Lanza says. "It's a bit like going around with a torch. As soon as you approach an artwork, it starts to appear from the darkness. So it's quite a unique way to see the gallery."

After Dark by The Workers at TATE Britain

Lanza says that the project was only possible because of how cheap and accessible streaming over the internet has become.

"There is a new wave of possibilities for small studios like ours, where small teams of people can produce pretty amazing feats," he explains. "That is in part due to the fact that the technology involved is becoming more accessible. Hopefully we will see more creative uses of technology for similar purposes."

After Dark by The Workers at TATE Britain

Lanza and Ross Cairns are currently looking to create new experiences with the robots. Lanza says that they are being open minded about the next location for the project.

"It doesn't necessarily have to be in a museum," he says. "It's about being in a space where you are not supposed to be and giving people experiences that are unique."

Tommaso Lanza and Ross Cairns
The Workers co-founders Tommaso Lanza and Ross Cairns

This movie was filmed at The Workers' studio in London. The music featured is a track by producer 800xL.

Footage of the robots in the galleries is courtesy of Tate.

Dezeen and MINI Frontiers is an ongoing collaboration with MINI exploring how design and technology are coming together to shape the future.

Dezeen and MINI Frontiers