Humanity &

Toward a New Paradigm of Co-Existence

Humans and Robots

What does it mean to be a robot – and what does it mean to be human?

Inside Futurelab: 25th Anniversary Series – Episode 4 – Humanity & Robotinity

Understanding Robotinity 

The harmonious coexistence of humans
and robots in society

As with any dynamically evolving techology, also in the wide field of robotics many design decision are currently being made, which will deeply influence the future applications of robots in numerous areas from healthcare to warfare. However, the history of technology shows that such design decisions should not be left to the specialists of the respective technology and to the decision makers in the industries alone. In order to enable an informed, democratic discussion in wider parts of societies about the desired ways of using robotics and the criteria and rules for it, a broader fact-oriented knowledge about this field is necessary. Therefore it has always been part of the mission of the Ars Electronica Futurelab to look into the social implications of new technologies and to make allow wider audiences the insight and the personal experience with them. In line with this aim, the Ars Electronica Center in 2009 received—making use of a significantly larger building with more exhibition floors—a number of new labs, workshop-like settings for hands-on experience, which were developed by the Ars Electronica Futurelab. One of those labs was the RoboLab, which offered instructive, surprising and also entertaining encounters with many different kinds of robots, thus making the manifold applications of robotic technology visible. The ultimate idea behind the RoboLab was to inspire an awareness for the way in which robots reflect our own humanity by creating an experimental platform for socializing robots. 

This strategy also implied to transfer the robots from the laboratories, where they usually reside under controlled conditions, to the social situation of the Ars Electronica Center exhibition and—beyond that—also to the public space of the city of Linz outside the museum walls.

Human-robot interaction

Drawing from the extensive experiences of those years with robotic projects, in 2011 Hideaki Ogawa came up with a concept that had the ability to integrate and shape the approach of the Ars Electronica Futurelab towards robotics research. This also considered the fact that the Ars Electronica Futurelab does not develop robots itself, but works with partners from that industry to explore the issues of a growing robotization of societies. For this new concept, Hideaki Ogawa coined the term “Robotinity”—as a mirror term for “humanity”—and described it as a journey to understand what a robot actually is. “Robotinity,” however, is to transcend issues of human-robot interaction by inserting the wider horizon of looking into future ways of arriving at a “harmonious coexistence of humans and robots.” Horst Hörtner reflected on the work of the Ars Electronica Futurelab with robots, now framed in this new concept: “Robotinity would not exist without humans. Robots become something else by interacting with humans, and our projections turn robots into more than a machine.”

Widening the horizon


Geminoid Research Collaboration

A geminoid is a robot created as a clone of an actual human being. The human-mechanical duo is linked together by network & sensor technology, so the geminoid not only resembles its human model, but behaves like him too. In a collaborative experiment during 2009 Ars Electronica Festival, the android and its creator Hiroshi Ishiguro were announced as a special attraction in the overall context of the arts festival. The android was installed in the exhibition space of the Ars Electronica Center as well as a “guest” in the Café Cubus and was tele-operated from a distant location to research the reactions of the visitors and cafe guests.

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The Ars Electronica Center’s RoboLab offered close-up looks at the multifarious technical and cultural developments that determined the route into this future that humans have come to share with their machines. Exemplary contributions from the spheres of art, design and research demonstrate how robots and humans already live together and interact in today’s world. Exciting facts hint at chances and risks of our common future.

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Human Robot Harmony – Humanoid Robot „Honda ASIMO“

Ars Electronica Futurelab and Honda R&D were conducting collaborative research into the next generation-relationship between humans and robots. The applied research contained important questions, such as how we will integrate technologies like the “Humanoid Robot ASIMO” into our daily life, and how we can influence human acceptance and coexistence.

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Robotinity Exhibition

The exhibition in the Ars Electronica Center’s RoboLab delivered close-up looks at the multifarious technical and cultural developments that determined the route into this future that humans have come to share with their machines. The term Robotinity and the exhibition of the same name are emblematic of how robots and humanity are growing ever closer together. On display were examples of this from art, design and science that clearly illustrate how intensively humankind and robots are already living and working together.

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Communication with Autonomous Cars

In 2013, the Ars Electronica Futurelab started working together with Mercedes-Benz on the question of how we human beings will be able to communicate with the smart self-driving cars of tomorrow. Here, the primary focus is on the futuristic vision of a shared space, a transportation zone used by humans and machines in which there are no longer defined lanes for cars or pedestrians and, instead, mutual courtesy of the road are the watchwords among equally privileged users.

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How can gesture research be presented so that it is comprehensible by everyone, was the main question of the interdisciplinary research project, Hands and Objects in Language, Culture and Technology: Manual Actions at Workplaces between Robotics, Gesture, and Product Design (MANUACT), that Chemnitz University of Technology commissioned in conjunction with an R&D assignment. The Ars Electronica Futurelab was brought on board as a scientific associate to support the university research group by developing specially designed installations and exhibits about gesture research.

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CoBot Studio

The project focuses on the development of an immersive extended reality simulation in which communicative collaboration processes with mobile robots can be playfully tried out and studied under controllable conditions. With access to the technical infrastructure available in Deep Space 8K as well as other VR and AR technologies, persons take part in collaborative games with robots in which tasks such as assembling or organizing small objects have to be completed together.

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more projects


“Art can function as a beacon into the future, picking up culturally sensitive topics that may be difficult to address otherwise. We need this orientation to determine the direction of future developments in society and industry.”

Alexander Mankowsky

Born in 1957 in Berlin, Germany. Futurologist. Studies in social science, philosophy, and psychology at the Freie Universität Berlin. Has worked at Daimler's research institute in Berlin since 1989. Future studies with focus on the culture of mobility and the interdependency of social and technological innovation.

Alexander Mankowsky

Credit: Alexander Mankowsky

“Honda had aimed to create the humanoid robot ‘Asimo’ that was exploring coexistence between humans and robots. To find the factors that would enhance the human/robot interaction, we conducted citizen participatory experiments at the Deep Space, and we obtained broad insights and opinions from the international perspective. Before the collaboration, we introduced ‘Asimo’ as a technology demo to the public. Through the inclusive experiment conducted with the Futurelab, I realized once again that human coexistence robots need to be able to connect with people, like a collaborator. They shouldn’t be just for replacing human work.”

Satoshi Shigemi
President of Honda Research Institute Japan Co.

Born in Japan. Robotic researcher. Graduate of Tokyo Denki University (TDU). Involved in humanoid robot research and development at Honda R&D since its inception in 1986. President of Honda Research Institute Japan Co. since 2021.

“Replicating humans and animals will not be the solution for robotics. Robots should rather become their own social category. Instead of competing with robots, we should strive for cooperation with them, which needs to be based on understanding and trust.”

Martina Mara
Director of the Robopsychology Lab at the Linz Institute of Technology (LIT) at Johannes Kepler University Linz

Born in 1981 in Linz, Upper Austria. Tech psychologist, PhD in psychology from the University of Koblenz-Landau. Member of the Ars Electronica Futurelab from 2010 until 2018. Professor of robopsychology and director of the Robopsychology Lab at the Linz Institute of Technology (LIT) at Johannes Kepler University Linz since 2018.

Martina Mara

Credit: Dominik Gigler

Roland Haring

Credits: Denise Hirtenfelder

“In order to explore human/robot interaction, we use the Deep Space 8K as a research facility. Here we can create a mixed reality environment where future ways of co-existence with collaborative robots—CoBots—can be simulated. This research involves several disciplines and institutions with expertise from robotics to psychology and from virtual reality to non-verbal communication.”

Roland Haring
Technical Director Ars Eletronica Futurelab

Born in 1975 in Linz, Upper Austria. Media technologist, designer. Studied media technology and design at Hagenberg University of Applied Sciences. Member of the Ars Electronica Futurelab since 2003, technical director since 2014.

“The nature of being human, i.e. humanity, has been the subject of endless discussions and research, and at this juncture in time we need to address ‘robotinity,’ to ensure the harmonious coexistence of humans and robots in society.”

Hideaki Ogawa
Co-director of Ars Electronica Futurelab

Born in 1977 in Tokyo, Japan. Creative catalyst, artist, educator, curator, and researcher in the field of art, technology, and society. Artistic director of the media artist group h.o. Member of Ars Electronica Futurelab since 2007. Founding director of Ars Electronica Japan since 2016. Co-director of Ars Electronica Futurelab since 2019.

Hideaki Ogawa

Credits: Birgit Cakir

Hiroshi Ishiguro

Credits: Florian Voggeneder

“My research question is to know what is a human … I use very humanlike robots as test beds for my hypotheses.”

Hiroshi Ishiguro

Born in 1963 in Japan. Ph.D. in systems engineering from Osaka University in 1991. Distinguished professor in the Department of Systems Innovation at Osaka University since 2009. Visiting director of Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories at the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute (ATR) since 2011.

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