A Former Trapeze Artist Has Turned An Industrial Robot Into An Illuminated Disco Dancer

On the top floor of the NCP Car Park in Soho, London; there's something very, very cool. It's a gigantic robot named Ada. The invention of trapeze artist and robot hobbyist Conrad Shawcross, Ada got her start as a welding robot in a car factory.

Shawcross decided that this was hardly the right calling for a robot of her stature, and so - after acquiring Ada - he began fiddling with the software that made her tick. He started by tinkering with the robot's appearance a bit, changing it from a brutish orange monstrosity into a large, sleek dancing machine. His next step was to actually make it dance - he began rooting around in the robot's coding, eventually hacking Ada's programming so that he could have it dance to computer-generated music. 

The robot is named after Ada Lovelace, daughter of George Byron. According to Shawcross, he feels as though he owes Lovelace a great debt; she is the woman who first predicted computer-generated music. Shawcross describes her as a "visionary [19th-century] mathematician and inventor who saw the huge potential of the machine." 

Lovelace, he says, had an incredibly rough life. The protege of the "brilliant but stubborn and tempestuous Charles Babbage," she was never taken seriously in the realms of the sciences - neither were allowed to show their works at London's Great Exhibition. Fed up with the lack of support for her brilliant work, Lovelace eventually turned to gambling and drink, dying of Ovarian Cancer at the age of thirty-six. "The Ada Project" is one way Shawcross seeks to pay homage to the great, unappreciated scientist.

In addition to the dancing robot, the Ada Project commissioned four electronic pieces, put together by female composers. Each composer was required to live with Ada for a week, while Shawcross handled chores such as cooking and cleaning. This would, Shawcross hoped, serve to increase the emphasis on the robot rather than the human.

"I'm trying a new way of commissioning with new restraints," he explained to The Guardian. "The key tenet was that the machine was the primary inspiration. People would be confronted with the psychology of movement. I'm fascinated by trying to interpret the kinetics of the thing." 

Currently, visitors to the NCP car park can, throughout October, use a "robotic jukebox" to choose music for Ada. It's a pretty fantastic sight - and one that I rather wish I could travel to the UK to view in person.