Articulated Head


Welcome to the offical website of the Articulated Head - the Interactive Robot-Art Installation. The Articulated Head is the engineering realisation of an artistic vision of the world-renowned Australian performance artist Stelarc. The intention is to develop a robotic system that will model behaviour of "an active listener" engaged in interaction with other human agents.

The Articulated Head (AH) is part of a wider 'Thinking Head Project', one of three Thinking Systems Special Initiatives grants jointly funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NH&MRC), for the years 2006 to 2011. The project is based at MARCS Auditory Laboratories at University of Western Sydney (UWS) Bankstown campus, but drawing on the resources of the ARC Human Communication Science Network (HCSNet), has sites at RMIT; Macquarie University; Flinders University; University of Canberra; Technical University, Berlin; Denmark Technical University; and Carnegie Mellon.

Example pic

The AH system consists of an industrial robot arm (Fanuc LR Mate 200ic) with a 17 inch LCD mounted on the end effecter. The LCD screen displays a 3D rendering of a head (Prosthetic Head) that resembles the artist Stelarc. The system also contains an array of sensors including auditory localisation, stereo vision and monocular vision that provide situational awareness for the robotic 'agent'. The complete system is driven by a novel 'attention model', an algorithmic implementation that emulates simple brain functions. The system is driven by a component-based software architecture.


The Articulated Head is currently on display at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.


The Artist's Vision...

The Articulated Head is an innovative solution for the embodiment for an AI (Artificial Intelligence) agent that is both operationally necessary and aesthetically pleasing. It was designed not only to better embody a software agent and produce a stronger sense of presence but also to produce a more emotive and artistic performative installation than has been available thus far. It enables us to attach a variety of sensors to the robot system so that the Head can receive adequate feedback from interlocutors in the real world. In other words the Articulated Head is no longer a virtual entity but an actual physical presence.
The Articulated Head is, therefore, a significant step towards the evaluation of more complex human-robot interactions. It affords a multiplicity of methods to research these various interactions.  The LCD screen mounted on the end of the 6 degree-of-freedom industrial robot arm effectively becomes the neck of the AI agent. The advantage of this configuration is that the virtual behaviour of the Prosthetic Head can be augmented, counterpointed or synchronized with the motion of the robot. The robot allows us to have a library of articulated movements of the LCD screen to turn CW or CCW, bend forwards and backwards, nod up and down, and swivel from side to side. The industrial robot arm provides precision and robustness with a variation of speed from imperceptibly slow to very fast motion allowing programming movements from the subtle and gentle to quite aggressive gestures.


The Engineering Challenge

The principal challenge for the Engineering team was in translating the abstract vision of the Artist into manageable and realistic components that could then be implemented as software and hardware entities to realise the overall system. The idea in itself is unique, in that it required transforming a high precision industrial robot arm meant for repetitive workshop tasks into a likeable, interactive, 'human-like' work of art.
On a technical level this project poses multiple engineering challenges, including the development of real-time control strategies for the robot arm based on auditory-visual feedback, multimodal sensor fusion for creating complex behaviours, development of novel safety mechanisms, failure detection mechanisms and integration of a variety of hardware and software components that are hugely unrelated.  

The Team

The engineering design and development was done by a team of three engineers, a robotics engineer, a computational intelligence expert,a software engineer and the MARCS workshop team. However, as the scope of the project goes beyond the traditional engineering norm, the project has drawn upon the talents of the Thinking Head project team, which includes behavioural scientists, psychologists, machine learning experts, systems experts, human communication experts, acoustic engineers and computer vision experts.

Research and Development

Research and development has been conducted over a period of one year in the following areas,


          Multimodal sensor fusion and situational awareness

    Auditory localisation

    Development of a software framework for system integration

    Development of custom safety devices for the industrial robot arm

    Development of evaluation paradigms based on experimental psychology methods for human-machine interaction


    The system requires the ability to detect human presence in order for it to achieve a level of responsivity to the environment. Key research has been conducted into the use of stereo vision integrated with monaural face tracking and gesture recognition in detecting, in the first instance, the presence of human interlocutors, and then inferring their intent. Audio also provides useful hints about the environment. Therefore research and development work was also carried out in developing a robust auditory localisation system that could filter most ambient noise that is usually present in an artistic installation scenario. As the robot requires adherence to catagory-4 safety standards as stipulated by Australian Standard AS 4024.1–1502-2006 Safety of Machinery: Design of safety related parts of control systems—Validation, and is also required to maintain visibility and the feel of proximity to users (requirement of the artist), the engineering team were required to develop a novel safety system for the robot in consultation with industry experts. A custom safety fence and associated interlocks were developed to meet this requirement.
    The complete system was then integrated through a novel event driven software architecture. Such a software system also essential to accommodate non-traditional methods of controlling the industrial robot arm.
    Similar in some sense to traditional market research, parts of the overall system have been evaluated through user studies conducted at MARCS Labs.  Based on psychological methods, users were tested on the 'likeability' of the Prosthetic Head


    In the Media

    Sydney Morning Herald Article.

    ABC News video.


    Publications & Installations


    [1] C. Kroos, D. C. Herath, and Stelarc, "The Articulated Head: An Intelligent Interactive Agent as an Artistic Installation " Workshop on Performance Evaluation and Benchmarking for Next Intelligent Robots and Systems at IEEE/RSJ IROS 2009, 15 October 2009.
    [2] D. C. Herath, C. Kroos, C. J. Stevens, L. Cavedon, and P. Premaratne, "Thinking Head: Towards Human Centred Robotics," in The 11th International Conference on Control, Automation, Robotics and Vision, ICARCV 2010 Singapore, 2010.
    [3] C. Kroos, D. C. Herath, and Stelarc, "The Articulated Head Pays Attention," in 5th ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction Osaka: ACM/IEEE, 2010.
    [4] Stelarc, D. C. Herath, C. Kroos, and Z. Zhang, "Articulated Head," Sydney: New Interfaces for Musical Expression++, 2010.