‘Dorkbot’ surfaces at U, mixing technology and art

The new Twin Cities chapter is one of more than 60 around the world.

Each month people from all walks of life gather across the globe for one purpose – to do “strange things with electricity.”

A group from the Twin Cities joined the ranks of these “Dorkbots” Thursday at the Regis Center for Art.

Dorkbot: People Doing Strange Things with Electricity is a monthly forum for people interested in emerging technology or trying new things with old gadgets.

Attendees show off their current projects, discuss ideas for future endeavors, brainstorm funding sources and receive feedback.

Projects shown at other Dorkbot locales include a bike that plays sound depending on the qualities of the Wi-Fi network the rider is traveling through and a report on the sonic properties of genetically-modified potatoes.

Thursday’s inaugural meeting included a demonstration involving simple circuitry, etched mirrors and light by Keith Braafladt, director of learning technologies at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

“We are at a very interesting time,” Braafladt said. “The economy of technology is such that the more people can play and experience, the greater it will become.”

where to go

Dorkbot Meetings
when: 7 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 8; Starting in March, the meetings will be the first Thursday of every month.
where: W123 Regis Center

Assistant art professor Diane Willow is the creator of the Twin Cities Dorkbot chapter. When she started working at the University in 2004 she said she noticed a lack of “new media” presence in the area.

Willow said she wanted to connect with others who were combining technology and art.

“It seemed there was something about Dorkbot that was a natural community generator,” she said. “I think it could be a good catalyst for bringing together people who might otherwise not know each other.”

Willow said it’s important the group meet at the University because community members can get a sense of what happens on campus, while faculty, staff and students can meet local people who have shared interests.

Travis Freeman, a first-year art graduate student, said Dorkbot is a great way for him to connect with potential project partners.

“I don’t have the time to learn everything,” he said. “I found if I have computer trouble there’s no shortage of help, but there’s no one to do electronics problems – nobody to help with the physical.”

Assistant professor of music Doug Geers said a Dorkbot meeting could be anything its members make it.

Geers, who started the Spark Festival of Electronic Music and Art, said he hopes the group will create new interest in electronic music and other technologically-influenced expression.

The Dorkbot phenomenon began in New York City in 2000. Douglas Repetto, director of research at Columbia University’s Computer Music Center, had just moved to the city and wanted to connect with other people experimenting with electricity and art.

“I made the motto very broad and very inclusive for a reason,” he said.

His strategy worked. Today there are more than 60 Dorkbot chapters on six continents and the list is still growing, according to the group’s Web site.

As for the Twin Cities chapter, Willow said the group will grow with time and the upcoming launch of the local chapter Web site.

“There’s definitely a strong interest among the people who came,” she said. “I think the word will spread.”