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<nettime> Nike Chalkbot v. StreetWriter
appliedautonomy on Tue, 7 Jul 2009 21:45:15 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Nike Chalkbot v. StreetWriter

JULY 7TH, 2009

Nike Chalkbot Rips-off Streetwriter

This week Nike unveiled a cool "new" chalk-writing robot used to
print messages on the road during the Tour de France bicycle race.
The trouble is, the robot isn't so new after all. The Nike Chalkbot
is nearly identical to the "Streetwriter" we began developing ten
years ago.

Since 1998, the Institute for Applied Autonomy has been inventing and
building robots to protest the militarization of robotics research
and to reassert the public's ownership of public space. Among the
machines we produced were GraffitiWriter, a small remote controlled
robot capable of printing high-speed text graffiti on the pavement
while driving, StreetWriter, a black cargo van capable of printing
large text messages the width of a traffic lane while driving, and
SWX a more compact trailer version of the same. Largely without
permission, these robots were used to print politically controversial
messages in 6 countries and major cities across the US. In 2004 the
StreetWriter project was deployed as the SWX in protest against the
first DARPA Grand Challenge where its mission was to print Isaac
Asimov's First Rule of Robotics (i.e.: "A ROBOT MUST NOT KILL") at
the starting line of the military robotics event.

In pointing out that the Nike Chalkbot is a higher-resolution/higher-
budget but otherwise obvious descendent of the StreetWriter (SWX), we
do not claim any sort of ownership over the project or the idea. We
have always been very open about the inner working of our machines,
publishing "how-to" plans and helping other artists and activists
build similar devices. While we have long expected our anti-corporate
project to one day be reappropriated as an advertising scheme, we are
surprised that in this case, the culprits are close associates.
According to sources close to the project, Chalkbot was built by an
early IAA member working under contract for Deeplocal, a startup
company founded by a onetime ?hacktivist?. Deeplocal in turn is under
contract with the Wieden+Kennedy PR agency, which was in turn hired
by Nike. The IAA was neither contacted nor consulted on the Chalkbot.

Beyond wanting to reassure our friends that the IAA had nothing to do
with the Nike project, we issue this release because we are concerned
by the corporate appropriation of ?outsider? research projects
without acknowledgement of the amateur, collective, hobbyist, and
activist communities upon which projects like Chalkbot are built.
Young people witnessing the Chalkbot on television need to know this
was not handed down from a corporate research lab, but was made on
nights and weekends by the hard work of people not unlike themselves.

We certainly understand our friends? decision to work for Nike -- we
all have bills to pay. It is unfortunate that as they enriched
themselves, they were unable to also enrich the communities that
nurtured their own development.  We see this primarily as a failure
of imagination, which we understand is a common side effect of
working too closely with corporate sponsors. We helpfully suggest the
following remedial ?karma-cleansing? activities:

1. Publish their plans + code, in keeping with the open nature of the
2. Feature a historical accounting of the technical and ideological
origins of the robot prominently on their website and related
3. Make the Chalkbot available for use by anti-corporate activists,
free of charge.
4. Provide proportional financial support to new projects that share
the anti-authoritarian and anti-commercial aims from which this
project emerged.

For more about the Institute for Applied Autonomy please visit:
www.appliedautonomy.com <http://www.appliedautonomy.com>

Click here to view the IAA's "Bridging The Gap" video:

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