Zoology and natural history.
The bestiary aspect given at the beginning by the Soviet archive images reminds us a lot of the philosopher Jacques Lafitte who wrote in the 1930s the book Réflexions sur la science des machines. Since the most common source of inspiration for developing various functions in machines was the animal world, his thesis was that in order to understand the history of machines, it was necessary to do zoology and natural history. His idea was to describe the evolution of machines in the image of Darwin's Origin of Species. He had pointed out a problem: when we start to mimic animal functions of perception :
there is a moment when this function escapes us in its capacities of prehension or perception, i.e. we are dealing with an organ different from that of a human being and whose results are thus inaccessible to us.
They have a kind of total perception
Another important point in these machines is that their ideal is to be a geologist and not a mountaineer or a snake that crawls with maximum adherence. So it is to be able to collect a maximum of data while having a kind of total adherence to this environment, to be all-terrain, to have a kind of total perception as far as vision or feeling is concerned.
One has the impression that the touch, the haptics, the possibility to caress, is a little forgotten in this story, the hand of the geologist is curiously absent.
A chimerical world
There is also a question of design history that questions us. Everything is very much inspired by animal forms, it started with the wheel, then there was a somewhat chimerical stage with an explosion of forms which, in terms of the functions of the machine, makes it become something much more complex,
it becomes a real laboratory on legs. It is no longer just the human gaze or the human explorer that we are trying to externalize or reproduce, but truly a chimerical laboratory since what is reproduced as a function has no equivalent in the animal world.
We are then very curious to see you pilot these machines in real time... but that's another subject! In her book Seeing like a rover, Janet Vertesi describes a moment when rover pilots have to physically imitate the position of the rover to understand how far they are from the ground etc. as if they had to put themselves in the rover's shoes. The Huygens probe was also personified, although its experience was not mentioned.
Author : Emmanuel Grimaud is an anthropologist, researcher at the CNRS (umr7186), coordinator of the Expérience-Limite workshop (UPN) and of the arts-sciences project platform Artmap. Author of several books including Le Jour où les robots mangeont des pommes (2012) and Low tech / Wild Tech (2017), he was also curator of the exhibition Persona, étrangement humain (Musée du Quai Branly, 2016) and designed a robot that allowed to put itself in the place of a god (Ganesh Yourself, 2016).