BIOBOT (performance lecture)Exhibition space: Bozar, Brusselsas a part of the STARTS Prize '21: Hybrid Systems2. December 2021 – 9. January 2022

The Biobot project aims to create a robot using biological muscle for soft tissue engineering. These living, moving creatures raise ethical and ontological questions about their status, handling protocols, and our attitudes towards them, as they push the frontiers of art that use live materials to create new forms.

In the lab, we grow live neurons on a plate with electrodes that transmit electrical signals. These signals are converted from analog to digital, amplified, and used to manipulate the Biobot’s movements. In the next phase, technology and biology will be intertwined, erasing the boundary between artificial and natural movement mechanisms.

The Biobot represents a novel approach to artistic practices, introducing new materials and processes and leading to the emergence of a new artistic language. As a small-scale living entity with its own intelligence, it has the right to exist as a unique life form.

The current iteration of the Biobot lab situation emphasizes the link between neural cells, an external exoskeleton supporting the artist’s legs, and the robot’s mechanism. In the future, the presented robot’s mechanism may also incorporate cultured muscle cell tissue. The new knitted body of the Biobot facilitates movement translation through neural signals and the artist’s motions.

During the exhibition, the artist not only served as a live translator of movement but also gave a performance lecture that recounted the history of the projects that led up to the present moment.

Author: Zoran Srdić Janežič
Programming: Benjamin Fele
Biosensing electronics: Erik Krkač
Electronics, PCB design: Gregor Krpič
3D design: Cveto Kuneševič
Weaving of Biobot’s skin: Jona Bedjanec
Neural engineering: BioTehna Lab / Kristijan Tkalec, Tjaša Lepko, Laura Albreht
Partner: Kambič laboratory equipment, d.o.o.
Curatorial guidance: Jurij Krpan
Producer: Jana Putrle Srdić
Coproduction: Kapelica Gallery, BioTehna Lab / Kersnikova Institute, Bozar

Text for a performance lecture

Generated voice: Welcome to the performance lecture Biobot: stage 6.
Your host today is artist Zoran Srdić Janežič, but let me make the introduction to the project first.
Biobot is an experimental hybrid between mechatronics and biological material. The Biobot’s body is a 3D-printed skeleton, made of stereolithography-printed biodegradable material, equipped with 12-step motors. Motors are activated by neurons that are growing on a multielectrode array inside the incubator. Neurons to code, code to movement. Code is a mediator.
Body movement
Ability to move the body. Ability to control movement. Ability to reach an autonomous movement. Ability to move from one place to another. Locomotion.
Locomotion is the specific ability to move from one place to another. Learning to walk by coding the information about walking. Neurons on chips are learning to process the walk. Step by step. Encoding, neural plasticity, memorizing, walking. Locomotion.
Learning about Nature. Learning from Nature. Appropriating Nature. Dead end. Rethinking culture – nature dichotomy. Nature creates Culture. Biobot as a concept is a hybrid living organism. Biobot is the projection of a near future.
Nature. Culture. Movement. Locomotion. Skeleton. Motors. Code. Neurons. Hybrid living organism
HORSE POWER – The beginning of the artistic investigation with living bacteria.
Horse is an ideal of movement and a measuring unit for the power of movement.
Horse meat in a bioreactor was transformed into energy to move horse automata. Movement of the horse installation was induced with energy produced by microorganisms in bioreactors. Energy from bioreactors triggered a switch for power harvesting automata. Horsepower. Movement. Culture. Death. Artificial life.


ZSJ: As a puppet designer and sculptor, I am passionate about all things that move. Project Horsepower focuses on a horse, chosen for its aesthetic beauty and cultural significance as a symbol of freedom and mobility.
Rather than feeding the horse with traditional food, I intentionally opted for a paradoxical approach. I moved the horse installation using the energy generated from dissolving horse muscles in a bioreactor with bacterial culture. This bacterial process generated fuel cells, which harvested electricity to trigger the horse’s movement. This was my initial attempt to combine bio media and kinetic sculpture, which inspired me to further explore complex movements in my subsequent project.
In my next endeavor, I studied locomotion, which I consider a higher level of animated matter. This project allowed me to delve deeper into the possibilities of combining various media to create unique and dynamic movements.


Generated voice: EPPUR SI ILLUMINA – The artistic investigation of locomotion.
A simple wish to use reasoning to learn to walk.  Locomotion as a goal. Artificial life. Communicating by light signals. Learning from each other – swarm interaction. Simple structure without a bio media, just a computation. Learning to move and to communicate between five pillars. The main pillar was central for communication, others moved subordinate to its signals. Observing simple methods of learning and locomotion in space and recognizing spontaneous architectural formations. Pattern recognition informed us on current code variables. Simple code, wobbling movement.


ZSJ: Following project was a locomotion study, which focus on the connection between a simple artificial intelligence, robot, and its surrounding space. I created a fictional architecture where animated columns moved through a gallery space, driven by spatial awareness. The installation featured a mother column and four child columns competing for her attention, each equipped with a large wheel and two lateral bipedal.
Extensive research was conducted on movement, with columns communicating through light signals to determine their direction. A simple algorithm facilitated swarm interaction, functioning as a proto-learning system. However, the algorithm faced challenges due to the inaccuracy of the moving system, which was unable to perform linear walking. Despite this, we observed the development of the algorithm through the architectural choreography of the columns.
The fictional architecture of columns was sustained by the work of technicians and visitors who saved the columns from colliding with one another. This parallels how simple AI systems rely on human labor for maintenance. Compared to the previous project, which relied on bio media, this one was purely technical and cognitive, representing an upgrade from movement to locomotion.


Generated voice: FLANEURON
Biomedium. Growing neurons in-vitro. Neurons trigger incoherent movement. Flaneuron. Sensing the action potential and translating it to micro-controller through analog to digital converter. The fusion of computer circuits and cell culture is a hybrid construction of a semi-living organism toward which we need to develop a new relationship in a future hybrid ecosystem as well as establish protocols that will take care of this new cybernetic being. Even today the cyborgs’ status includes unstable and undefined identity. Flaneuron is the blueprint for Biobot. New Nature-Culture.


ZSJ: In this project, we successfully created a biological brain using neurons harvested from the spinal cords of chicken eggs to power a cybernetic mechanism. The focus of this project was on optimizing the growth of neurons on a chip and the cybernetic skeleton. To connect the neurons with the kinetic mechanism, we developed an acquisition board with a neuron signal amplifier that sent signals to an Arduino, which triggered the mechanism.
Through computer vision, we were able to detect the movement of small mechanical parts and transfer the signals back to the neurons on the chip. However, due to the optimization process, the installation had to be miniaturized, and the chip was hidden away in a classical incubator, away from visitor sight.
This installation was the first conceptual blueprint for future autonomous cybernetic life. It built upon the insights gained from the previous two projects, bringing together our understanding of movement and its cognition, mechanical and computer interactions, and the use of bio media and computation.


Generated voice: BIOBOT 1.1 AND 1.2
Biobot is the result of interdisciplinary collaborations, including biotechnology, hardware engineering, biosensing hardware, software development, and more.
Creating a body. Research and development of possible life forms, inspired by proto-organisms. The main function of the Biobot’s body is to help with locomotion and movement. The secondary function is a system for providing protection to cell tissue. In Biobot 1.1 & 1.2 the team designed the mechanical part for the biobot in different pulsating proto-organism shapes and finally with an information loop from the movement of the bot’s body as the information input for the future neurons. Body structure for the optimized locomotion.


ZSJ: The focus of our artistic research in this project shifted dramatically as we moved away from the conventional concept of locomotion with legs and instead explored the efficiency of crawling as a means of movement. We discovered that crawling requires far less energy consumption, and thus, our new protagonists were no longer legged animals or humans, but rather proto-organisms that used simple body contractions and extensions to move.
To achieve this, we designed two robots with different body locomotions. The first used connected inflatable pads, which were tracked by computer vision and used to power an algorithm that determined the most efficient transfer of power for movement. The second robot had a worm-like structure, where the impedance of its wired skin instructed the algorithm for optimal locomotion. Both robots were proof of concept for a mechanism that could move with minimal power usage, and later, we developed it into a highly efficient locomotion model.

Generated voice: BIOBOT / INSIDER
Biobot needs a living environment for neurons, therefore we designed a mobile lab unit and created a specific laboratory situation. By developing an incubator through the Starts Residency we gained the possibility to monitor the behavior of cells in the incubator. The incubator is specially designed as a platform for building the specific conditions for cell culture engineering. Applying Open Ephys platform for electrophysiology is enabling us to measure the activity potential of cells, which is read by custom software. The signals are randomly routed to activate the set of 12 motors of a biobot. Next Nature.


ZSJ: With the aid of our previous hybrid mechanisms, we envisioned a more resilient bionic system and collaborated with Kambič, a lab equipment manufacturer, during the S+T+ARTS residency program to develop an incubator that creates an ideal environment for living cells on a chip. We spent five years conducting multidisciplinary investigations and endless experimentation, resulting in three main lines of development: construction, computation, and biotechnology.
Erik Krkač is an electronics engineer who designed the first customized acquisition board and later upgraded it to a customized Open Ephys platform for this project, connecting all motors and sensory devices. Benjamin Fele is a computer scientist who handled software engineering, specifically the smooth communication and signal processing between devices.

To stimulate cells on the chip in the incubator, we send them an impulse trigger from the exoskeleton on my leg, symbolizing a movement transfer from a human leg to a crawling bot. Implementing biological cognition and optimizing the mechanical part led us to the next movement-locomotion dichotomy. By implementing an artificial intelligence algorithm, we intend to synchronize all of the BioBot’s variables and allow it to crawl from one place to another, resulting in the next level of life form with the potential for neural learning.