Vintage-style illustrations of very modern robots

After the Flood has rendered cutting-edge robots as Victorian illustrations - imagining them from the eye of an explorer discovering them as exotic animals for the first time.

Robot Life Survey is an alternative history series depicting Boston Dynamic’s Big Dog, Prox Dynamic’s Black Hornet Nano and Harvard University’s Kilobot Swarm. 

London design company After the Flood has visualised the three contemporary robot inventions as how they might be perceived for the first time as an explorer - much like discovering an exotic animal for the first time.

“In this series, mechanical intelligence is discovered for the first time by a mystery character and recorded for posterity and science. This explorer records their wonder, alluding to a wider picture of and cast of players,” says After the flood director Max Gadney.

Max wanted to capture the feel of early, natural history – taking reference from how Europeans and the Western world imagined exotic animals, sometimes having only heard about them through the grapevine.

Image: Big Dog depicts Boston Dynamic’s Big Dog

Illustrator Eunike Nugroho was chosen to illustrate the series – an Indonesian artist who specialises in botanical and animal life.

This image shows the visual framework which After the flood created to explain the desired tone and style. 

Max’s own love for explorer journals from the 16th to 19th centuries inspired the series, but the explorer was chosen remain ambiguous, with his tone coming out in the note-taking at the bottom of the illustration.

Renowned historical thriller writer Lloyd Shepherd was given the job to capture the wonder of discovery, having a background in the tech industry as well. 

“He captured the atmospheric, lyrical tone of those early scientific pioneers, giving the Robot Life Survey a world beyond the page,” says Max. 

His observations, on behalf of the explorer, needed to reflect the mechanical robot as almost biological.

“There’d be an element of fear, I think, in discovering this strange biomechanical being. It draws interesting parallels with our relationship with animalistic technology today. Where does it sit in this world?”

Max questions our relationship with technology as AI and robotics grow more advanced. Do we still look at new technology like an explorer, wondering if there’s a place for these in our world?

Image: Nano UAV depicts Prox Dynamic’s Black Hornet Nano

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“For the Big Dog, we’ve all seen the videos, and know that these are some of the most near-animal robotic creations yet developed—indeed, there’s something almost sickening in their movements, as if sentience is trapped within the metallic shell,” explains Max. 

Lloyd’s copy depicting the Big Dog is as follows: 

“Of all the creatures I’d encountered on my voyages, this was the one that most disturbed me. It stepped silently through the trees, its queasily familiar legs quick-stepping through the snow, as it sought to self-correct its balance at each contact with the ground.”

Image: Early sketch of the Big Dog.

Similarly, Harvard’s Kilobot swarm possess an otherworldly sense of movement.

Max says although wireless technology keeps the devices in sync, an early explorer would conceive this as “some sort of hive mind”.

Lloyd’s copy describing the Kilobot Swarm is as follows:

“The herd moved like oil gliding down a steel ramp, slowly and with its only apparent purpose being adjacency, a need to hold itself together, to cohere into a shape that was a circle, then a triangle, then a square, a puddle of technology which could not make up its mind.”

The series will be available in three prints - presenting a record of the explorer’s experiences along with snatches of field notes.

A more in-depth book is expected to follow next year, including more robots and commentary on the relationship between man and robot. 

After the flood tackles business problems with design and data, using research and a design process that leads to a product ready-for-market. Max Gadney founded the company after 10 of leading the BBC News website.

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Image: An example of a classical reference of an exotic animal used for reference for the series

Image: Concept sketch for the Big Dog.