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Two Boston Dynamics’ ‘Spot’ robot dogs stand in front of a canvas painting.

The much-talked-about ‘Spot’ robot dogs have generated plenty of controversy. They’re about to show their softer side…

Robot dogs painting.

That’s a sight you can expect to witness when the NGV Triennial returns to Melbourne this Sunday.

Held at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), the much-hyped cultural event is due to host dozens of dazzling projects that showcase the talents of roughly 100 artists, designers, and architects from across the globe.

Among the highlights will be the creation of several canvas paintings by a trio of Boston Dynamics’ controversial Spot robot dogs.

The innovative project will be overseen by self-proclaimed ‘propaganda artist’ for technology and renowned Silicon Valley creative, Agnieszka Pilat.


A Boston Dynamics robot dog pictured up close.

Robot dogs painting. Yes, it’s happening. Credit: Mika Baumeister on Unsplash.

Good Dog, Bad Dog?

You’ve probably read, heard, or seen something about these distinctive AI-enabled robot dogs in the past couple of years. They’ve generated plenty of headlines – both good and bad.

While often bought by mining and construction companies, the black-and-yellow creations have garnered plenty of chatter in the US where they have been used on and off by the New York Police Department.

The four-legged machines also assisted the Singaporean Government with enforcing social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, have been deployed to herd sheep in New Zealand (of course they have), and, closer to home, were once employed by a utility company in Adelaide to sniff out damaged power lines and other infrastructure.


Improved Understanding of Robot Dogs

Now, three Spot robot dogs – Basia, Vanya, and Bunny – are preparing to show off their creative sides within the walls of Australia’s most-visited art museum.

Pilat, who has both painted tech and taught tech to paint, believes the dogs’ presence within the artistic environment will help to downplay some of the fear that’s attached to the controversial canines and improve the audience’s understanding of robotics and AI.

“I know people think, the robots are coming,” she told The Guardian with an apparent look of feign terror.

“No – they’re awkward, they’re like little kids!

“Of course there are valid concerns about technology. But I chose to engage with it and train it. It’s my way of dealing with the problem.”


Group of robots with illuminated eyes pictured in a forest at night.

The thought of ‘the robots coming’ can be scary. Credit: robin mikalsen on Unsplash.

The Next ‘Pawcasso’? Unlikely

Basia – ”the serious one” – will take the lead as chief artist, aiming to unleash one painting every three days.

But don’t expect to witness a masterpiece from the next ‘Pawcasso’, warned Pilat.

“It’s almost like kindergarten,” she said. “Basia will make mistakes.”

“But sometimes they do something we didn’t expect and you get goosebumps.

“Of course, it’s all programming – but it’s the ghost in the machine.”

NGV Triennial is set to commence this Sunday and run until 7 April next year. The event is free to the public.

This is the third edition of the NGV Triennial. The inaugural festival (2017-18) attracted an audience of almost 1.3 million visitors. The 2020-21 version drew less than half that amount but attendances were dampened by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions.


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