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Rara Avis

Human participator's view from outside cage   Robot macaw's view from inside the cage

Rara Avis is an interactive telepresence work in which local and remote
participants experienced a large aviary with 30 birds from the point of
view of a telerobotic macaw….

In Rara Avis, the participant saw a very large aviary as soon as he
or she walked into the room. In front of this aviary the participant saw
a virtual reality headset. Inside the aviary the viewer noticed a strong
contrast between the thirty flying birds (zebra finches, which were very
small and mostly gray) and the large tropical macaw, which was perched
and immobile. This macaw, like any other, has a long saber-shaped tail,
a curved powerful bill, and brilliant plumage. Upon observing the behavior
of the birds, the viewer noticed that the macaw — the most commanding
bird in the aviary — appeared motionless. Only its head moved. This tropical
bird was in fact a telerobot. Since the macaw’s eyes were on the front
of the head, as is the case of an owl, the telerobot was called a Macowl…

…. While wearing the headset, the viewer …. now perceived the
aviary from the point of view of the Macowl and was able to observe himself
or herself in this situation from the point of view of the macaw. The tropical
bird’s eyes are two CCD cameras. When the viewer, now a participant, moved
his or her head to left and right, the head of the telerobotic Macowl moved
accordingly, enabling the participant to see the whole space of the aviary
from the Macowl’s point of view…. Through the Net, remote participants observed the
gallery space from the point of view of the telerobotic Macowl…. [and] used their microphones to trigger the vocal apparatus of the telerobotic macaw heard in the gallery. The
body of telerobotic Macowl was shared in real time by local participants
and Internet participants worldwide. Sounds in the space, usually a combination
of human and bird voices, traveled back to remote participants on the Internet. 

Excerpted from: Eduardo Kac, “Ornitorrinco and Rara Avis: Telepresence Art on the Internet“, Leonardo, Vol. 29, N. 5, 1996, pp. 389-400.

macowl   robotic head