From prototypes to products…

Jan Zbinden from ETH Zurich wraps up his internship at the Pors & Rao’s studio. Read on to know about his three months in Bangalore –

During my university studies, I had the opportunity to share a flat with students from all over the world. Three of them were from India. And all of them urged me to, one day, visit their hometowns and experience the chaos on the streets, the sheer amount of people, the delicious food and the Indian hospitality first hand.

I immediately applied for an internship with swissnex India when the opportunity to work with Pors & Rao in Bengaluru opened up. Fast forward a couple of weeks and I arrived in India and was warmly welcomed in Pors & Raos’s newly bought and renovated guesthouse, where I was going to be staying for the next months.

Since the start of the collaboration with Wyss Zurich, Pors & Rao’s dream of building a modular and easy to use ecosystem of motors and sensors to breathe life into their artworks started to become a reality. During the first weeks of my arrival in Bengaluru, the engineers working in Zurich finished the first prototype of the computational backbone of the ecosystem called PATHOS (Poetic Animatronics Through Hands-On Systems).

My task at Pors & Rao was to design, develop and build the first mechanism purely designed for PATHOS. Compared to their previous works, the PATHOS mechanisms are not intended for just one single artwork. The idea is to have a whole library of available mechanisms. From this library, the mechanism best suited for a new artwork idea can then be chosen.

For the first PATHOS mechanism, Pors & Rao wished for a 2D planar mechanism, actuated by linear motors, wall mountable and flat enough to be hid behind a canvas, and with a modular element to extend the mechanism with another degree of freedom. Such a mechanism would allow them to realize three of their artwork ideas at once.

During the whole process of designing, manufacturing and validating the mechanism I could always rely on the support of the whole team at Pors & Rao. Having the in-house engineers double check my technical drawings before manufacturing or their lead engineer discussing ideas with me were a big factor in successfully building a working prototype of the wished-for mechanism in less than two months.

I spent the remainder of the internship on prototyping different modules that would allow the artist duo to capture their complex ideas for artwork motions in a simple manner and directly transfer them to real-world mechanisms. All of this without limiting their artistic freedom. For example, one module takes a video of an artwork motion as input and automatically outputs the motor commands for the mechanism to execute the artwork movement.

Aside from working, I explored as much of Bengaluru as possible. The city has an incredible number of restaurants, pubs, and bars. Combine this with a convenient app which gets you food from any restaurant delivered to your doorstep and you will get to taste different food every day!

I used the days off during the public holidays in November to explore the coastal area in the west of the country and was greeted with amazing sceneries of lush flora, long deserted beaches and weather conditions much preferable to the weather back home during that time of the year. Now, I didn’t end up visiting the hometowns of my three friends that initially got me excited to experience India. In retrospect a very good decision: Because I will take any excuse to come back again and discover more aspects of the diverse and vibrant India I so enjoyed during my stay here.


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