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May I present to you – Museum of Robots

This post has a cool title and it’s a cool read. But first let me provide a little context. I joined Twitter back in 2008. I did it right before attending SXSW because I didn’t want to be a loser. I was and didn’t use it. As Twitter gained more momentum, I drifted back and began to use, mainly so I would understand it. In my line of work, I better understand the latest Friendster/MySpace/Facebook/Twitter/foursquare/???. I rejoined and looked for Twitter friends based on my interests. Robots, Formula One racing, Design, Travel, Museums and so on. In a weird twist of fate, I found the Museum of Robots. They represented a huge interest of mine and I couldn’t believe it. A healthy obsession began.

Museum of Robots on Twitter
Museum of Robots on Twitter

I love robots. I love robots in movies (especially R2D2). I love collecting robots. I love robot art. And I strongly believe in Isaac Asimov Three Laws of Robotics –

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

I love peaceful robots. The violent one’s really freak me out. I especially enjoy cheeky robots.

more robots
A small collection of my peaceful robots

So I started following them on Twitter and instantly enjoyed their banter. And for some reason they followed me back. Score! I continued to research and discovered more and more about them. The Museum is actually located in Second Life. A virtual museum that features curated digital robot art (why didn’t I think of that?). If you are a Second Life user, you can find their location, here. I learned about their design firm, their housewares line, their love of Formula One, their niceness, and of course, they adore robots.

Vicki and Richard Küng are Museum of Robots, Küngdesign and all of the other things I mentioned. They are smart, creative and web savvy. That goes without saying. But they’re also the type of people contributing essential online content to an environment thirsty for quality experiences. My goal in this series, “May I present to you -” is to highlight the people contributing meaningful digital content and shaping the web in a transformative way. Museum of Robots does that for me not just through robots, but incredible design, superb content, humor, insight and an un-robotic humanness. I often harp on about story telling, content over technology, or the personality of technology. For me, Museum of Robots are experts in this arena. Why wouldn’t I adore them?

At this point, I will stop and let you hear directly from them. Enjoy their answers and insight. Leave comments, suggestions or questions. Thank you for reading. And a big thank you to Museum of Robots for letting me stalk them…

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Who is Museum of Robots and Küngdesign? The people behind them are Vicki Küng and Richard Küng. Küngdesign is our design and branding agency. We started in the ’90s doing retail store design and permanent exhibits, then the internet came along and we discovered we were geeks, so we moved it all online and work primarily on online branding projects. It’s all still based on our perspective of relating people to their environment, communication and storytelling, just translated to an online or virtual environment.

Museum of Robots is a housewares line we started 2 years ago – after working in pixels for so long we wanted to design things you can touch. The inspiration is robots, which to us are the essence of modern and nostalgic- futuristic and retro, technical and playful, functional and entertaining.

Museum of Robots housewares line
Some of the Museum of Robots housewares line

Museum of Robots is also a museum in the online 3D virtual world of Second Life.

What drives you? Design, communication, technology, fun. All wrapped up in the context of business, as these are commercial, if creative, entities.

What determines good online content? Great storytelling. I think the success has to be evaluated ultimately by the user, but it’s up to content creators to have a vision and be true to it, whatever kind of content they’re making. For commercial content creators it’s about the audience, so making content that resonates with them, rather than a making a commercial disguised as content, is important. BMW did it wonderfully with The Hire in 2001 and Absolut is doing it now with I’m Here. Those are both reflective of what the brands stand for, but are still great stories and content.

Self-expression is different – that comes from passion. You laugh at Chocolate Rain, but you never doubt the commitment of the guy who made that. It’s genuine and that makes it compelling.

Robots are _______. Our friends. Twee and true in equal measure.

What’s with this Second Life thing? Yeah – we get that a lot. It’s an online 3D virtual world and that’s where Museum of Robots exists as a museum. We have exhibits, a permanent collection, visiting artists, art shows, events, lectures, competitions – everything a real life museum does.

We find artists, design exhibits, run a gift shop, experiment with technology within the SL environment, do marketing outreach to attract visitors, and join up with other museum and gallery owners to compare notes, cross-promote and give each other support.

Current exhibits are “‘Bots, Bugs & Beasts: The Art of Joshua Ellingson”, “From Teapot to Robot: The Sculpture of Clayton Bailey”, “‘Robots and Donuts: The Art of Eric Joyner”, and ‘Celebrity Robots Hall of Fame’, featuring famous robots of film and television.

Best robot movie? This question was the source of much discussion – determined by movie era? What’s a robot? Based on script or action? Robot as star or sidekick? Good robots or bad robots?

We were on the verge of over-thinking the entire topic, so we decided to stop with these, and narrowing it down to two is the best we could do – but it’s a consensus answer:

The Terminator (the original)
Wall-e

Best popular culture robot reference? We see robots everywhere – it’s all one big pop culture reference to us – so it’s kinda hard to be objective. Having said that, the most-quoted robot line in this household is by Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet, “That is correct, Sir”. It covers a lot of territory, depending on delivery.

Your favorite robot?
Vicki: Acrobot. He’s a toy robot from the 1960’s, about a foot tall and stands on his head or feet. He makes me laugh every time and I cannot explain the attraction.

Richard: It’s like trying to pick your favorite child but if pressed, Robby for a movie robot and Answer Game Machine for a toy robot. Don’t tell the other robots I said that.

You live in America and like Formula One? Do tell…. It’s what happens when a Los Angeles-born surfer girl who’s always loved cars (cruising in lowriders on Whittier Blvd, weekends at the drag races) marries a Canadian F1 fan. Married, in fact, in a classic car museum on a Memorial Day weekend, celebrating our anniversary at the Indy 500 a number of times.

indy skyline
Needed an excuse to use one of my pics

F1? Nothing beats the drama, sounds and emotion of F1 – and that’s before a wheel ever turns on a track. The locations, the politics, the scandal, the speed, the glamour, and sometimes even the racing, are an incredible blend of entertainment, sports, design, technology, human drama and skill. Although sometimes it is a little lonely being an F1 fan in the States!

Can you tell me about your houseware line? Any new projects on the horizon? The housewares line…the defining principal is that the products are functional and should also have a sense of humor. When you’re called Museum of Robots it’s important not to take yourself too seriously.

The signature piece is our Flying Saucer Bowl, and we sell a lot of Rocket Salt & Pepper sets. Yes – it’s thematic. We also like to experiment with translating industrial materials so we have a line of PET Felt bags made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles; felt fabric and the products are made in the USA, and the fabric’s original use is the automotive industry.

We’re adding recycled aluminum pieces, working hard on making more products in the US, and the felt fabric is always a source of new ideas. We introduce a range of new pieces every six months so we’re always in development.

Aisle or window seat?
Richard: aisle.
Vicki: aisle. Which means when we travel together he takes the aisle and I take the window. Pick your battles.

If you could ask yourself any question, what would it be? And what’s the answer?
Q: Are we there yet?
A: I hope not.

What’s next for you? “Walter’s Kitchen Nook”. It’s a scripted series filmed entirely in Second Life, and is the story of Walter Sparks and his show “Walter’s Kitchen Nook”: he’s half-human, half-robot, intergalactically famous and ready to share his household style secrets.

The series will consist of 5-minute webisodes, with an overall storyline about Walter – he shares his household secrets, and has a few secrets of his own. Yes – it’s a hybrid-robot soap opera. We hope to have sponsors for each of the episodes and the sponsor’s product will be interwoven into the narrative, so the series is not an infomercial but an integration of sponsor messages into the action: Walter will interview a product each week, for example. It’s a return to the ‘commercial sponsor’ approach that was popular in the early days of TV and is popular again – we’ve taken product placement and worked it into the story. For the pilot we’re using the Museum of Robots Flying Saucer Bowl as a product Walter uses to solve a household dilemma.

Here’s the trailer –

It all circles back to our belief that the best online content hews to the same criteria that offline content does – good storytelling. In this particular case it’s literal, but there is a lot of creative leeway in how to tell a story and we hope we live to be 200 so we can see what people come up with.

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    01 Apr 2010

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