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May 13, 2018

Forget clocks — this giant robotic sundial is the coolest timepiece ever

by John_A

Chalk it up to a misspent youth reading way too many steampunk novels if you like, but there’s something inexplicably cool about combining futuristic and past technology to create something fresh. That’s the basis for an innovative project recently shown off at Milan Design Week 2018. Called Sunny Side Up, it’s a fresh take on the sundial, a millennia-old method of telling the time based on where the sun is in the sky.

In order to work, a sundial requires a plate-like dial, a shadow-casting rod called a gnomon and, well, a giant burning ball of gas called the sun. Sunny Side Up updates that idea for the 21st century by keeping the gnomon, but replacing the sun with an artificial light source that circles on a robotic arm. It’s the creation of a Zurich and Marseille, France-based studio called AATB that belongs  to artists Andrea Anner and Thibault Brevet.

“We worked with a Universal Robots robotic arm that we programmed to follow the desired trajectory in space and keep the light pointed in the right direction,” Brevet told Digital Trends. “We also developed an aluminum heatsink that can directly attach to the robot, and an interface circuit board that allows us to control and dim the light directly from the robot’s program. Lastly, we machined and polished an aluminum rod that casts the shadow on the wall.”

While it looks pretty awesome in its own right, Sunny Side Up is intended by its creators to be a comment on our current disconnect from the planet and circadian rhythms, epitomized by a 24/7 culture in which even the sun can be replaced by a robot.

“The project was commissioned for an exhibition about mechanical joints in design,” Anner said. “We were interested by the possibility of defining virtual joints with robotic arms by moving objects in space as if they would be physically linked together. The project raises questions about the value of artificial nature and our growing disconnect with the environment, while proposing a contemplative use of robotics to reflect on space and time.”

Sunny Side Up was designed for Milan Design Week, but its creators say that they are now “actively developing” it as a possible commercial product, which can be installed in public spaces or private settings. We don’t know about you, but we’d totally be interested in pledging some cash for our own version on Kickstarter. Even if it might have to be a whole lot smaller to fit into our apartment!

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