Recycled cell phones take wing as robotic birds

Broken cell phone parts get a new, beautiful lease on life in the form of robotic birds that move, blink, and display bird heads on their screens.

Escape robot bird
Who's a pretty boy? Amanda Kooser/CNET
Robot birds
The birds are coming. (Click to enlarge.) Amanda Kooser/CNET

A very odd flock of birds landed in Albuquerque, N.M., this past week. There wasn't a feather in sight as four winged creatures sat on bare branches, flashing their eyes and lifting their wings. These art objects are fashioned entirely from recycled phone parts.

Escape, an installation piece by U.K. artists Neil Mendoza and Anthony Goh, turns unremarkable phone scrap into curious and engaging little birds. Each bird contains an Arduino controller.

When hooked up to the cell network in Europe, the birds can take and make phone calls. Here in New Mexico, they are reprogrammed to react to the proximity of people approaching them.

According to an artist's statement, Escape is "about taking the worst of modern life -- disposable unwanted phones and unwanted noises -- and turning them into something beautiful." These are birds that don't need a cage to keep them around.

The exhibit at gallery 516 Arts is part of ISEA2012 Albuquerque: Machine Wilderness, a mix of art, science, and technology events accompanying an international conference. Of all the delightful mashes of art and technology on display, the Escape birds caught my eye for their whimsical movements and strange robotic charm.

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