lounges at home with
Sparky 2, his autonomous telepresence
robot, while his cat One
ignores them both.
Sparky 2: No Sellout
My robotic alter ego steps out — open source. By Marque Cornblatt
I spent much of my childhood dismantling toys
and gadgets and cobbling them back together in
interesting ways. One proud example combined
a slot car, a one-function wireless remote, a 9-volt
battery, and a few fabricated gears and bits to
create (in my mind, in the early 80s) the world’s
smallest remote control car.
The 2-inch vehicle was top-heavy and had too
much torque, but it accelerated violently to the
right every time I pressed the remote button — it
worked! — until it finally tore itself apart, like a tiny
top-fuel dragster. In my mind it was a success, and
it sparked my lifelong interest in interactive, kinetic
In the early 90s, I began building a wireless,
rolling, remote control robot with a two-way video
chat setup positioned at eye level, which enabled
real-time, face-to-face communication. I found
50 Make: Volume
most of the materials dumpster diving or at garage
sales: a motorized wheelchair, a few old video cameras, a wireless baby monitor, and some R/C toys.
Separately these were junk, but combined they
became an interactive sculpture that allowed me to
see, hear, chat, and move through a remote location
with complete autonomy.
I could “become” my creation, temporarily
merging my own identity into that of this machine/
human hybrid. I named the robot SPARC-I, a rough
acronym for Self-Portrait Artifact — Roving Chassis,
or Sparky for short.
Sparky Works the Room
I originally made Sparky to explore the boundaries
of the body and how our identities change when
filtered through technology, topics that have recently
become hot in our age of online profiles and avatars.
Photography by Cody Pickens