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Robot creativity turns sweet dreams into data-driven art for Ibis

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Some might say that there is a fine art to getting a good night's sleep. But hotel chain Ibis is going one step further and turning its customers' sleep into artwork.

This week, Ibis kicked off a European project in collaboration with ACNE Production's Paris office and agency BETC Paris. It has equipped selected beds in its hotels in Paris, Berlin and London with a technology called "Dreambox," developed specifically by ACNE for the project. Sensors (pictured, below) attached to the beds measure temperature, movement and sound, and an art algorithm translates the captured data into an artwork. However, the end result is not a digital painting; it's an actual painting on canvas, painted by a high precision robot that uses traditional paintbrushes and acrylic paints.

Ibis Facebook fans have to enter their own piece of art to win a night on one of the beds, and will eventually get their own sleep-based artwork as a memento, after the artworks have been shown in an online gallery. The project was launched on Tuesday during an event at BETC, with a sleeper in a bubble on the roof (pictured) and a robot painting downstairs.

For Ibis, the project underlines a new marketing focus on the importance of sleep, part of its strategy to become a leading brand in the economy hotel segment. Annick Teboul, creative director at BETC, says Ibis wanted to promote its high-tech comfort bedding and position itself as the '"architect of rest."

Can a Robot Be Creative?
When BETC approached ACNE with a brief to create art centered on sleep, ACNE's R&D division had already done several experiments around the idea of making art with machines. In particular, ACNE Production creative director Markus Ward and art director Mikael Larsson had worked together on creating a cover for Japanese design magazine, Brain, last year, with a computer interpreting a hand sketch. It was this "balance between technology and art" that led ACNE to the idea of a robot painting with real paints.

Finding a high-precision industrial robot was the first challenge, but once this had been achieved, with the help of robotics company ABB, ACNE needed to get the painting technique right. "The precision of the robot was never in doubt, but the behavior of paints and paintbrushes is much harder to predict," says Ward. "We ended up spending most of our time mixing different colors and testing out different paintbrushes."

Ibis is not the first brand to touch on the idea of turning personal data into art. For example, Scandinavian furniture brand Varier worked with B-Reel to create fabric designs based on brain waves. B-Reel used a headset to measure the brain waves of three children using Varier's Balans chair, then used a custom built data visualization engine to turn the recordings into a pattern that could be printed as upholstery for the chair.

For coffee machine maker Breville, Australian agency Reborn hacked a coffee machine using an Arduino, flow machines to track flow rate, a steam LED, temperature sensors and pressure transmitters. While a cup of coffee brewed, all the data was collected and visualized, then used to create artwork to be printed and attached to coffee cups.

Sticking with the coffee meets data theme, MINI is running a campaign in the Netherlands which takes data from customers' driving style (analyzed by computer chips inside the car) and translates them into the perfect brew of coffee for that person.

But are such experiments just eye-catching gimmicks, or could interpreting real brain data to create something personalized be a major step forward for marketers? ACNE's Ward says that while the sleep art project in itself is more of an artistic experiment, the ideas behind it could have promising implications. "People like finding out about themselves through technology. The exciting part is getting computers to do things we can't do by hand, and making it more personal. Something like this feels even more real and physical than simply interpreting information that someone has put on Facebook."

Ward adds that the experiment could also change the way consumers think about robots. "People are mesmerized by ideas that bring technology to life," he adds. "We make a robot paint art, not as a robot would, but in the exact same way we would. This makes the robot something more than the motors, circuits and metal that it is made of."

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