UVic grad creates award-winning robotic walking camper art piece

What can accommodate several sleepers while also walking on six legs?

A University of Victoria graduate's art piece titled Something to Ponder On.

It consists of a 1980s full-sized Slumber-Queen camper, which typically fits on the back of a truck, combined with a customized bed structure with six robotic legs powered by a one-horsepower motor.

Xiao Xue, who graduated from UVic's Fine Arts program, designed and built the piece, which walks at a pace of about 12 centimetres per step. It weighs more than 1,700 pounds and can walk forward and backward.

Xue said the piece was inspired by both insects and missing limbs.

"I used to be very afraid of insects, and when I came to Victoria I had my first encounter with silverfish," Xue said.

"When I saw them I got freaked out and did research into them, and then I felt like my fear and people treating them as a pest is extremely unreasonable, because [they] do absolutely no damage," Xue said.

'Like an insect'

That gave her the idea of creating something that "walks sort of like an insect." 

The other inspiration came from a former co-worker who had lost one of his legs in an accident. Once, when she visited him, she discovered he had a collection of prosthetics for different sporting uses, as well as medication to treat the sensation of having a phantom limb.

Then, when another friend was trying to get rid of an old truck camper, she thought of that as a kind of phantom limb or parasite, minus the host truck.

"At that moment, I thought of the truck camper and lost leg incident, and the insect, and it all came together," she said.

She wanted the finished piece to resemble a person who had lost the capacity to walk and had just begun rehabilitation.

"So it's just pondering what's the next step in its life, like, 'Should I go forward, should I go back?'

"The steps should be a little bit slow, hesitating, and it should look like it's pondering on something, perhaps its future."

Xue was awarded a bursary from the Victoria Visual Arts Legacy Society for her piece.

Listen to the interview with Xiao Xue on CBC's On the Island:

With files from On the Island and Michael Tymchuk