John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Rather than kill people, 100 child-sized "Lovebots" are highlighting good deeds done by community members in Toronto.
Cylons will shoot you with implanted machine guns. A Terminator T-1000 might spear you through the brain with a molten fist. Being the big, lumbering robots they are, a Decepticon will probably run you down like a bulldozer operator sucking on a fifth of Old Grand-Dad.
So what's the lethal tactics of Toronto's "Lovebots"? That's unknown, but my money's on them glomming onto people in a massive cuddle-party until there's no reflexive muscle twitches left.
But of course that would never happen, unless some hacker messed with their programming. The standard-issue Lovebot – short for Love Robot and not to be confused with the Japanese comfort model – is a chunky, child-sized being that looks as threatening as WALL-E. Emblazoned on each robot's chest is a little colored heart, symbolizing its mission to spread affection and good vibes throughout Toronto. And there should be plenty of love to go around in the city during the coming weeks, as the artist responsible for these cutesy objects has only deployed about 30 in a planned invasion of 100 robots:
Matthew Del Degan conceived of the Lovebot archetype about four years ago and helped spread it through dozens of countries in a street-art sticker campaign. The idea "stems from the beginning, when I was born," says the 23-year-old resident of Toronto's West End. "I was loved so much as a child, I feel the need to give back to the community. So public art was a no-brainer to me."
Each robot is marked with a unique code. People can look it up on their electronic devices to read an inspirational story that occurred somewhere in the community. These crowd-sourced tales of human compassion are gradually showing up on an online map of Toronto. One describes how a baker is helping those affected by the 2011 Japanese tsunami, for instance, and another tells of a 10-year-old child who puts his toys and books out on the sidewalk for other kids to reuse.
To create each unit in the newest generation of Lovebot, Del Degan pours 250 pounds of concrete into hand-crafted molds that took more than a year to build. For those counting, 100 robots equals 25,000 pounds of art that must be hauled around town on trucks. "I'm getting really, really strong," he says. "It's funny, I look more hardened than I did because I've been deadlifting robots all day."
Is this labor-intensive effort an attempt to criticize certain of the more-crabby Torontonians? Could be. "If you go to a city and tell them they are not friendly, and ask them to be kind, chances are they won't do anything because you're pointing out the negative," Del Degan says. "I am subtly pointing out the negative, but doing it in a cute way.... By virtue of making people smile, it removes any of that negativity."
Have a look at some of the Lovebots mobilizing into Toronto, and head to the artist's blog to see how they were made: