Category: Design

Ant Ballet

Ant Ballet

Ant Ballet is a research project into control systems, paranoia and dancing insects. The project is separated into four phases:

Phase I

Phase I (2010-2012) included thorough research into ants and control systems, synthesis of ant pheromones and testing of these systems with live ants in Barcelona. Through use of synthesised pheromones (Z9:16 Ald Hexadecenal), a robotic arm lays trails which cause ants to move in a different way to their natural foraging behaviour. This phase proves the viability of the research and technologies.

Phase II

The first live performance of Ant Ballet.

Phase III

Development of intercontinental ant telecommunication devices.

Phase IV

Destruction (undetermined).
So far, Phase I has been completed.

Public display

  • 2014 Big Data: Designing with the Materials of Life / Lethaby Gallery, Central St Martins, London
  • 2012 FutureEverything Festival / Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester
  • 2011-12 London Zoo / London
  • 2011 Graduate Architectural Design Show / Bartlett School of Architecture, London




Design, art direction, programming, video, music editing by Ollie Palmer.

Some code has been adapted from Daniel Shiffman‘s book the Nature of Code.

Music remixed from “Untitled 13” by Lucky Dragons.

This project has been made possible thanks to:

Godot Machine

Godot Machine

The Godot Machine is a device which monitors and prevents the movement of a single ant.

An ant sits atop a white globe, monitored from above by a camera. As the ant moves forwards, the sphere rotates backwards. As the ant moves left, the sphere moves right. No matter which direction the ant moves in, the sphere will always return the ant to the top. The ant will always remain on top of her world.

As ants use pheromone trails to communicate and find food, a well-fed ant should start laying a pheromone trail. Once she reaches her original starting point, she may choose to follow her trail. The more she follows the trail, the more she strengthens it, and thus the more attractive it becomes…

The Godot Machine is the first part of the Ant Ballet project, a multi-year investigation featuring control systems, paranoia and insects.





Investigation of adaptive urban environments, and creating systems that react to the way people use space. Prototypes mimic a variety of animal mechanisms such as woodlice and snakes.


  • Design, video, programming | Ollie Palmer
  • Music | Mirror Fun by Lucky Dragons (available here)




Open_Sailing was a project developing hardware, software and legal frameworks to enable the design and construction of the first International Ocean Station.

The open-source project was split into a series of labs which each developed individual technologies. One of these labs, Protei – a swarming robot that cleans up oil spills – went on to supersede Open_Sailing, and has now been presented by project founder Cesar Harada at numerous conferences, exhibitions and institutions worldwide (including TED).

I was a team member from 2009 – 2013, completing military sea survival training in France, managing competition entries and design processes and presenting the project at conferences.

Please note that Open_Sailing has since been renamed Open_H20, and its offshoot Protei is in active international development.


  • Open_Sailing received considerable press. I will compile some of it here soon!

Project credits

Project initiated by Cesar Harada at the Royal College of Art Design Interactions department.

Many people have passed through the community, and lots of great friendships formed…I will list some of them here soon.

Video credit

Open_Sailing 4′ concept from Cesar Harada on Vimeo

Custom sound system

This “sweet” stereo has all the kids dancing to the latest “pop tunes”. Materials: speakers, circuitry, cardboard, red electrical tape. Built February 2009.