Some of her early images were taken at the Delft Institute of Technology’s Biorobotics lab, where she photographed robots like Flame, which has elastically actuated hips, knees and ankles and the ability to walk sideways, but no humanoid characteristics.
One of the professors there, Erwin R. Boer, introduced her to the University of California, San Diego’s Machine Perception Laboratory, led by research scientist Javier Movellan. Together, Tuerlinckx and Boer headed to the West Coast of the United States with her giant camera. There, she met her first human-style android: Diego-san, a child-like robot that stands about four feet tall and has the face of a one-year-old boy.
Diego-san has a mechanical body, designed by Japan’s Kokoro Co., and a humanoid face, designed by the pioneering roboticist David Hanson. He makes what he calls “emotionally relevant” robots, which express themselves with gestures and facial expressions—Hanson’s bid to bridge the uncanny valley. The boy android is capable of smiling, laughing, responding to questions, and becoming angry or sad.
Tuerlinckx photographed this range of emotion, and found the experience of being with Diego-san very poignant.
“I really had a warm feeling with him,” she recalled. “He’s so cute and he has this really big head, and it’s surprising how he can express all this emotion. He was, for me, like a very special child. He has a lot of character. I was very emotional with him. I always tell Erwin—if they’re not using him anymore, he can come live with me.”