Mari Velonaki has worked as an artist and researcher in the field of electronic art since 1995. Her work has created a basis for intellectually and emotionally engaging human-machine interfaces incorporating movement, speech, touch, breath, electrostatic charge, artificial vision, light, text and robotics. In 2003 she initiated and led a major Australian Research Council art/science project ‘Fish–Bird: Autonomous Interactions in a Contemporary Arts Setting’ in collaboration with robotics researchers Drs Rye, Scheding & Williams at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Autonomous Systems, University of Sydney. The project created a new theoretical foundation for communication between humans and machines that incorporates notions of trust and shared intimacy. It led to the creation of ‘Fish-Bird’, an interactive installation with two robots in the form of wheelchairs that impersonate two ‘characters’(Fish and Bird) who fall in love but cannot be together due to ‘technical difficulties’.
In 2006 Mari co- founded, with David Rye, the Centre for Social Robotics, within the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney.
In 2007 she was awarded an Australia Council for the Arts Visual Arts Fellowship. In 2009 she was awarded an Australian Research Council Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship (2009–2013) for the creation of a new robot in order to develop an understanding of the physicality that is possible and acceptable between a human and a robot.
Mari is currently an Associate Professor and the director of a recently established lab, the Creative Robotics Lab, at the National Institute of Experimental Arts, the University of New South Wales. The Creative Robotics Lab aims to provide a cross-disciplinary research environment dedicated to understanding how humans can interact with mechanical and robotic devices within the context of experimental arts and social robotics.
Mari also has an appointment as an Adjunct Associate Professor at The University of Sydney where she continues her collaboration with the Australian Centre for Field Robotics team.