Ivan Sutherland’s Trojan Cockroach

Ivan Sutherland’s Trojan Cockroach, 2016

Installation view of parts of the robot, the “Trojan Cockroach”, showcased in The Posner Center, Carnegie Mellon’s rare books archive.
Each vitrine featured parts from the “Trojan Cockroach” throughout the exhibit. Each vitrine featured a combination of rare books, walking machine artifacts, robots, and ephemera from related research. The exhibit also included rare books underlying the origins of the field, such as Aloysii Galvani’s Effects of Electricity on Muscular Motion (1791), Bernouilli’s Hydronamica (1738), The Human Figure in Motion (1830-1904) by Eadweard Muybridge, Sutherland’s influential MIT thesis, Sketchpad: A Man-machine Graphical Communication System (1963) & Sutherland’s essay, Technology and Courage, a first printing of R.U. R (1920), by Karel Capek, and a first edition of Frankenstein (1818), by Mary Shelley.

The exhibit, Ivan Sutherland’s Trojan Cockroach, a multimedia spatial narrative, tells the interwoven story of the development of virtual reality, the origins of computer graphics, and the genesis of walking robots. The primary protagonist of the exhibit, Ivan Sutherland, is considered the “father” of the field of computer graphics, for developing the world’s first computer drawing program, Sketchpad, as well as an early XR simulation.

Hosted in a rare books archive, the exhibit featured eight vitrines of rare texts coupled with robotic artifacts, including a first edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) as well as R.U.R., the 1920 play that coined the term “robot”. Staged in the archive were displays of the original core components of the “Trojan Cockroach” robot, hoisted on wooden crates.

The exhibit featured a custom virtual reality simulation on the Oculus DK2- recreating Sutherland’s original research for a new generation of VR enthusiasts.


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Rare Books & Robots

Each vitrine featured images & objects from Sutherland’s groundbreaking research in computer graphics, virtual reality, and robotics; as well as subsequent research and influential work that came after.

Backdrops and stands for each display were Boston Dynamic’s “terrain simulations” used to train a robotic dog, the “Little Dog”

The Leg Laboratory

The exhibit connected the work on the Trojan Cockroach with the influence it had on the future of “machines that walk”, such as the “Leg Laboratory”, a group of researchers at M.I.T. whose work led to the development of robotic animals, such as “Little Dog”, featured alongside a first printing of “Frankenstein”.ng of “Frankenstein”.

Events + Experiences

The exhibit's opening featured a unique audience of students from both engineering and the arts, creating a context for disciplines to converge.


In collaboration with The Robotics Institute, we hosted a joint lecture featuring Ivan Sutherland with his longtime friend and protege, Marc Raibert, founder of the influential robotics company, Boston Dynamics.

The Exhibit


A custom virtual reality experience for the exhibit, created using original drawings from Sutherland's "Sketchpad" program, paired with a wireframe world filled with walking machine relatives of Sutherland's Trojan Cockroach. Modeled after Sutherland's original simulation (to the right).

Thanks to generous funding from the Sloan Foundation, our original exhibit became an initiative that has expanded to become a archive in the Carnegie Mellon University Library, permanently merging the rare books collections with the rare robots, as originally intended.