Acting the part
Any robot that moves, performs. But those robots that are built or programmed explicitly to perform can accentuate a repertoire of multiply articulated gestures with naturalistic movements and interaction.
One of the hit exhibits at technology trade show CEBit 2011 in Hannover in March 2011 was the performing Robothesbian by Engineered Arts from Cornwall. This gangly robot performer was connected up to a Microsoft Kinect games controller so it could read the body movements of visitors. It has a certain cheekiness, and a Shakespearean repertoire. Its movements are somewhat more explosive than many robots. The designers also exploit lighting and stage sets to good effect.
Robothesbian was built by a company of ten, and engineered over 7 years. At least twenty have been installed, including one at Questacon in Canberra.
Another recent notable robotic performance was at TED, featuring Aldebaran’s NAO playing a stand-up robot comic called Data. He was partnered by Heather Knight from Marilyn Monrobot Labs. Data tells a number of pretty old jokes (but I guess he wasn’t invented yet), and apparently uses software developed at Carnegie Mellon to respond to the audience reactions.
It’s apparent that the audience’s experience of the robot’s performance is distinct from their experience of the uncanny appearance of an ultra-realistic robot such as Hiroshi Ishiguro’s.
At another level, Knight’s use of Nao as Data shows that robotic innovation can legitimately take place in software alone.