Robothespian humanoid robot delivers human-like stage performances

The robotics industry is likely to become as significant as the automotive industry

Engineered Arts Ltd.’s Robothespian is probably one of the first professional robotic actors who made it into the real world (sorry, T-1000). Its elegant movements, extraordinary body language and emotion-conveying skills make it a great communicator. It may not be capable of helping the elderly, it’s not nearly as agile and athletic as Boston Dynamics’ PETMAN, and it’s unlikely to be of any use during eye surgery. But that’s OK. Robothespian is an artist. A robot burdened with the task of exploring the ephemeral territory of the arts and claiming it for his robotic brethren. And it seems it is extremely well equipped to get the job done.

Thanks to LCD eyes that convey emotions and feelings to match what is being said, along with emotive LED lighting in its body shell, Robothespian has become proficient at the art of mesmerizing its audience. If you need a captivating story-teller, just hire a professional voice-over artist once and then leave Robothespian to deliver the same powerful act over and over again.

The robot seems ideal for science education purposes, partly because it’s engaging and very cost-effective (no cigarette or lunch breaks), and partly because in a decade or two, the robotics industry is likely to become as significant as the automotive industry. Robothespian’s task of entertaining and educating today’s schoolchildren in science museums may one day turn out to have played a very important role.

It also has all the makings of a good actor. It can read text and add expression to your script, plus it can sing, dance and perform on stage without ever succumbing to stage fright. Thanks to motion capture software, it is able to mimic the movements of someone in the audience. It can also recognize faces and track people in a crowd.

Robothespian is a web connected device and it can be controlled via an online interface. You can see what the robot sees, and you can tell it what to do or say from virtually anywhere in the world, which makes it a powerful telepresence tool. The robot can also handle interaction with humans independently, as it’s capable of looking up answers to queries on the Web. It can also control theater lighting and multichannel sound. Most importantly, however, it can work day and night without a break and without compromising the quality of the performance.

Robothespian comes in three different flavors, with an entry-level model 3 costing GBP55,000 (US$87,208). Therefore, it could be considered very cost effective, especially if you take into account that the robot adds a level of audience engagement that is beyond that of most presenters. So, what’s in the box?

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