Final Show

We met for the last class, and ran through all of the scenes for the performance.  Jill Tobin stopped by to video record all of the scenes, and patiently sat through our debugging.  This is our first time incorporating two kinds of robots into a performance: NAO robots and Cozmo.

Cozmo is a robot developed by Anki.  It is a pretty sophisticated little robot, especially considering its price.  Cozmo can interact with humans and play games.  Cozmo can also be programmed in a “drag and drop” environment using a tablet.  The best part about Cozmo is the developer community.  Cozmo can be programmed in Python, and there are lots of people creating programs and sharing their expertise.  The capability to program Cozmo beyond the drag-and-drop environment on a tablet is what convinced me to add Cozmo to the group.  Cozmo can connect to our network and communicate with the NAO robots.  And while I won’t replace my NAO robots with Cozmo, I can certainly imagine many more scenes with lots of Cozmo robots running around the stage.  I can’t wait to see what the next first-year seminar students do with these robots!

Our final performance will be held on Saturday, Oct 7, 2017, at 2:00 PM in Theatre B of the Theatre Building at the University of Iowa.  I hope to see you there!


Robot Theater 2016

The renowned physicist professor Stephen Hawking has warned: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” But I don’t feel like the end of human race.

I took this course as First-Year Seminar this semester and I think it is fantastic.

I used to play with LEGO robots, although they can be programmed to dance, play soccer, search & rescue, etc. No matter how hard we try to build, they still do not seem like they are human. Also, some technical issues make them difficult to compete with those Single Chip Microcomputer Robots in the competitions.

I was amazed by NAO at first glance. They are human-like robots which equipped with some pressure sensors, microphones, cameras, sonar systems and so on. The first time the instructor ran a program on the robot, I  couldn’t believe its stability and playability.

The software Choregraphe is user-friendly, which is very suitable for novices. Based on programming language of Python, java, C++, etc., we can do what we want to do and create incredible projects!

I was glad to see kids show their interest on NAO robots during the performance, and hope they can join us later to enjoy the beauty and fun of the artificial intelligence!

The instructor let us work in groups. Collaborating with domestic students was a nice experience for me. It’s hard to imagine I could get involved and dedicate myself to this course as an international student. This is an awesome seminar but it’s a pity that it was a little short. Hope I can work on NAO robots in the future.

Robot theatre week 3

We have just finished our third week of class. We just finished all the basic programming, speech and movement, now we just need to break each scene out into each robots role.

A lot of this work has actually surprised me at how simple it is but how time consuming it is. I was expecting a lot of this work to be complicated and there to be a large learning curve to get it all handled but there actually wasn’t. A lot of the work has been making sure the movements line up with the dialogue. This is a relatively simple task but takes a lot of repetitions to get right.

I have really enjoyed taking this class and am very excited to see where the rest of class goes. I have found a new passion in programing robots and actually bought a Cozmo robot for myself to try and mess with. I really look forward to finishing the production and presenting it. After class I hope to continue programming and using this in the future when I work for a theatre.



I loved it!

I loved working with the robots. They are the cutest, smartest, and best actors I have ever had the pleasure to work with. Learning to program them was hard at first, but with a little help from the friends I made, I eventually got the hang of it. My favorite part was getting to know the robots’ different personalities.

I hope I managed to capture their distinct personalities in my writing. The script took me a week to write, but it was a week well spent once I heard the robots reciting their lines. I hope the audience likes their performance as much as I did.

Blurring the lines between the Impossible and Opportunity

I have always been skeptical with the notion that technology can really blur the lines between ANY two things. In my head I thought “there’s no way that technology can blur everything,” but as it turn out I’m wrong. These robots have given me important insight to the era that I live in. I never imagined that as a pre-med major I would be working with robots to create a show. This class has shown me that college classes are not just lectures and tests and labs; they can be fun and interactive and have opened my eyes to the fact that I have had tunnel vision all this time. As my instructor has said over and over “this is a once in a life time opportunity” and while I will only be able to take this class for 5 weeks I truly realize that college is the field of opportunity.

Now on to the show, the show is about 7 robots that one day they get a new much smaller robot named Cozmo who says he is a robot, but some of the robots disagree, some of the robots agree with Cozmo, and some are on the fence with it. Then some of the robots hack into Cozmo and program him to do some ridiculous tasks, and Cozmo even though he doesn’t show it struggles with this internally and almost is hurt because of what the other robots think of him. However in order to learn more come watch the show Saturday, Oct 7, at 2:00 PM, in Theatre B of the Theatre Building at the University of Iowa. 

I lost my job to automation

Over the last several weeks of working with the NAO robots, I realized that these robots are far better than traditional human actors. While both robots and actors portray personalities, humans have their own personalities aside from their given role in a production. These personalities may include being rude, abrasive, snobby, difficult to work with, and overall pretentious. The NAO robots on the other hand, do not have attitudes. My experience in Robot Theatre combined with my previous theatre experience led me to these other realizations.

While human actors may take weeks to learn a few lines of dialog, the NAO robots learn them within minutes. Really, it depends on how quickly a programmer can type. NAO robots often mispronounce words, or take strange breaks in between sentences, and NAO robots also do not have a wide range of expression or emotion to convey the feelings behind a line. In contrast to the hard plastic faceplates of the robots, human actors have 43 unique muscles in their faces allowing them to express a wide variety of emotions. and two muscles in their throats allowing them to adjust their tone to match the scene. However, getting a human actor to express the exact emotion you are looking for can be difficult, as they may feel the need to add their own opinion. Robots simply require posing, and maybe adjusting the speed or pitch of the voice. Robots will not ask silly questions like “why am I laughing at my mother’s funeral?” or give unwarranted opinions such as “A native New Yorker wouldn’t speak with a cockney accent.”

While human actors are capable of a wider range of tones, emotions, expressions, gross motor skill, and overall just easier to communicate with, they do not compare to the amazing NAO robots, with their lack of emotion, 25 total degrees of freedom, slow walking, ability to memorize lines immediately and inability to talk back to a director. Until I took this seminar, I was planning on double majoring in engineering and theatre, but I’ve since decided to drop my theatre dreams and focus on engineering, so that I can design and build even more of these glorious artificial thespians. Soon enough, the singularity will be upon us.

Robot Theater: Week 5

After weeks of writing scripts and learning how to program the robots, my class was almost ready for the big show on Saturday. This final week was basically used to refine our skits and programs. At the time, our robots only had their dialogue and a couple of movements. My partner and I used this week to change movements that we didn’t like and to give our robots more complex movements. However, I wasn’t completely satisfied with what we had so far, so I decided to meet with my professor.

Working with my professor was very helpful. We discussed the script and she pointed out many ways that we could improve it. One of the robots was pretty one-dimensional, so she helped me give more content to the robot. After the meeting, the robots were as ready as they could be for the show on Saturday.

I don’t how the show will go on Saturday, but I’m definitely excited to find out. I can’t wait to see the other groups’ performances. I just wish we had more time to tinker with the robots. Robot Theater was an exciting thing to experience and I would recommend it to anyone who may be interested in this kind of stuff.

First Year Seminar 2016

Our show is just about ready…The theme is the Technological Singularity: When artificial intelligence meets (and then exceeds) human intelligence. The robots take their place in our society, and these skits demonstrate how the students envision the future.

The show will take place on October 1, 2016, at 2:00 PM in Theatre B of the Theatre Building. The show is appropriate for people of all ages, and is free to attend.

The Final Day: Week 5

Today was the final day of our ‘Storming the Castle: Robot Theatrics’ class. Over the last few weeks, we’ve learned how to create, test, debug, and polish all of our scripts. Now, the final day, is when we put it all to the test. When class first started, two of us had already finalized and submitted their presentations, and decided to help with the other groups’ presentations.

I was one of the two who finished my presentation early. The week prior, I came in during office hours to get a bit of work done (ended up staying 5 hours). During this time, we worked on finishing my presentation. We were also able to work on some of the basic movements for the other groups to use if they fell short on time.

I don’t actually know if any of the groups used the actions we made last week; I was mostly focusing on helping my partner work on his presentation. My presentation was simply a dialog with a random arms loop, but his- his was a whole marching band routine with dancing, music and instrumental (imaginary) performances. Needless to say, a lot of testing was needed for this.

Eventually class came to a close. Most groups, if not all, were either complete, or near-complete with their presentations. More likely than not, some people are going to drop by the office hours to do their presentation polish. The only thing now to do is wait and see how things go on Saturday.


Performance Info:

The University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts presents:

Robot Theatre

October 1, 2016

Saturday   2:00 PM

University of Iowa

200 North Riverside Drive (Theatre B, Theatre Building)
Iowa City, Iowa


Tickets: This event is FREE and open to the public.

Categories: Performing Arts

Robot Theater: Week 3

For the third meeting of robot theater, we brought in our skits that we wrote and read them to the group. Not everyone had their skit on hand, but because only half of us could work on our skits at a time, it wasn’t too big of a problem. After reading the skit, we split into pairs to put them together in Choreographe. We had to first get the robot’s lines copied into the Choreographe speaking blocks, then we had to get the robot to listen for certain words, as my skit was a conversation between a robot and a human. To get the speaking cues right, we had to time the activation of the robot’s cue and when it actually began to speak. After getting it right for the first blocks, it was simple to get the rest in the program. However, since there is a lot of back-and-forth between the human and robot, it was very tedious work. All of this, plus some discussion of how to improve the skit as a whole, took most of the meeting, and left little time to work on the robot’s actions. Luckily, there isn’t a big need for motion in the skit, so work on movement can be done quickly.

Overall, it’s been great working with these robots, but it’s a shame we don’t have more time to work with them. I’d love to see all that these guys can do.