Today is the last day of the summer program. We ran through one last rehearsal for the final show, and fixed a few more problems. Then it was time to set up for the kids to give a short demonstration of their projects to their family members. The room was crowded, and it was difficult to hear the robots deliver their lines. Overall, the kids did a great job running their programs, spotting the robots, and explaining what they did to their audience. They took turns running their programs: each person had 15 minutes to run through a few short skits before giving another person a chance to run their programs.
After these short demonstrations, we put the robots in place for the final performance. We found and fixed almost every problem…the only one left was at the end of the skit, when the robots were supposed to crouch to end the show: Gini decided not to crouch. We had a relatively large audience, and the kids did a great job putting everything together for the final show.
After the final show, the kids received certificates of completion. It was time to power the robots down, and pack up. It was a fabulous two weeks. The visiting robots made their way back to Minneapolis, and the Iowa robots returned to my office, where they are getting ready for their next project: they will be part of a first-year seminar this fall. We will be writing about that experience starting in August!
Today is the day to rehearse the final skit. Yesterday, all of the individual programs were finished. Each block of dialogue was stored in a separate timeline, and the timelines were added to a “robot library”. We then created the individual “conversation programs” for each robot, and brought in the movement timelines. While it seems straightforward, getting seven robots to communicate, pass on messages to trigger the next robot to say its lines, make sure that all speeches and movements are timed properly, etc… can be tricky.
We fixed most of the typos in the messages being sent, and made it through most of the skit. We had to run through it several times, fixing the problems as they came up, and then “taking it from the top.” Fortunately, the robots are pretty patient, and don’t mind running through their lines as often as necessary. The kids were also patient. They were the ones spotting the robots, and then starting the scene over and over again. It was great to have lots of eyes watching the movements of the robots, and giving feedback on things that needed to be changed in the delivery of the lines. The final result will be impressive!
After the rehearsal, the kids finished up their “gratitude conversations” with the robots. I am thankful to the individuals and organizations that supported this first Robot Theater Summer Camp.
Today we continued to pose and program the robots, and create the art for the stage. At this point in the program, the kids know their way around the robots. They are gentle when they manipulate the robots, and are comfortable programming them to deliver their lines.
Each block of text (along with the movement) will be stored in its own timeline. Once we have all of the individual timelines for a robot, we will create the final program for that robot. Some of the roles were easier to put together than others. For example, “Christopher” and “Denise” will be playing virtual pong throughout the skit, so their movements involve an infinite loop of random arm movements that look like they are hitting a ball back and forth. They have a few lines of dialogue in the skit, but we didn’t have to create any deliberate movements outside of the pong gestures.
“Daniel” will be describing outdoor sports (mentioning football and archery, and then describing how to play baseball in more detail). That series of movements took some effort to build, and the final result was outstanding. “Gini” and “Bobbi” are the robots visiting from Minneapolis. They will be locking their convertible car, and trying to figure out where to go for the Robot Theater Summer Camp. They will be walking up to the other robots to ask for help. “Gini” will be describing how to make a dump cake, and “Bobbi” will be talking about the winter sports that she plays. “Alberto” will go into detail about gardening. The kids in the camp created all of this dialogue and movement.
The kids read through the overall script, but there are several components that still need to be written. The kids will write a description of how to make a “dump cake”, various outdoor sports (winter and non-winter) that they enjoy playing, and things that are related to gardening. We also need to create deliberate gestures for when the robots are speaking their other lines in the skit. Then we need to create the programs that enable the robots deliver their lines (with appropriate gestures). Finally, we need to put it all together into one large “conversation program” for each robot.
We started out the day by writing some of the descriptions that will be used in the skit. Then some kids started programming the dialogue, and others started working on the backdrops for when the robots perform the skit. This was a great day for creative juices to flow. Putting on a robot theater performance involves more than just writing computer programs. There is writing, posing, programming, drawing, and staging to be done.
Last week, the kids programmed the robot to participate in a conversation expressing their appreciation of the people who sponsored the summer camp. This camp was funded by a few organizations. John Deere donated money to help cover the costs involved in the development of the curriculum for the camp, and provided some support for staffing the camp. The American Association of University Women awarded a Community Action Grant to cover the tuition cost for attending the camp. The University of Iowa Computer Science Department provided technical resources, and the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences provided the money to purchase the robots. The Belin-Blank Center provided camp-related logistical support. Several community members also donated money so that we could provide healthy snacks and T-shirts to the participants. Without this financial support, we would not have been able to offer this program.
This week, we added gestures to those “gratitude skits”, and we will record them once they are complete. We are all grateful to the organizations who sponsored this camp.
At the end of the day, the kids read through a draft of the script for the final skit, and started thinking about some of the specific dialogue that needed to be written. In this skit, two robots from Minneapolis travel to Iowa City to participate in a Robot Theater Summer Camp, and get to know the robots from Iowa City who are also part of the Robot Theater Summer Camp.
Earlier in the week, the kids were asked to write a conversation between a human and a robot that expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to participate in this summer camp and work with the robots. One of today’s activities involved programming the robot to engage in this conversation. For this program, no movements were included. The focus was on how to use a robot’s speech recognition capabilities to engage in this conversation. The kids also made progress coding their robot conversation skits. They continued to work on posing the robot so that the robot would gesture while speaking. They are becoming very familiar with posing the robot and storing the positions, and imagining how the robot should move while speaking.
Today the kids also finished some of their previous projects. They put in gestures for their conversations between robots, and added gestures to the monologues that they created on the first day.
Today we broke up into small groups to practice writing dialogue between robots. One of the writing prompts from the previous day involved having two robots talk about something that they enjoyed doing. One person wrote about watching the Hunger Games, and another person wrote a conversation where the robots talked about adopting a robot. The kids started programming those conversations on Day 3, and finished them up today.
After that activity, the kids collaborated on developing a new conversation and planning out the gestures to accompany the dialogue. The script was written and the gestures determined by the entire group. Then one person worked on coding the robot speeches while the others posed the robot and developed a library of gestures to be brought into the program. The two pieces were brought together and the programs were de-bugged. Developing just one small scene is time-consuming!
Today we worked on story-telling and robot-robot communication.
One of the writing prompts for the kids was to write a bedtime story that a NAO robot would tell a smaller robot action figure. The kids had a robot tell their bedtime story, and we video recorded the results.
After the robots told their bedtime stories, we saw a demonstration of a skit involving two robots talking to each other. The two robots exchanged a few sarcastic remarks during the conversation.We broke up into groups to write conversations between robots. In one group, the kids worked together to program a conversation about the Hunger Games, and in another group the topic was on adoption of a new robot. The next writing prompt will involve having the kids write a conversation between two robots that we can then code.
We spent most of the day working on posing the robot. We created a library of gestures that we will be able to use when we make new skits. It takes a lot of work to get the gestures to time up with the speech. Using a random gesture routine is certainly easier, and will work in some situations, like when giving long speeches that don’t require specific movements. But, when the movements must be deliberate, we have to take the time to get them right.
To pose the robot, we first drag a new Timeline onto the canvas. Then we set up the keyframes to lay out the movement. The default setting for the speed of the movement is 25 frames per second. We select the initial keyframe that we want to store data regarding the position of the robot (typically frame 40). We pose the robot into the position we want it to go into, and then store the joint information at that keyframe. Then we move to the next keyframe that we want to specify the robot position, pose the robot, and store the joint information. We continue this process until we have all of the movements that go along with the dialogue that the robot will deliver as it says its lines.
On the first day, we learned how to get the robots to speak their lines, and we programmed the robots to deliver a monologue. It took some time to type out what the robot was supposed to say, and the robots could not always pronounce words correctly. Sometimes we had to intentionally misspell words in order for them to be spoken correctly.
After we got the robot to say the text, we learned how to get the robots to move. We start by turning the motors on (to engage the joints). Then we have the robot stand and deliver its lines. After it is finished, we have the robot crouch and turn the motors off. This last step is important. If the motors are engaged for too long, they will get too hot and the robot will have to be shut down to cool off.
At first, we used a random gesture generator so that the robot would move its arms as it spoke. Then we started learning to pose the robot, to create specific gestures that matched what was being said.