Introduction to Robot Theater: Week 1

I was unsure of what to expect from the class. I imagined a static metallic voice and some simple movements would be the only noteworthy actions of the robots. I was thoroughly surprised. The robots were only about two feet tall with small rounded features which did not allude to the sophistication of their functions. The first sentence from a robot named Denise was short but uncannily eloquent. It was a simple “Hello” that managed to shock the entire room of us six students. The voice was mechanical but not in any way that I had preciously heard. The robot enunciated with clarity, even stringing the words together so that they sounded like a thought-out phrase rather than a collection of sound bites. We found that we could also have the robots say words other than “Hello” and so we spent a considerable portion of class playing with sentences. I was able to get one robot to speak out the whole of Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics which seemed appropriate for the occasion. There was an interesting anomaly in which the robot could pronounce the word “parts” but the phrase “fresh parts” sounded like “fresh ports”, we were told that the spelling would have to be altered in order to achieve the correct word. The process will be mostly trial and error but we will figure out how to say “fresh parts”.

We transitioned from words to basic movement after we grasped the concept of robotic speech. We did not have the robots walk yet but instead controlled the arms and upper torso. We managed to have the robots gesture by running them through several trials with the Choregraphe program. We learned about how the speech and movement functions operate simultaneously with each other so timing is imperative to properly convey the right gestures with the correct phrase. All gestures we used were a combination of us physically moving the robot into a position and having the Choregraphe program save the position of the limbs and previously made gestures. We drew on a gesture library that had been created by previous students so with each session the robots’ range of motion expands as we save new movements to the library. I’m very excited at the potential these little robots represent in regard to creating an entertaining production.