Introduction to Robot Theater: Week 3

This week’s classroom session was almost completely dedicated to programming the robots to speak the lines of the skits we all wrote last week.  We each took one robot and worked through the scripts, pasting in our robot’s lines, connecting the server script, and figuring out the proper textedit message to send out to get the next robot to say the correct line.

This process involved a lot of shouting and quick, bouncing banter, somewhat reminiscent of an Aaron Sorkin script, except lacking the liberal bias and thinly veiled political overtones. Mostly it was me shouting “wait what’s my line!?” and “so what do I send out after that!?”

But, somehow, we did manage to get quite a bit done, programming about two and a half campfire skits into the robots. Our Choreographe documents started to get rather ridiculous in size, requiring lots of tedious zooming in and out (no one ever said right clicking on a Mac was an easy task). Like five brave soldiers marching through a seemingly endless, rainy jungle, separated from our platoon, facing certain death, yet moving forward for the sake of our country, our loved ones, and our souls, we managed to handle the ever increasing complexity of our programing.

Besides learning the valuable skills of teamwork, robot programming, and kickboxing, this week we also learned that robots struggle to pronounce the word “s’mores.” This may not seem like an important fact, but think about it, have you ever heard of a cruel, dictatorial overlord who couldn’t pronounce the word “s’mores?” I thought not. Surely this is a good sign that our little robots are not likely to turn on us and strip us of all that makes us human by enslaving us in incredibly efficient death camps.

If that’s not good news, I don’t know what is.

Until next time, keep your eyes peeled, your mind open, and your knife ever at the ready. And hey, smile once in a while. It costs you nothing, but could make somebody’s day.

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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.