My first meeting with RoboThespian

My first meeting with RoboThespian

As part of a recent, and rather wet, winter holiday in Cornwall, I was so pleased to be able to meet RoboThespian for the first time at his home near Falmouth.

I had previously contacted Will Jackson, Director of Engineered Arts to see if I could pay a short visit to see how this British robotics company was bringing their unique sense of humour and vision to the world of robotics.

I felt a bit like a VIP being shown around the factory, and they were very generous with their time, despite the fact that they were busy preparing for a business trip to Madrid, to appear at Humanoids 2014, where Will is an invited speaker. In fact, as I write, they are appearing on Booth 6 in the Exhibit Hall.

Marcus Hold, Design and Production Engineer, met us and gave a wonderful demonstration of Robothespian’s capabilities. I have to say that I felt very comfortable with the robot . . . in fact I think we even look alike!

The robot has an on board computer, but for ease of demonstration, he was tethered to a large touch screen display panel with many functions that a non-programmer, such as myself, could easily use. Marcus showed us how to set functions such as arm movements, head movements and speech by simple drag and drop commands onto a time line. He got the robot to wave and say “welcome David and Trish to Engineered Arts”. I could easily have spent several hours happily playing on the control board!

Incidentally, I asked Marcus whether RoboThespian should be referred to as “He”, “She”, or even “It”, and he replied that the robot is definitely “He”.

The demonstration programs are wonderful. RoboThespian does a great impression of C-3PO from Star Wars (as shown in the video below from CEBIT 2011), even with the rather camp movements, and also says “Danger Will Robinson” in an impression of the voice of Robby (although he hasn’t quite got the bulk to go with it!).

At the touch screen display panel

It was quite fascinating to see inside the cupboards where robot parts are stored, awaiting assembly. Most of the parts are made on site, with only the very specialist items, such as the robot muscles, being purchased from outside. One cupboard, when opened, presented us with a large number of heads. There were also various arms, legs and feet around the factory and offices upstairs.

As you can see from the photo of RoboThespian’s feet, he is tethered to the stand and unable to walk. When we entered the factory, he was our first contact. He saw us walk in and blinked as his eyes picked up our human shapes. He is able to distinguish people and track them, and he is even able to take a guess at their age . . . I was very pleased to find that he guessed 34 years old for me!

RoboThespian’s feet

Engineered Arts are working hard on RoboThespian’s legs. Marcus Hold demonstrated the jointed knees and excellent balance that the robot has. It won’t be long before the robot is free to explore the factory. Any day now, a treadmill is expected to arrive to test his walking ability.

Arm detail showing muscle

We were pleased to find out that Engineered Arts robots are sold to many countries around the world, and that several are in Universities including UCL in London and at the University of Barcelona. Those two Universities cooperated in a ‘beaming’ experiment where RoboThespian in London stood in for Dr Mavi Sanchez-Vives who was in Barcelona wearing a 3D headset. The easiest way to understand how it worked is to watch the BBC video report from May 2012 – CLICK HERE.

As soon as my Lottery win comes up (I’m expecting it any week now!) I will be putting my order in for RoboThespian at a cool £55,000 . . . and I will probably need a few of the add-on related products too. Have a look at him on their web store – CLICK HERE.

A very big thank you to Marcus and Will for giving up their time to give my wife and I a tour of their factory, and for treating us like real customers! I hope that this blog will spread the name of Engineered Arts a little further.

I know that I have seen the future, and it is made in Cornwall.

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