In November 2014, I had the pleasure of visiting the headquarters of Engineered Arts in Cornwall, UK, to meet RoboThespian and his chief creator Will Jackson. Since that time, RoboThespian has been getting about a bit, meeting a wider audience, and is becoming quite famous. Will’s other robot Byrun is not only learning how to balance, but is also taking his first steps. There are also girl robots on the scene.
I asked Will four questions about Engineered Arts’ recent progress, and found that the company is going great guns. The future is certainly looking good for this progressive, and very entertaining British business.
DR: On your website, engineeredarts.co.uk, you mention a question that won’t go away: ‘Can it walk? Can it walk?’ Well I’m asking the same question. When I was with you back in November last year, you were waiting for a treadmill to arrive so that you could test-walk the robots. How has this been progressing?
WJ: Byrun prototype 3 has been on the treadmill for a few months now – you can see a video here:
We discovered some problems with the force sensing – too much hysteresis caused by friction.
We are now working on Byrun prototype 4 – it’s quite a radical redesign: new method of force measurement using deflection in plastic beams, improved angular ranges and speeds on all axis – can get knee to chest and leg folded 170 degrees at knee – very important for getting up when you have fallen over!
We are also building better high level modelling software for control of dynamic balance.
WJ: We will be at Innorobo in Lyon France – which is worth a visit for any serious robot enthusiast. In the UK we also have an upcoming event at The Science Museum in London.
DR: Can two RoboThespians hold a conversation with each other, with one listening to the other to detect the end of a question?
WJ: We have done some experiments using ChatScript a chat program developed by Bruce Wilcox – the converstions can be comical but don’t make a lot of sense. We also had a problem where the robot would listen to its own words and then try to answer them – which is very confusing!
DR: When I spoke to Marcus (Marcus Hold is the Design and Production Engineer at Engineered Arts), I asked him if I should refer to RoboThespian as “He”, “She” or even “It”. Marcus said that the robot is definitely male. Have you considered making a female version with an obviously feminine voice?
WJ: There are female RoboThespian’s, the latest one is Doris – she belongs to Global 360 a UK company who produce shows and events with our robots.