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Entertainment Robots

Sarcos, a Utah-based company, developed the robot shown at left. With 30 joints arranged in a torso supporting  five branching chains, this is the most kinematically complex robot I have ever seen. Unlike most robots that are either electric or hydraulic, this robot utilizes pneumatic motors.

Sarcos has developed some of the world's most sophisticated humanoid robots and virtual reality interfaces. Sarcos entertainment robots are constructed not only to be high performance, but also to be sensitive and graceful. Sarcos has placed a great deal of emphasis on the aesthetics of its humanoid as well as the engineering. Its corporate staff includes leading designers, artists and craftspeople who style the robots. Concept development and graphic renderings are supported by a complete sculpting facility, where high-performance skins and other coverings are produced. They can be teleoperated by a remote operator wearing a SenSuit or by a computer-controlled playback of a preprogrammed show. Recently, a Sarcos robot named DB has been used by the ERATO brain project in Japan to enable motion learning. DB has 30 D.O.F. and is nicely packaged in an 80kg, 1.85m body. A tether connects DB with its air supply and control computers. 

Any discussion of entertainment robots has to include Disney. They have been doing entertainment robots as long as anyone and they do them quite well. With dancing bears and singing pirates Disney's imagineers have created thousands of robots. The robot shown at right is new as of August, 2003. It is a robot dinosaur named Lucky. He walks on his two back legs and pulls a very large cart of "silk flowers". Really the cart is full of batteries. Even Disney has not figured-out the battery issue that plagues mobile robots. This was the only way they could get enough battery life for the robot to spend a meaningful amount of time wandering the amusement part.

I don't do roller coasters, but I'm sure my kids would love this. According to the manufacturer, KUKA Robotics, this is the first robot with world-wide certification to handle human beings. KUKA makes robots of very high-quality, so I would let my kids ride. Here's a description from the KUKA site "In the unique ROBOCOASTER from KUKA Roboter, the advantages of the practically unrestricted freedom of motion and excellent dynamic performance of an industrial robot have been exploited in the leisure and amusement industry for the first time."

And who can forget the consumer entertainment robots that have come onto the market in the last decade or so? From those little Furby's that go for around twenty bucks to Sony's Aibo (two of which are shown at right) that can top a thousand dollars a pop; these have been the first robots to really pervade our homes. One of the funniest things I have ever seen was my dog running around the house with a "live" Furby in its mouth. My dog would give it a shake every now and then and the Furby was going off like it was, well, like it was being shaken in a dog's mouth.

The Lego Mindstorms are also a big player in this category. Future roboticists will likely remember their first Lego Mindstorms in the same way today's computer scientists remember their first TRS80 personal computer.

Some entertainment robots are not much more than rolling, remote-controlled speaker phones with video camera "eyes." They can wander around at parties and play pre-recorded jingles or display scrolling messages to promote a company's products or distribute promotional literature.

Florida Robotics makes robots like these. They also make more complex robots that have the capability to talk with on-lookers and include fiber optic hair, remote controlled water guns, on-board video camera and transmitter (robot can send video of what he sees to remote monitor or video wall), sound effects and smoke.

Disney makes use of a Florida Robotics robot called "X1846" at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. X1846 serves drinks there. Heck, I'll take a robot that can bring me a soda.

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