RoboThespian is disturbing.
I think this particularly humanoid robot has climbed out of the uncanny valley of discomfort, and ambled out onto the plain of extremely annoying coworker. Disney animatronics gone walkabout.
“RoboThespian is a life sized humanoid robot designed for human interaction in a public environment. It is fully interactive, multilingual, and user-friendly, making it a perfect device with which to communicate and entertain.”
Clearly, these guys have done a ton of clever work, integrating human like locomotion, speech synthesis, projection, face tracking, and serious chat bot software.
“The standard RoboThespian design offers over 30 degrees of freedom, a plethora of sensors, and embedded software incorporating text-to-speech synthesis in 20 languages, facial tracking and expression recognition. The newly developed RoboThespian 4.0 will offer a substantial upgrade, adding additional motion range in the upper body and the option of highly adept manipulative hands.”
which means that you basically create a computer generated scene, which is “rendered” in physical robots.
Much of the spectacular effect is due to well coordinated facial expressions, head movement, and speech. The robot also has sensors to detect people and especially faces, and to orient to them. It also has facial expression recongnition, which lets it “reproduce” facial expressions. All these effects are “uncanny”, and make the beast appear to be talking to you (or singing at you). Ick!
All this is in the pursuit of…I’m not sure what.
I grant you that this is a great effect, at least on video. But what is it for?
The title and demos https://www.engineeredarts.co.uk/robothespian/theatre-of-robots/ suggests that it replaces human thespians (live onstage), which seems far fetched. If you want mechanized theater, you always have computer generated movies. As far as I can tell, the main use case is for advertising, e.g., trade show demos. It either replaces human presenters (demo babes) or it replaces video billboards.
They also suggest that this is a good device for telepresence, It “can inhabit an environment in a more human manner; it’s the next best thing to being there.” I’m not at all sure about that. Humanoid appearance is not really important for effective telepresence in most cases, and there is no reason to think this humanioid is well suited for any give telepresence situation.
Let me be clear: this product is really nicely done. I do appreciate a well crafted system, integrating lots of good ideas.
But I really don’t see that roboThespian is anything other than a flashy gimmick. (Human actors are way, way cheaper, and probably better.)
On the other hand, when I saw the first computer mouse on campus, I declared that it was a useless (and stupid) interface, and no one would ever use it. I was wrong about mice (Boy was I wrong!), so my intuitions about humanoid chatter bots may be wildly off.
Update May 4 2017: Corrected to indicated taht Engineering Arts does not use Blender, as the original post said. I must have seen some out of date information. EngArt have their own environment which, if not built from Blender, is built to look just like it. Thanks to Joe Wollaston for the correction.