David V. Lu!!
Photo Credit: Dan Lazewatsky

Dances with Bots: Seraph

Hooray for arts and academics collaborating! A dance theatre group in NYC called Pilobolus has created a short dance piece called ‘Seraph’ in which one human dancer interacts with two teleoperated quadrotor helicopters. You can check out the review in the New York Times and see the group’s blog post about the production. While this isn’t the first appearance of quadrotors on stage, it tickles me to no end to read phrases like “Choreographed with the engineers, programmers and pilots of the M.I.T. Distributed Robotics Laboratory…”

Researchin’! Easter Eggs and Trivia

For the Robot Film Festival, I created a short film in my lab here. Check it out:

Researchin’ is a short film showing the lives of those who inhabit a robotics research lab. In the current age, universities are among the the few places where people interact with robots on a daily basis. As they work together, the relationship can take on new unexpected dimensions.

While I don’t think I’ll be getting any calls from Sundance anytime soon, I did enjoy sneaking a few Easter Eggs into the production.

  • Greg’s affiliation is listed as “Washington University in St. Louis Acting Conservatory and Medical School.” I actually know him and Kavita through the WashU Medical School musical. This past year, Greg was our Lieutenant Cioffi in Curtains, and Kavita and I were co-directors.
  • Kavita’s affiliation says “Department of Mysteries, Hogwarts School of Medicine.”
  • The actual text of the paper is my upcoming RoMan paper, “Human-Robot Interactions as Theatre”.
  • Lewis is the only member of the production with his own Wikipedia page.

  • There’s a director cameo in the reflection of the glass. That happened a lot.
  • This Tshirt comes to us from Google’s summer intern program 2007. The laptop bag (also mine) comes from IBM’s Extreme Blue internship program 2005.
  • This comic is hanging on the door. Not put there for the movie though. It’s always there.

  • Right before I made this movie, I won some swag for the ROS Documentation Contest. Among the spoils were a I Heart Robotics Tshirt, the stickers seen at the desk, and another Diamondback poster (seen on the back wall).
  • On the cabinet, you can see another Robot Film Festival sticker and a flyer for Death and the Powers a.k.a. the Robot Opera, which I just saw in Chicago.
  • The entire film was shot in Lopata Hall at Washington University in St. Louis (with the exception of the thesis defense scene, which was Bryan Hall). This balcony overhangs the dining area below my lab. It was supposed to be shot outside on the rooftop connected to my lab, with the great view of the St. Louis skyline. However, I decided it was going to be too hard to get Lewis up the three stairs to the rooftop door.
  • The tshirt is Mario riding Yoshi.
  • All the shots on the balcony were filmed at the end of shooting, with lots of wardrobe changes right behind that wall.

  • ROS Diamondback makes another appearance in tshirt form, thanks to the documentation contest again.
  • Right in front of the monitor, there’s actually two little dinosaurs that usually reside on my desk. It’s a reference to Firefly. A deleted scene had Greg reenacting the whole clip.
  • The shirt Greg wears during his epiphany is a shirt made with robot fabric that my wife sewed for me. So of course that had to go in the movie.
  • The article in his hand is the Robothespians article from New Scientist, which film festival organizer Heather Knight happens to be quoted in.

  • So here we are in the office I share with Dan. Cinetographically, it made more sense not to use my desk, so Dan was kind enough to forgive me for using his.
  • This is the only point in the movie where anyone is typing on a computer that is actually on. Little did I know that while I was setting up the shots and working with Lewis, Greg was actually typing something up. Here is Greg’s unedited thesis.
  • Note to self: Have section of thesis called “Various things that a Robot is not.”
  • Lewis was a pretty good actor to work with, doing his own thing with minimal intervention. However, in this scene, he was being difficult (something about not having proper wireless signal) and I had to literally push him around in order to get him to act in this scene.
  • Note: That still makes him easier to work with than some human actors I’ve worked with.

Press Coverage: IEEE Spectrum

GCER Workshop on Expressive Robotics

On July 8th, I got the opportunity to teach a workshop at the Global Conference on Educational Robotics (GCER). The workshop, which I co-taught with Ross Mead of USC, was entitled Expressive Robotics: Motion and Emotion. The workshop was made up of 16 middle school and high school students and two of their advisors. Having worked on the BotBall competition for months, the students were already quite familiar with what robots could do. We wanted to introduce them to how they could interact with people. We focused on being able to express emotions just through the robots’ physical actions. We started with a short exercise where they had to program the robot to move using a floor pattern that expressed one of Ekman’s six basic emotions. Then we had them dive into the bigger challenge of creating (from scratch) a short scene using their robot. We had them create storyboards and then make a first draft. We then offered a few tips for how to refine the motion, using the 12 Disney Principles of Animation, and then had them do a final draft, which we filmed at the end of the workshop.

Overall, Ross and I were quite impressed with the level of aptitude the students showed. The scenes they made showed tremendous range of emotion and were quite entertaining. It was also fascinating to see how quickly they adapted many of the principles of HRI, since the field as a whole is generally not taught anywhere below a graduate level.

Their final films can been seen on Youtube.

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