Monday, December 7, 2009

Robots on TV

Wireless modules bring robotic TV presenter to life
“Sir Kitt” robot interviews the stars at the 2009 Brit Awards

LPRS has been selected by robot designer Peter Reynolds to provide wireless communication to a robot that could interact with celebrities backstage at the 2009 Brit Awards, Europe's premier music show. The show’s production company gave Peter a brief that offered open access to the entire back-stage area, allowing the robot to roam around at will, interviewing the stars featured in the show as they got ready to perform. The producer envisioned a humanoid robot that could approach artists backstage and engage them in conversation, recording the video and audio for future broadcast.

Most commonly available humanoid robots are not usually capable of walking far over the kind of uneven surfaces found at the event venue, so Reynolds decided to build an armchair style chariot that would take the humanoid from star to star. From that the robot could jump out and perform before climbing back onto the chariot and continuing to the next dressing room. The resulting robot was heavily customised and programmed with motions, dance routines, handshakes and gestures. A camera was mounted into its head to give a direct feed of the interview in progress.

The chariot uses a 4-wheel drive robot platform with a customised shell to make it resemble an armchair. Another camera is mounted on it so the chariot can back off from the humanoid and record interviews from a second viewpoint. The robotics elements were relatively straightforward and progress was swift and successful.

The biggest design issue was the audio interaction between the robot and the interviewee. A method was required to remotely play back over 200 words and phrases accurately and quickly to make the interviews run smoothly. Nothing existed off the shelf, so Reynolds undertook a custom design employing an MP3 playback unit, amplifier and speaker located in the chariot that would produce the humanoids voice. The unit was operated from an RS232 input stream and a method of accessing all the words and phrases using a remote control was required.

A USB keyboard was modified to output the required instruction data stream and a reliable method of transmitting the data over RF to the receiver in the chariot was required. Many days were spent testing a number of RF modules from various companies but they were all plagued with interference problems, poor range or complex data stream encoding issues. Short of time Reynolds turned to the LPRS easy-Radio modules for a solution.

Reynolds comments, “The LPRS easy-Radio modules were a breath of fresh air and could be put directly into the data stream, with no extra circuitry or software tweaks required. The modules worked flawlessly out of the box and as an added bonus, were slim enough to fit directly into the back of the keyboard unit. The robot could now speak to any guest directly and any phrase or saying could be accessed at the touch of a button. The modules worked quickly enough to allow multiple phrases and names to be strung together, such as “Hi - Bono - are you looking forward to performing here tonight?” or to Tom Jones “Do you think you deserved your award?”

On the day, the backstage area was heaving with global and local celebrities. The Sir Kitt robot had a great time cornering stars such as U2, Take That, Girls Aloud, Tom Jones, Coldplay and many, many more.

Reynolds continues, "I am not a professional special effects engineer, so it just goes to show what an enthusiastic amateur can do with some inspiration, hard work and access to great, affordable, electronics systems such as the LPRS easy-Radio range.”

Peter Cubbage, Sales Director of LPRS adds, "easy-Radio was conceived for just this kind of out of the box wireless solution. We have been very pleased to provide Peter with a simple and efficient wireless solution to his robot system.”

Typical applications for LPRS’ wireless modules include industrial monitoring and control systems, alarm and security systems and communications systems.

More about the construction of "Sir Kitt" on the Indestructables website!

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