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Thread: Robotic Marionette

  1. #21
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    Re: Robotic Marionette

    Re Cycle Beneath the Wheel


    The Creator stage in progress

    People, myself included, talk about reducing our "carbon footprint", a term about to disappear from overexposure the same way any word repeated over and over loses its meaning as it is replaced by noise. At the same time we blog about it, consuming terawatts of carbon producing power, exacerbated by the inefficiency of bloated operating systems, the mind blowing amount of energy Google needs, by the energy consumed by the avatars in virtual worlds that need to be kept virtually alive by the server nodes and the computers around the world that humm incessantly without any hope of ever being silent.

    Our self-made society has plugged a cannula into our collective vein, to transfuse itself into the mind of the machine, which like a life support system we cannot disconnect, or at least we think we can't, that is, until the plug is pulled by the system itself when no longer needs any more information, other than the one it itself generates.


    Attachment 885
    WW II direct interhuman syringe.

    That is the story of The Creator with which we are trying to portray, using puppetry as a transference medium, the stark reminder of our self-dependency. Who or what controls who or what?

    On to the practicum.

    Since I detest plastic (not withstanding its "usefulness") and the many woes and sickness that have come as a result of its indiscriminate use, I try to target it as a primary candidate for recycling, which is just a palliative approach to the real problem. In any case, I took the vacuformed package of the "energy saving" bulbs that we use nowadays, and just as I was about to send it into its recyling path, I noticed a form which reminded me of ancient alchemical apparatuses which I needed to create for the robotic-marionette stage. So here is the process:


    The background, built over the "hardware cloth" is semi-translucent, with the most translucent parts being the "genetic" containers which will transmute common information into a panacea.

    A digital projector, fed with data generated imagery will fill up the vessels as well as create the fluid digital environment where the Creator lives.


    Here is the very first test as seen from behind, where I am trying unsuccessfully to line up, scale and correct the angle distortion. As you can see I missed the mark by a few centimeters. I am now in the process of positioning the elements as close as I can to the target, given the limitations of inexact everything.
    Last edited by sunithaya; 12-07-2008 at 11:34 PM.
    You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change
    something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

    --R. Buckminster Fuller

  2. #22
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    Re: Robotic Marionette

    The Night Mare

    Attachment 890Attachment 893
    Plasticine, plaster gauze and Papier-mâché is the skin of its face

    The credit for the Creator's flesh and blood must go to Lorena, who with her hands brings to life the creatures of our nightmares, the future that we have already created even if we ourselves are not quite there yet to suffer the consequences, but getting very close...

    Attachment 891Attachment 892
    Hmmm, definitely some resemblance...

    The Creator gets its make-up treatment. It was eerie to see how it resembled the original Creator's head, that you can see in the background. It was like seeing a clone emerge from another dimension. And God said, "Go ahead and multiply!"


    The Cyclopean Eye

    Attachment 899
    The tiniest springs I could find in my "this could be useful" parts bin

    The eyes are an important means of expression of the "soul" of a person, animal or character. The only external organ that connects directly to the brain through the shortest possible path.
    The eyes of the creator move nervously as he scans its surroundings. Its world. They are animated by a simple spring mechanism that responds to the smallest movement. I did not know it was going to be so challenging to do this, except that, as we have found out, scale matters. And the smaller the scale the more critical the elements become.

    The springs proved to be too weak to support the weight of the eye,
    so I added a coat of latex to strengthen and stiffen it a bit,
    but it proved to be a little too much so I ended up burning the latex away.
    The residue that it left was just the right amount.



    Attachment 897
    Lorena irritating the eyes

    Of course the real "eye" of the Creator is up in the sky, or rather the ceiling in this case. This cyclopean eye that sees and controls everything is more and more a pervasive and accepted fact of life, in our streets, our buildings and even our homes, not to mention the "real" and inaccessible eye in the sky who observes and analyzes our every move, both as a species as well as individually when the need arises.
    A very wide angle camera (76 degrees) was the choice after a good deal of research, and it proved to be the right one. I like that it is flat and although the base actually sucks (if you are going to use it on a desk or a monitor) it is perfect to tape to the roof and adjust the angle precisely. I needed a wide angle because the ceilings are usually not very tall and the camera must cover at least a 10x10 mt performing area, the world of the Creator, its Tartarus.
    Attachment 896
    HP 2 megapixel camera, 76 degrees FOV

    Related to the eyes or rather vision system is the light. Not the infrared light that the camera detects and processes but the actual "stage lighting". For quite a while I thought I was going to have to finagle a small lighting system form the theatre department at my university but since that was not very promising I started looking around for solutions.

    I must say I am very happy with the outcome. I bought some inexpensive 12 LED flashlights at the local supermarket and hacked them (literally) so as to keep only the front portion. The advantage, in this case, of a cheap Chinese product is that it was very easy to solder to it, unlike more sophisticated models. The beam is extremely bright and is easily controlled by the microcontroller. So I have 4 "spots" with different color lights (a color filter on the LED's) to dramatize the scene and automatically create different moods according to the moment.


    I got the plastic flexible contraption to where I attached the light base from one of my many "possible useful things" boxes. I wish I knew what it is or where it came from, maybe someone does becasue it is extremely practical for this and I am sure, other, applications. I suspect that it might belong to some fluid dispensing system.

    The following were the very first tests with my new lighting system. I love it! absolute and precise positional and intensity control.
    Last edited by sunithaya; 12-08-2008 at 07:49 PM.
    You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change
    something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

    --R. Buckminster Fuller

  3. #23
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    Re: Robotic Marionette

    A Tale of Two Masters

    Attachment 900
    First napkin sketch of the user interface

    Attachment 910
    The intermediate stage of the motion control system closely followed
    the original concept although of course it has been greatly improved, mostly by simplifying.

    As some recent studies of the brain suggest, there is not one but two control centers of control and command which work independently and actually incommunicated from each other even though both work towards a common goal.

    The software that Philip Forget and myself have designed works as one of those control centers. The other stems from the independent actions of the performer which by interacting with the environment under surveillance by the Creator produces a synergistic feedback loop.

    I am very excited by the software part of the project. It is in my biased opinion the best tool that I have seen for robotic puppetry control (not that there are many, mostly in research projects like mine). Although at first some closed systems were briefly considered, like National Instrument's LabView, to control servos based on image processing and other sensor input, the price and steep learning and development curve ruled it out early on, not to mention my dislike of anything that is not open source.

    It was Philip who suggested that we use Flash as the controlling software to drive the MAKE microcontroller. I was right off skeptical. Not having used Flash in a couple of years I was not aware of recent developments.


    He was of course referring to FlashDevelop, which is an open source ActionScript 2/3 and web development environment which integrates seamlessly with the Adobe product. This has allowed us to implement exactly what we wanted in a record time and in a very efficient and elegant way.


    Our system is essentially a motion-sound-image-video-light sequencer/controller, driven in this case by image processing, but could as well be driven by any other sort of input. The MAKE microcontrollers are directly controlled by the software right out of the box.


    The screen captures above show the position editor on the left and the corresponding key frame editor on the right. Each position is a collection of expressive movements achieved by "training" the marionette and recording the position, travel and speed of a group of eight servos. The sliders on the top right control or feedback both position and speed for each individual servo. The placeholder marionette images are automatic captures of their position that take the place of thumbnails identifying a sequence.


    When played, the timeline runs thorough all the movements, light states and sounds that correspond to such moment of expression. The modules in the left of the screen are the library module and the main GRID which is the area under surveillance by the camera and which triggers actions defined by both timing and position of the performer or other beaming object, or external sensors (the performer wears an infrared beacon).

    It is our intention to release the software as an open source project under Creative Commons.
    You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change
    something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

    --R. Buckminster Fuller

  4. #24
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    Re: Robotic Marionette

    I honestly don't know what to say but "wow".

  5. Re: Robotic Marionette

    1. This is amazing and will certainly go in the history books... for sure

    2. What is the human integration, I know how you will use the person's movements to base the movements of the puppet, but you mentioned the brain. I have taken AP Psychology so I am really eager on what you have to say about that.

    3. It might have been you, or this "Phillip" character, but whoever is should definitely be a computer programmer at least as a side job, what compiler do you use for Flash, FlashDevelop, is that the compiler, or is that what you integrated into the code?? Obviously I am a programming n0ob.
    4. If it was you who programmed it, you should definitely assist the people in the software & Programming section, you would be a vital source.

  6. #26
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    Re: Robotic Marionette

    Hi No0bert,

    1- I don't think it is history book material, LOL! but thanks for the kudos anyway...
    About the brain I think you are referring to "...there is not one but two control centers of control and command... ". If you are interested in that subject you can check: *Washington University School of Medicine (2007, June 21). Brain's Voluntary Chain-of-command Ruled By Not One But Two Captains. ScienceDaily.*.

    2- I only mentioned that as a metaphor for the way the marionette and the performer form a feedback loop. This is purely experimental since it is very hard if not impossible to determine who drives who. Normally in theatre that involves robots or puppetry and human performers all parties have pretty much predetermined tasks. Of course there is improvisation in the case of human controlled puppets and performers.

    In this case the role of the human performer (who BTW in this scenario is supposed to be the "creature" or creation of the Creator) needs to respond to the Creator's actions, with its body language and by moving to the different areas of the stage which have special symbolic meanings and act as a trigger "weighted" by other factors. So the actor is not constrained by a script of actions, but rather tries to interpret the body language of the Creator (there are a variety of sounds that the creator emits associated with different "states of mind") and by doing so prompts the Creator to react as well. This is what I mean by the "feedback loop" which is the basis of control.

    3- The program was developed entirely in FlashDevelop, which happens to integrate seamlessly with Adobe Flash but it is a self-contained ActionScript 2/3 programming environment.
    I designed the functionality, the UI and the architecture of the program. Philip did the actual coding. We have worked together in some complex interactive projects. He was an architecture major about to graduate until he started working on this project. A friend of mine in NY saw this program and offered him a job he could not refuse!LOL! so he moved from little Gainesville to the Big Apple:-)

    4-As far as I can see there are excellent coders with ample experience in this community. So I am the one who would need help in any case. One advantage I have is that I work in a research environment where I design my own projects and get to work with computer science graduates who intern with us. And then again, even if they are experts in C++, C# or whatever, about the only thing useful for them is the discipline and organization, since most of the things we do are new to them in terms of language, applications etc. A lot of fun.

    p.s. If you are interested in coding for robotics and whatever you can imagine I would suggest to download the Open Source Flash Develop and give it a go. The community, as is this one, is extremely helpful and welcoming.
    You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change
    something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

    --R. Buckminster Fuller

  7. #27
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    Re: Robotic Marionette

    Attachment 923

    Here the Creator is kneeling down since the high-torque spine servo is not powered up.

    It was quite an ordeal to get to this point. In fact a couple of years to be exact. But finally the creature moves, and not only moves but seems to have a life of its own. I will post video after I digitize all the footage that I got from the performance. Philip and I crack up laughing every time it moves because it is so life-like.


    But come to think of it, what is happening (philosophy purists will probably disagree) is that life in fact has been transferred and conserved as energy in a different form. This is not something new to me. I consider any work of our hands to partake of this mysterious force that we call life, otherwise how would it inspire us or elevate our spirit?

    When I see a painting (in reality, not a reproduction) by say, Vermeer, the emotion I feel is a product not only of the formal beauty, but of being in the presence of time standing still, a few years of someone's life (which just happens to be a master) condensed and trapped like a genius in a bottle. I, the recipient of this gift, am the vehicle necessary for this alchemical process to occur. I release the energy contained in the matter of the painting.

    The order of the particles, held by resinous mediums, crystallized by the passage of time which conform the external appearances of the scene, resonate and I believe connect me in the most direct way with the creator of the work of art, in the same manner that we are in intimate connection with the writer that is sharing her thoughts and life experiences with us.

    This is, has to be, an energy transfer that could probably be calculated by an Einstein, but I prefer to simply shed a tear of joy when I find myself in front of the work of art. That is what art means to me.
    You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change
    something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

    --R. Buckminster Fuller

  8. #28
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    Re: Robotic Marionette

    This is a video clip of the marionette in action. I feel it is anticlimactic because it is totally out of context (the performance) but it will have to do. I chose a short segment where the performer, while trying to escape the marionette's control, triggers some explosion sounds and drops to the floor. The Creator interprets this (according to the position of the performer and her timing on the stage) as something bad that has happened to his "creature".

    Later in the performance the creature recovers and comes back "to the fold", in other words to the control of its master:-), therefore a happy ending of sorts within the apocalyptic atmosphere!



    Last edited by sunithaya; 12-26-2008 at 11:20 PM.
    You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change
    something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

    --R. Buckminster Fuller

  9. #29
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    Re: Robotic Marionette

    That's tremendous. It's enough that you have a servo-driven puppet that's natural and emotive is one thing; the fact that it's autonomously reacting to another actor's performance is an entirely different kind of awesome. Very impressive.

  10. #30
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    Re: Robotic Marionette

    Color me impressed.

    I *really* am enjoying the lengths you are going through to document this project with such incredible detail. Great read and great project!

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