A system combining robotics and animation software to create lifelike humanoid characters has been demonstrated in a new video by Engineered Arts. Dubbed Mesmer, the technology promises the entertainment industry cheaper results by pulling disparate technologies into a single package designed to work seamlessly together.
By combining animatronics with robotic sensors, the firmware to make all that hardware work, and the software to control and animate these creations, Engineered Arts thinks Mesmer is a better proposition than using “a hodgepodge of bits from various vendors that often don’t work well together.” The underlying hardware is designed to be easily accessible without risking damage to the layer of artificial skin.
The company says its motors operate silently, while being fully and individually controllable with respect to both acceleration and torque. Beneath the surface, Mesmer robots mimic the movement and anatomy of the human neck, with individual components that can bend and twist like human vertebrae.
The technology has been adapted from the work the company did on the film Kong: Skull Island, but, in addition to the big screen, is designed for use in real-world entertainments, such as museums. Hence the use of sensors that can, say, sense a human presence (or even age and gender) and respond accordingly. Mesmer uses Engineered Arts’ TinMantelepresence software which, thanks to continued development, could theoretically see continual improvements made thanks to software updates in the future.
In the new video you can see two Mesmer heads with synchronized movements; one complete with artificial skin and hair, and one showing the exposed components beneath:
The robots are designed to be easy to animate, for use by artists and creatives rather than software developers. Among other things, the accompanying software lets a human master drag and drop particular movements onto a 3D computer model of the robot which can instantly play it back. It’s simply a case of transferring the animation to the robot once complete – an action that can be taken remotely via the internet.
But the company promises more advanced controls thanks to a developer environment where owners can cook up their own functions for their robots using programming language Python.
Engineered Arts says it’s impossible to put a single cost on the technology. Expense will depend on the particular specifications needed, but is claimed to be in the same ballpark as competing animatronics companies.
Earlier this year, the company, which is based in Cornwall in the United Kingdom, teamed up with Madame Tussaud’s Shanghai’s figures Jing Boran and Wuba which use silicone skins which allow movement as opposed to Tussaud’s traditional waxworks which don’t.
The video below shows more on the Madame Tussaud collaboration.