Photo in the News: Dancing Robot to Preserve Japan's Folk Arts

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August 14, 2007—The mighty Transformer Optimus Prime might be able to save the universe, but who's going to teach the Autobots to do the Hustle?

Enter HRP-2, a humanoid robot designed by Japanese researchers that is programmed to reproduce dance steps with the practiced grace of an electronic geisha. The 5-foot-tall (1.5-meter-tall) robot is seen here at a press demo at the University of Tokyo's Institute of Industrial Science on January 12, 2005.

(Video: Watch the robot dance alongside a human counterpart in this undated footage from Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, a co-developer of the automaton.)

To teach HRP-2 its groove, the researchers devised a new approach that transforms motion-capture video of a human dancer into data for the robot's sequence of limb motions. A report on the work appears in this month's issue of the International Journal of Robotics Research.

"This study especially focuses on leg motions to achieve a novel attempt in which a biped-type robot imitates not only upper body motions but also leg motions including steps," the authors write.

So far the 128-pound (58-kilogram) dancebot has been taught the fluid motions of the Aizu-Bandaisan—a traditional Japanese folk dance—as well as more mundane tasks such as serving tea, carrying a table, and standing up from a prone position.

Researchers hope the robot will eventually serve as a type of storage module for Japanese folk dances that are disappearing as traditional performers age and die.

—Victoria Jaggard

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