The latest news about robots, robotics
Posted: Jun 27, 2012
Revenge of the Robot Film Festival opens July 14
(Nanowerk News) The most robotic of all film festivals is back! Taking place Saturday July 14, 2012 at the 3LD Art & Technology Center, this year’s Robot Film Festival will be faster, stronger, and more efficient than ever! It will begin with mimosas & coffee at a morning matinee screening of Sundance Winner ROBOT & FRANK, followed by live performers, a showcase of juried short films, and the world’s only Botskers Award Ceremony!
The 2nd annual Botsker Awards will celebrate winning filmmakers in style, with performances by comedian Reggie Watts, roboticist Heather Knight and a special human-robot dance by Josh Ventura (flesh) and Data the Robot (metal). Botsker categories include: Best Robot Actor, Best Human as Robot Actor, Best Human-Robot Interaction, and Most Uncanny Interaction.
The festival, founded in 2011 by social roboticist Heather Knight of Marilyn Monrobot and Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, will showcase and premiere short films up to eight minutes in length that feature robots as main characters from juried open-call submissions. Co-produced with Marek Michalowski of BeatBots and Chrys Wu of Hacks/Hackers, the celebration is structured more like a TED event than a traditional film festival, as it has live performances, art installations, robot demos, cocktails, and coffee mixers throughout. Attendees are encouraged to block out the whole day.
See this year’s hottest robot film before its general release
Acclaimed at Sundance and up for release August 24 in North America, festival headliner Robot & Frank depicts the friendship between an aging man and his robot caretaker. The dramatic comedy stars Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon), Peter Sarsgaard (Green Lantern), Susan Sarandon (The Lovely Bones), and Liv Tyler (Lord of the Rings). The only feature film at the Robot Film Festival, its story is the perfect exploration of this year’s theme: Are Robots Man’s New Best Friend? The story takes place in the near future, and follows an elderly man and retired jewel thief who persuades his robot to help with one last heist — until he is found out and must escape without letting his new mechanical partner take the blame.
The Botskers: Robots strut the red carpet
The Bostkers Award Ceremony will be a robo-stravaganza! The 3LD Theater’s entrance is a stark-white hexagonal hallway evoking Stanley Kubric’s A Space Odyssey. Mini-humanoids will take shaky steps down the 100-ft red carpet, BeatBots’ Keepon robot will dance the night away, and sparkling attendees can pose on the Step & Repeat with the human-sized robot Millennia (if they can handle her snide comments and flirtations). Specialty cocktails will play up the themes of the night and elegant technology-based artwork will grace the walls, screens, and floors.
On stage you will see:
Master of Ceremonies Reggie Watts is a Brooklyn-based comedian and musician who creates unpredictably brilliant performances on the spot using his voice, looping pedals and his giant brain. Reggie has appeared on The Conan O’Brien Show, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Comedy Central’s Michael and Michael Have Issues and PBS’ Electric Company. His mother was a robot.
Robot dance professional Josh Ventura, who will conduct the Botskers finale. In addition to creating the festival’s intro video, Josh recently won iRobot’s Roomba Online Dance competition. A versatile robot with a popular Youtube channel, Josh has appeared in commercials for Pepsi, Burger King, Maxwell House, Honda and the Hulu series The LXD: The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers.
Festival founder and roboticist Heather Knight runs Marilyn Monrobot, a robot theater company which creates socially intelligent robot performances and sensor-based electronic art. She has also worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Syyn Labs (with whom she built the award-winning “This Too Shall Pass” music video for OK GO), Aldebaran Robotics and the Personal Robots Group at the MIT Media Lab.
Artificially-intelligent comedian Data the Robot, programmed by Knight, hardware by Aldebaran Robotics, who does not want to be a real boy and was premiered at TED.
What if Skynet loved us?
The event is expanding its mission, after a smashing first-year success. The 2011 Festival encouraged entries that had positive storytelling about robots to win favorable publicity for embodied machines. “Why do robots always get a bad rep?” festival founder Heather Knight asks. “What does it say about our self-image as a society if we think any artificially intelligent creature we invent would automatically want to rise up and destroy us? Robots can absolutely be the good guys if we design them right.”
Expanding on that idea, this year’s festival will also highlight films exploring how robots can fall short. One of last year’s Botsker winners, Greg Omelchuck’s Chorebot, told a story of a robot, a dog, and their human owner. The human spent so much time staring at a screen that the robot became the dog’s only source of caretaking and affection. As the human owner disengaged, the robot and dog bonded. As Knight describes, “We are left wondering if computers and cellphones supplant our own connections with other people. Are we also out-of-touch human character? The great thing about storytelling is that it can act as a simulator for technology that hasn’t been invented, allowing us to explore the consequences of our creations.”
In a world where robots might be on the frontlines alongside soldiers, where we are developing companion robots for the elderly, and where we have increasingly intelligent and responsive toys, this year’s films will evaluate the impact of these rising technologies. ”Robots have traditionally served rather stereotypical character roles in our imagination and in our fiction,” observes roboticist Dr. Marek Michalowski, festival co-producer. “But as our society builds and interacts with these machines, we recognize their reflection of our values and attitudes. Robots are not merely a type of character, but rather a medium for character — just as animation and puppets and costumes allow us to experiment with our conceptions of ourselves and others.”
Nerd Heaven or Judgement Day: The future is in your hands
So, block out the whole day. Replace those labcoats with tuxedos and dazzling gowns. Your attendance could make all the difference… Because whether or not they take over, robots with increasingly complex emotion algorithms will hold a grudge! But, like your latest human crush, if you make them feel needed and wanted and special, they might just return the favor.