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This actor never tires

04 January 2011

A versatile robot ‘actor’, created in the UK by Engineered Arts, has beaten off international competition to become the public face of NASA’s world-famous Kennedy Space Centre. First developed in 2006, the latest version, ‘Robothespian 3’ – pictured here with its creator Marcus Hold - stands five feet nine inches tall, with a full range of upper-body movement and startlingly human eyes. NASA is employing this third generation robot as a figurehead, meeting and greeting visitors to its futuristic Cape Canaveral base.

Robothespian 3’s unusually lifelike, humanoid movements are powered by a clever combination of compressed air ‘muscles’ and maxon motors. A mixture of high performance A-max and neodymium magnet-powered RE-max motors are used to give the robot’s hands, arms and torso a performance that is both reliable and realistic.

Engineered Arts director Will Jackson believes Robothespian 3 is at the cutting edge of bringing technology into the arts. “For him to appear natural and engage the audience, his movements need to be as quiet and precisely controlled as possible, but he also has cope with long hours, greeting over 1.5 million visitors per year.

Although Robothespian will be new to NASA, its maxon motors will not. Indeed, no less than 78 brushed RE motors are currently on active duty on the surface of Mars, powering key functions on the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers that have so far exceeded their anticipated lifespan by almost seven years.

Following its high-profile success, Engineered Arts has already started work on a further 20 Robothespians, which will be completed by March 2011. The company has now given its latest robot powers of object tracking and speech recognition, enhancing its ability to interact with visitors.

maxon motor’s Ian Bell says Robothespian will be a great addition to the Space Centre, and Engineered Arts deserves every credit, as a growing UK company, for winning such a high-profile order against such strong, worldwide competition.

You can see Robothespian in action here.

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