interactive terrarium

Interactive Theater with Autonomous Robot Performers

The Terrarium is an intelligent robotic theater featuring the Public Anemone. It consists of interactive, autonomous robot performers with natural and expressive motion that combines techniques from animation and robot control. The stage contains real-time, stereo vision that tracks multiple features on multiple people.

We introduced our interactive robot theatre installation at the 2002 SIGGRAPH Emerging Technology Exhibit. The storyline was inspired by the notion of primitive life on an alien world. Audience participants were allowed to interact with the cyber flora and fauna of this fanciful robotic terrarium as it transitioned from day to night. By day, a serpentine, anemone-like creature (called Public Anemone) was awake and carried out its daily “chores,” including “watering” nearby plants, “drinking” from the pond, and “bathing” in the waterfall. It perceived human audience members through a real-time stereo vision system, allowing people to compete for its attention and distract it from the chores. It responded by orienting its body toward them and tracking their movements. If someone got too close, however, it became “frightened” and recoiled defensively, like a rattlesnake.

At night, when the lights dimmed, it went to sleep, and a variety of nocturnal creatures and special effects emerged, including glowing fiber-optic tubeworms, musical drum crystals, luminescent wall crystals, and a sparkling pond enveloped by a gentle mist. The audience interacted with these creatures through touch, eliciting light and musical responses. The tubeworms detected the nearby proximity of people through capacitive sensing, causing them to react musically, optically, and mechanically by retreating into their shells. The drum crystals allowed participants to create rhythm sequences based on how forcefully they were tapped, synchronizing with the glowing crystal wall theme. Together, these elements created a physically interactive, ever-changing, multisensory experience that engaged the audience through sight, sound, scent, and touch. Meanwhile, the performance followed a narrative, but the interaction of the stage and robot performers with the audience made the experience different each time.

 

terrarium-audience

Publications

  • Breazeal, Cynthia, et al. “Interactive robot theatre.” Communications of the ACM 46.7 (2003): 76-85.

A robotic theater!