Boston Dynamics, BTS and Ballet: The Next Act for Robotics


There is a scene in Swan Lake where the hunky, crossbow protagonist, Prince Siegfried, loses his swan princess, Odette, in an enchanted forest. Suddenly, she finds herself confronted by dozens of identical ballerina swans. Bold and confused, Siegfried runs aimlessly up and down the doppelgänger ranks in search of his fiancés. He is deceived by the multiplicity of swans and the scale of their common, robotic movements.

By the time Swan Lake premiered in the late 19th century, the confusion of the main protagonist in the midst of a crowd of synchronous ballerinas was already a trope. Romantic ballets are full of such moments, but they can also be found in more contemporary choreography. American director Busby Berkeley has become famous for films like 42nd Street which featured dozens of dancers performing without even the same movements. In recent decades, the Rockettes and a number of other boys have brought similar styles to the scene. And throughout history, military marches, parades and public demonstrations have taken the strategy on the road. Choreographing groups so that the part moves as a whole is both a technique and a tactic.

It is through this diagram of Venn that ballet intersections, boy bands, and battalions can be considered. ”Spot is on It”, The latest dance video from the robotics manufacturer Boston Dynamics. The clip, which commemorates the company’s acquisition by Hyundai Motor Company, features quadrupedal robots “Spot” dancing to “IONIQ: I’m on It,” a track from Hyundai’s global ambassador and mega-boyband BTS, promotes the niche of the company’s serious electric vehicle. In the video, several Spot bop robots with amazing synchrony in a catchy-even-dystopian minute and 20 seconds.

The video opens with five robots in a row, one behind the other, so that only the Spot in front is fully visible. The music begins: a new age-old cadence supported by a synth beat and an intonation similar to the BTS prayer of the word “IONIQ”. The heads of the robots rise and fall with the music, transforming steadily into a flickering star, then into a helix, then into a floral pose that breathes with the melodic line. Its robotic accuracy capability allows for otherwise simple gestures (head elevation, a 90-degree rotation, Spot’s “mouth” opening) to create specular complexity in all robot performers. “Spot’s on It,” at Busby Berkeley, makes it difficult to distinguish between robots, and at times it’s not clear which robot “head” belongs to which robot body.

The choreography, by Monica Thomas, leverages the ability of moving robots exactly like the others. For the Rockettes, BTS, and in many ballets, individual virtuosity is a function of their ability to move indiscriminately in a group. Spot robots, however, are functionally, kinesthetically, and visually identical to each other. Human performers may play a similar role, but robots fully embody it. It’s Siegfried’s extravagant swan valley amid a robotic ball.

From a technical perspective, the ability of robots to vary movement demonstrates the growing subtlety of Boston Dynamics ’choreography software, a component of its Spot Software Development Kit (SDK) aptly named“ Choreography ”. In it, the robot user can select a choreo-robotic movement sequence as a “bourree” —defined in the SDK as “tippy-taps cross-legged like ballet movement” —and changing their relative speed, their fear, and their length of position. Applied in an entire dance, a move, such as the “bourree,” can be reversed, reversed, reflected, made wide or narrow, fast or slow, with an increased or decreased distortion in the group. Thomas’s choreography makes full use of this ability to perform all manner of kaleidoscopic effects.

Such complexity and subtlety marks “Spot’s on It” as a significant departure from Boston Dynamics ’previous dances. First of all, it’s clear that this video had a more intense production behind it: “Spot’s on It” is accompanied by a friend. corporate blog post which, for the first time, tells how Boston Dynamics employs choreography in its marketing and engineering processes. It was also, above all, the first time that Thomas was publicly credited as the choreographer of the Boston Dynamics dances. His work in viral videos like ”Uptown Spot“And”Do you love me?”It has been made virtually invisible, so Boston Dynamics’ decision to emphasize Thomas ’role in this latest video is a substantial change of posture. Scholar Jessica Rajko has already pointed out society’s opaque work policy and loose logic for not recognizing Thomas, which is in contrast to core-robotic researchers such as Catie Cuan and Amy Laviers, who clearly prioritize the contributions. dancers at their work. “Spot’s on It” signals the deepening of Boston Dynamics, complex engagement with choreography.

Even though Boston Dynamics ’dance robots are currently relegated to the realm of brand performance, they are still impressed by the company’s choreographic steps. In the hands of artists, these machines are becoming eminently capable of expression through performance. Boston Dynamics is a company that takes dance seriously, and, according to its blog post, uses choreography as “a form of highly accelerated life-cycle testing for hardware.” All this dancing is meant to be fun and functional.

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