Robots are multipurpose. They can be used in industrial manufacturing, in restaurants as service providers, and recently, they have shown that they can also be used in healthcare. Apart from this, there are many studies that demonstrate the successful use of robots in artistic endeavors.

This time the purpose of using a robot was applied in the manipulation of puppets.

The movements of a human puppeteer were recorded and imitated by a robot. This type of movement requires delicacy.

A group of engineers from ETH Zurich designed this project with the ability to drive puppets with a robot that simulates the movements of the puppets and tries to make the puppet move according to parameters.

PuppetMaster, the so-called robotic puppet animation system, is the platform used by an ABB Yumi IRB-14000 collaborating robot, previously used for assembly tasks. This creative design was equipped by engineers, where it shows how kinematic technology is applied together with an algorithm that allows the robot to move in a programmed way to manipulate the puppets. The algorithm uses a physics-based simulator that helps the robot establish how it will move the puppet according to its movements and equivalent movements.

The engineers approved the PuppetMaster system and carried out various tests with puppets and monitored their movements. They used puppets in the shape of a bird, a cub, a snake, and a flying dragon, and with each one there were excellent results. It was the first step in achieving greater manipulation skills, although not like that of a professional puppeteer.

Acquiring the ability to manipulate the puppets requires continuous practice and dedication by the human artist.

The process proposes a great challenge for the robot since the manipulation of puppets normally requires this due to gravity, the tensile forces generated by a small number of threads, and the internal forces that arise from the restrictions of mechanical articulation.

The Puppet Master system controls elements such as a kinematic explanation of the robot exercising the puppet control task; adaptation of the puppet movement by means of strings and an objective reproduction of the movement of the puppet.

ETH Zurich engineers explained. “Our goal is to enable autonomous robots to animate puppets with a skill level that approximates that of human puppeteers.”

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