Carnegie Mellon's creation HERB readies his pick-up lines
HERB might wince if critics call his theatrical debut “robotic.”
After all, HERB — Carnegie Mellon University's Home Exploring Robot Butler — and his technical team from CMU's Robotics Institute have been working for months to ensure that doesn't happen when the robot takes the stage at CMU on Thursday evening opposite drama student Olivia Brown in a closed performance of David Ives' one-act comedy “Sure Thing.”
HERB, a 4-foot, 6-inch tall, 400-pound silver robot who sports a bow tie, was designed to assist in household tasks. He picks up objects, opens and closes refrigerator doors, has microwaved meals and even unscrewed an Oreo cookie from its creme for Nabisco's cookie versus crème ad campaign last year.
Now, after months of preparation, HERB will be playing Bill to Brown's Betty in the comedy where he portrays a regular guy feeling his oats in a café setting where he tries repeatedly to pick up a girl.
Director Sam French, a senior directing major in CMU's school of drama, is working with HERB, his roboticists and Brown.
“I never thought I'd be directing a robot,” French said. “But I think HERB has a lot more comedic timing than a lot of people would expect. Human engineers and designers have figured out his moves much the same way an actor learning a role would.”
Whether HERB's pick-up lines are anywhere near as effective as his skill at unscrewing an Oreo remains to be seen.
Garth Zeglin, a research scientist in the Robotics Institute, led the technical team that has tweaked HERB's nascent acting abilities. A group of students ranging from undergraduates to post-doctoral researchers quickly gathered around the project that Katie Correll, a CMU graduate student studying entertainment technology, broached more than a year ago.
They've been rehearsing with the wheeled robot, writing code to ensure his hand and arm motions are more expressive.
They replaced HERB's clipped British accent with speech patterns modeled after a student actor.
And they've created a new voice algorithm to ensure HERB's inflections mimic those of a human speaking as his character tries again and again to sidle up to Betty with lines such as:
“Excuse me, is that seat taken?” and “I love Faulkner.”
“We can take every line and adjust the duration and pitch of every syllable. … For this performance, we're just hoping HERB doesn't break,” Zeglin said.
Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- $5M Penn Avenue reconstruction project is ‘killing everything’
- Controller recommends hiring to reduce 911 center overtime
- Downtown conference to address issues of women working in corrections
- Threat at Sheraden school a ‘student hoax’
- Duquesne Club seeks permission from city to keep 4 rooftop bee hives
- Allegheny County RAD increases budget by $2.5M for cultural, recreational programs
- $21 million unfrozen for Pennsylvania school construction
- Peduto hopes to reach contribution deal with nonprofits by year’s end
- Police: Estranged husband fatally shot by woman’s boyfriend after break-in attempt in Esplen
- Newsmaker: Maurice Cole
- Bethel Park police chief to retire in mid-October