Plenty of science fiction features robots that demonstrate what Isaac Asimov called the “Frankenstein Complex,” humanity’s fear that robots will eventually operate outside of our control and overthrow us and our way of life. Of course, this makes for more interesting stories, as demonstrated by Battlestar Galactica, Terminator, I, Robot (the movie, not the book), and countless other sci-fi narratives. The ubiquity of these stories makes it important for robot designers to combat this idea and fear, whether it’s by creating robots that aren’t terrifying to behold, by creating ones that actually help humans, or by creating little guys that are just so darn cute and adorable that you can’t help but smile at them—like Murata Manufacturing Company’s robotic cheerleaders.
I’ve never been a big fan of cheerleaders, but these are freakin’ precious (and the song doesn’t hurt either). I love that they move around atop balls rather than on legs—which gives a fluidity to their performance more akin to synchronized swimmers than real-life cheerleaders. Regardless of how fun they are, you might wonder why Murata went to the trouble of creating what is essentially a team of synchronized dancing robots.
No, they weren’t created to cheer on a lackluster sports team. As it turns out, the company essentially just wanted to show off. Murata makes parts for Apple and many other companies, largely because there are some things they can do as well if not better than anyone else, such as the balancing and stabilization technique displayed by the cheerleaders. They’re all equipped with sensors, gyroscopes, and microphones that communicate with a central processing unit to synchronize the robots’ movements. And even though these robots might seem frivolous, these techniques could be adapted to practical, real-world situations.
Robotic sensors are crucial to systems such as driverless cars, wearable technology, and formation coordination. The making-of video below shows just how much engineering, programming, and creativity go into these seemingly simple robots. I hope the creators spent some time enjoying the performance and pretending the cheers were for them.