Marco Tempest and EDI the Robot at TED2014 in Vancouver, Canada.
Magician's assistants may soon be out of work. Robots are not only ready to take their place, but they're doing it live and on a TED stage.
After months of development, training and practice, self-styled "techno illusionist" Marco Tempest took a Baxter robot, renamed him EDI (pronounced "Eddie") and put him on stage doing magic tricks at the recent TED2014 conference in Vancouver.
Tempest's six-minute TED talk, seen below, is a testament to what's possible with modern robots. As he told Mashable last July, "It’s time for magicians and technologists to collaborate.”
Tempest, whose previous magic-infused TED talk used augmented reality and iPads, started his new project last year, shortly after Rethink Robotics introduced its roughly $30,000 Baxter robot. Although it's designed to work in a factory setting, Baxter is unusual: It plugs into a standard wall outlet, and can be trained to do simple repetitive tasks in a half an hour.
For his TED talk, however, Tempest had something else in mind. He wanted a performance, not "creepy" repetitive tasks. Over a period of eight months, Tempest reprogrammed Baxter to work with him, adding 3D-printed hands that would help its performance, a jaunty hat and a new digital face to make the robot look "goofier."
When we checked in with Tempest last year, the project looked promising, but there was still a lot of work left to do (see the video, below). The performance he and EDI (Electronic Deceptive Intelligence) gave in Vancouver, however, is flawless and rather astounding. Notice that Tempest interacts directly with EDI, and despite the robot's impressive arm span and occasionally rapid movements, they never collide.
As the video shows, the talk is roughly 70% robotics education and 30% magic performance. Once we're all up to speed on the power and promise of robotics, perhaps we'll see even more magic out of EDI and Tempest.