Project Overview

Our goal is to create technology that enables animatronic figures to become conversationally interactive. Further goals include allowing these characters to become aware of their environment, and react accordingly.

The goals were met by combining a multitude of technologies (speech recognition, synthetic interview, discussion engine, audio, vision, and animatronic technologies) resulting in a new medium for interactive entertainment.

The character was developed, and "brought to life" through a custom-built animatronic head, off the shelf hardware and software, and custom software. We hope to progress towards the next generation of animatronic character technology.

Why a Synthetic Character?

While a trained actor can be more immersive, entertaining, and interesting than a synthetic being, an animatronic character can do many things that a live actor cannot, such as:

Our goal is to simulate life, or provide the illusion of life. To that end, we are doing just that by trying to simulate a human (or anthropormorphic) entertainment experience through a character.

What we are really doing is akin to designing a clever magic trick -- if the audience gives in, they think they are talking to a living, breathing character. In other terms: the suspension of disbelief. And, if we are successful in suspending the audience's disbelief with technology, that's a cool thing!

Potential Applications

Interactive animatronic characters have numerous applications and venues. Here are some prospective utilizations of this technology:

Location-Based Entertainment

The possibilities are limitless for providing theme parks, amusement parks, themed restaurants, and other location based entertainment venues with engaging animatronic characters which can be interacted with on a conversational level instead of just being seen and heard.


Thousands of museums display reproductions of historical people, ancient civilizations, and famous personalities. But haven't you ever wanted to ask Abraham Lincoln if he knew it was coming? Characters like "Doc" Beardsley can field such inquiries and be scripted to respond in the manner of any personality imaginable.

Interactive Electronic Pet

Have you ever seen an electronic pet (like a Tomagotchi or a Digipet)? With the ability to be truly interactive, these pets could be personified and given a genuine character with which to respond to their owners. What if your pet actually told you it was hungry, or thanked you for taking care of it (as opposed to simply beeping or changing the value of a number on a screen). Baby dolls and toy soldiers can take on an even greater interactive role with the children who use them.

Embodied Personal Digital Assistant

Imagine walking into your home or office to be greeted by a full-bodied assisstant who can keep you up to date on your schedule, tell you whose birthday you're about to forget, and answer your questions about when and where to be, and even why.

Information Kiosk

Airports, theme parks, shopping malls, hotels, and the like all need a concierge or information desk to direct guests. What if an exciting animatronic character could tell you what gate your flight departs from or where a brand new roller coaster is?

Restaurant Automated Waiter

One day you may sit down at a restaurant and ask a robot what today's soup is. It could explain the menu, take your order, and even understand service requests. The only question is how much do you tip?

Retail Salesperson

If you've ever worked in retail you know just how annoying it can be to answer the same questions and direct people to the bathroom over and over again. Interactive animatronic characters can serve as retail clerks answering questions about merchandise. But if a robot ever says, "You look great in that dress", you may not want to take his or her word for it.