Robot With Ballroom Skills Is Sweeping Dancers Off Their Feet in Japan

This Waltzing Robot Is Sweeping Dancers Off Their Feet In Japan

Thought you were cool when you danced The Robot? Meet a droid that can dance for real: roboDANTE. 

His name is a composite of his function: robot dance teacher. And after one waltz, he can assess your skill level — maybe even raise your game.

Designed by Diego Felipe Paez Granados, a salsa-dancing doctoral student at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, roboDANTE is not exactly meant to give you extra practice for “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Granados’s research explores human-robot interactions, with an emphasis on finding ways that robots can initiate and convey their own movements. Dance, it turns out, is the go-to activity.

“We thought of dancing as the perfect framework through which we could test such abilities in robots,” he said.“I would like to develop robots capable of interacting with humans like humans do.” 

But robots are rigid and clumsy, made of metal and wire. Which makes them a little less than the perfect dance partners for humans.

“The human body is highly actuated,” said Granados “which permits the complex and gracious motions of dance. We had to give roboDANTE wheels so that he could move at speeds comparable to humans.”

Humans are also highly individualistic, making it difficult to program a robot who can anticipate technically unpredictable moves or changes of tempo.

To accommodate for that, roboDANTE is programmed with dance steps taken from professional dancers; It then measures the dancer’s skill level by comparing it with a professional’s. The lab has also created a female robot that follows a human partner’s lead.

For shy dancers or beginners who do not want to learn in public, a robot might provides all the privacy a human could want. But really, can robots participate in the art of dance?

Granados says yes, but he’s also looking beyond the dance floor.

“Robotics is a human art,” he said. “Our intention is to support humans in their everyday activities.”

Diego Felipe Paez Granados, a doctoral student at Tohoku University, Japan.

Diego Felipe Paez Granados, a doctoral student  who created roboDANTE at Tohoku University in Japan.

With similar extended-motion technology, nursing robots may be able to take care of the sick. Rehabilitation robots help the injured and robo-aides could help care for the elderly.

But don’t look for these robots on anytime soon. “This is still a research project and getting to the market is a bit far away,” said Granados.

But for him, building Robodante had at least one excellent outcome. While the Colombian-born scientist could already salsa and merengue, he studied ballroom dance for three years in parallel with building the robot: “I have improved my ballroom dancing skills, and I really enjoy the tango.”

Click here to see more of RoboDANTE and other robots who dance.

Image Courtesy of Diego Felipe Paez Granado,Kosuge Laboratory; Tohoku University