By Eric Sloss

Quasi, an animatronic robot created by a team of students at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), has been selected as the official mascot of the World's Fair for Kids, April 16-23, 2006, in Orlando, Fla.

"Quasi was selected to be the official 'SpokesRobot' of the 2006 Orlando World's Fair for Kids for many reasons," said Brian Sockin, president and CEO of the World's Fair for Kids. "Quasi is a remarkable achievement in any measure and caliber, and equally impressive are the students that built him. For the World's Fair, we recognized the child inside of Quasi and his ability to relate to children of all ages and foster a sense of awe and wonder of the world at large."

Quasi can make responses based on guest input and can recognize speech patterns, track faces, detect proximity, dispense candy and even perform a karaoke duet.

Brenda Harger, the faculty advisor for the student Interbots Initiative team that created the robot, said Quasi "represents a well-constructed interdisciplinary approach." The Interbot Initiative team's goal is to create compelling animatronics characters that enable memorable interactions with guests.

Quasi is a child-like humanoid robot around two feet tall and has two antennae that mimic the movement of dog-ears. His expressive eyes and antennae can change color and together they allow him to convey a wide variety of emotions. A pinhole camera in his nose allows him to direct his gaze at the humans in front of him.

Quasi also has a large head in proportion to his body, and it’s this cartoonish stature that evokes friendly and compassionate instincts in the people who interact with him. For the World's Fair, the team added a lower body to Quasi's original design, and increased the number of Quasi's motors and joints, allowing his skeleton to move at 31 different points.

"This robot's 'got legs,' both figuratively and literally. Bravo to our alliance partners at ETC," said Sockin.

Quasi can be either pre-scripted or autonomous. That is, the team can puppeteer Quasi through a computer or Quasi can function and interact on his own. Part of the team's reasoning for making Quasi capable of autonomous interactions is that Quasi is intended to be believable and entertaining as a real character that people feel comfortable interacting with.

"As such, Quasi can develop long-term relationships with people who routinely interact with him and basically act as a friend. We made a robot prototype that is engaging and entertaining," Harger said.

A team of Carnegie Mellon Master of Entertainment Technology (MET) students began working on Quasi in the spring of 2004 and now a new student team is working to support his integration into the World's Fair. The team of students comes from many interdisciplinary backgrounds, including robotics, electrical engineering, computer science, digital media, artificial intelligence, physics, psychology, theatre, industrial design and sculpture.

The software used to create interactive experiences with Quasi consists of both off-the-shelf multimedia applications as well as custom-created authoring tools. Alias Maya, a 3D modeling and animation package, is used to create all of Quasi's movements. The custom Behavior Authoring Tool (BAT) is used to create rich, complex character personalities for Quasi.

The Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon offers an interdisciplinary master's program with the College of Fine Arts (CFA) and School of Computer Science (SCS). Although students come from both fine arts and technology backgrounds, they are not expected to master both fields. Instead, the program focuses on honing the students' existing skills and teaching them to work effectively with other professional groups. Carnegie Mellon is the only university to offer the MET degree.

Related Links:
Entertainment Technology Center
Interbots Initiative
World’s Fair for Kids