Cyborg Cabaret

Cyborg Cabaret

An interdisciplinary variety show called "Cyborg Cabaret" will bring together humans and robots in a way that audiences haven't seen before.

Designed to make people laugh hard and think harder about how technology is changing society, "Cyborg Cabaret" will feature talent from Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, School of Art, Entertainment Technology Center and the broader Pittsburgh community including Assemble, VIA and Hack Pittsburgh.

"The show will be about one-third technology, one-third funny and one-third thought-provoking," said Heather Knight, a CMU Ph.D. student in robotics.

Knight co-hosts the cabaret with cyborg musician and Master of Fine Arts graduate student Dan Wilcox, a.k.a. robotcowboy, and Data, the stand-up comedian robot. Wilcox and Knight won the 2011 School of Art Interdisciplinary Award and have been collaborating during the past year with the local community to put the cabaret together.

"The seed money for this project came from the Interdisciplinary Award, and it allowed us to pull together volunteers from the many organizations involved," Wilcox said.

"We started in the fall by organizing brainstorming sessions at Assemble in order to throw out ideas from each area of interest, and together we came up with a lot of great ideas that, separately, Heather and I might never have considered."

Cyborgs are a combination of people and machine, but Knight said she and Wilcox sought to make the show about much more than robots.

"It's about the relationship between society and technology, about our expectations for what technology might do for and to us," she explained. "We want to explore the ways this has worked out and the ways it hasn't."

Among the acts are:

  • a Robot Arm Quartet, a group of robotic arms assembled by Golan Levin, director of CMU's Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, that perform as a barbershop quartet;
  • an exploration by Knight of what makes robots come alive that features choreography by several robots from Professor Manuela Veloso's research lab, known as Crebots; and
  • Cyborlesque, a burlesque performance by graduating senior fine arts student Julia Cahill in which human and machine parts are revealed — or are they?
Wilcox will direct the Robot Rumble, which pits an unlikely array of real-life robots — including the CMU Crusher, Honda ASIMO, Boston Dynamics BigDog and the Google Self-driving Car — against each other in one-on-one WWE-style wrestling matches.

The show takes place in the New Hazlett Theater in Pittsburgh's North Side at 8 p.m., Friday, April 27.

The "Cyborg Cabaret" is another example of how CMU bridges technology and the arts to create new innovations and solutions. CMU continues its celebration of "National Robotics Week" in Washington D.C. today and in Pittsburgh on Friday, April 20, 2012.

Related Links: Robotics Excellence at CMU | Robotics Institute | School of Art | Entertainment Technology Center | WSJ article on Heather Knight

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