Robots kiss, but don't go to second base (yet)

Performance bots Thomas and Janet first made out in front of hundreds during a robotic production of "Phantom of the Opera" in Taiwan. Racy robot lip-lock video is now available!

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
Leslie Katz led a team that explored the intersection of tech and culture, plus all manner of awe-inspiring science, from space to AI and archaeology. When she's not smithing words, she's probably playing online word games, tending to her garden or referring to herself in the third person.
  • Third place film critic, 2021 LA Press Club National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards
Leslie Katz
2 min read
Thomas and Janet practice a kiss, and fortunately for us, there is no tongue involved. Taiwan Tech

With robots now doing everything from strutting the fashion catwalk to greeting hotel guests, it was only a matter of time before our humanoid friends started engaging in public displays of affection. Exhibit A: Thomas and Janet, two performance bots who made out publicly in front of hundreds during a December 2008 robotic production of "Phantom of the Opera" in Taiwan (racy robot lip-lock video is only making the rounds now).

A team at National Taiwan University of Science and Technology spent three years developing and programming the smooching bots, which with the help of servo motors that pull at the face and mouth, can form six expressions--fewer than the highly expressive Einstein Robot, but sometimes sacrifices must be made for romance. The team used manual molding, non-contact 3D face scanning, and 3D face morphing to make the movements realistic.

Li-Chieh Cheng, a PhD student at Taiwan Tech's Intelligent Robot Lab, told IEEE Spectrum at the recent International Conference on Service and Interactive Robotics that performances like the one featuring Thomas and Janet have the potential to bring advanced robotics to a broader audience.

"Available service robots could be very expensive and are only used at certain places. However, tickets for theater performance are affordable for everyone," Cheng said.

Cheng noted that last December's performance did hit some glitches when motors malfunctioned unexpectedly and signals on walkie-talkies used by stagehands interfered with the network that controls the robots.

Thomas and Janet are clearly going to need to meet up for more kissing practice. To which we say, "Get a room!"