Ready, Set, Action! Industrial Robots Go Mainstream

Written By: Jim Sutherin

Industrial robots have helped manufacturers for years, but now they’re setting their sights on a new customer: the entertainment industry.

Most people in the material handling industry know how industrial robots are integrated into production lines. Industry leaders like KUKA and ABB have been selling robots to manufacturing plants for over forty years, but in the last decade they’ve found a particular set of new customers: the entertainment industry. Robots are now used to grab the attention of the average customer or as a solution for difficult, versatile movement. Here are three facets of the entertainment industry that have used industrial robots for unique purposes.

1.Music

Who doesn’t like a large, over the top rock concert? In the 70’s, laser light shows became popular to create a spectral atmosphere for concert goers. Who’s to say robots couldn’t do the same? In 2010, Bon Jovi’s concert tour commissioned five ABB robots with large flat screen TV monitors at the ends. The images on the screen and the robot’s movements were choreographed with Bon Jovi’s music to wow the audience.

And then there’s the ever unique Blue Man Group who, for their Las Vegas show, performed with two KUKA robots directly. The sound of the robot’s movement was incorporated into the music, adding a mechanical sound to the song. They were even given eyes and interacted with the Blue Men that gave them character in an anthropomorphic twist from their usual job of welding a car together.

2. Movies

Movies have never been a stranger to robots, but it’s usually the image of C-3PO or Robby the Robot that we think of. However, industrial robots have also made their way to the silver screen in smaller roles. The 2002 James Bond film “Die Another Day” featured KUKA robots firing lasers in a thrilling action scene, and if we ever face an army of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, we can thank the ABB robots on the factory line of “Terminator Salvation”.

What might be more fascinating though is how robots have helped behind the scenes in Hollywood’s biggest films. For example, Alfonso Cuaron’s movie “Gravity” required tight sets and difficult camera angles, most of which would be too difficult for most camera dollies. Instead, they used what was already available and built a special camera at the end of a 6-axis robot to shoot these tasking scenes. This allowed the filmmakers to show Sandra Bullock flipping and flying through space as they brought the audience along.

3. Theme Parks

Industrial robots in Harry Potter ride

Industrial robots used in Harry Potter Forbidden Journey ride. Picture courtesy of: http://parkpedia.cc/

Have you ever looked at a robot on the line and imagined what it’d be like to ride one? Probably not unless you were particular crazy (or bored), but luckily there are such people. KUKA released their own Robocoaster, currently used in Legoland parks, where a large robot is affixed with seats on the end purposely made to fling thrill seekers up, down, around, and anything in between. They’ve even made a feature for kids to design their own ride pattern and program it into their robot. This makes a truly personalized experience as families can decide how fun or extreme they want to go.

The same system was also used at Universal Studios on the “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” ride. To simulate flying over Hogwarts, ride designers put robots on tracks to float guests by dragons, spiders, and dementors. The robots are never seen by the riders, but have given the magic of flight for every wizard wannabe that gets on.

There are more applications for robots than ever before. What unique use of robots have you seen? Feel free to leave your comments below.

Jim joined Bastian Solutions as a Project Engineer in 2012 after he earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Purdue University. He assists the rest of the sales team in completing projects and creating quotes. His experience includes mechanical design, CAD fulfillment, small order sales, and on-site management.

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