Like so many things these days, the field of animatronics is in a state of change. From the very beginning, animatronics was employed as an entertaining or even awe-inspiring spectacle. The Greeks are said to have place mechanized, moving statues of the gods within their temples to impress visitors. Disney really knocked people’s socks off when he introduced his animatronic Abraham Lincoln. Spectacle has always been a hallmark of animatronics and it is likely that will continue to remain true, to some degree or another. The immediacy and physicality of animatronics remains very useful in cinema, as it allow actors to interact directly and in real time with the animatronic figure, which cannot be done with a CGI character. Animatronics is alive and well in theme parks, and increasingly, in the haunted attractions that spring up across America every Halloween.
However, there is a technical revolution currently sneaking up on us called artificial intelligence (A.I.). There is plenty of debate about what A.I. is and is not, but, to a large degree it is already here. People have been talking to the intelligent personal assistants (IPAs) in their smartphones for a few years now, and social robots are becoming increasing available on the consumer market. We are in the early days of these technologies, and the impact on the lives of people will be profound as they continue to develop. To effectively interact with people, these new artificial entities are going to need to move and behave in line with social expectations. Maintaining eye contact and conveying meaning through gestures and facial expressions are all going to be required elements of this technology, and this is where animatronics comes in.
Robotic personal assistants. Robotic pets. Robotic sex partners. The possibilities fairly boggle the mind. And animatronics can make it happen!