Programming Play: Puppets, Robots, and Engineering

Elizabeth Jochum, Todd Muphey

Research output: Contribution to book/anthology/report/conference proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


This chapter discusses the Pygmalion Project, a collaboration between Northwestern University, the Georgia Institute for Technology, the University of Colorado, and Disney Research to develop a robotic platform for controlling marionettes. Efforts to combine robots and puppets have typically focused on using mechanical limbs to reproduce human and animal motions exactly. These automated "puppets" often appear rigid and perfunctory and fail to stimulate the imagination in the same way that puppets operated directly by live puppeteers can. In the Pygmalion Project the robots are not the puppets but rather the agents that operate the puppets. Our goal is to emulate the control technique of human puppeteers to develop automated puppets that are capable of dynamic movement typically beyond the range of traditional animatronics - such as walking and flying. Using the natural dynamics of marionettes, where puppets create the illusion of life through the art of indication rather than precise mechanical reproduction, we anticipate that our robotic marionette platform will allow for a wider, more artistic range of automated motions for robots used in education and entertainment.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Companion to Puppetry and Material Performance
EditorsDassia Posner, Claudia Orenstein, John Bell
Number of pages14
Publication date30 Jun 2014
ISBN (Print)978-0-415-70540-0
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2014


  • Theatre
  • Performance Studies
  • Puppetry
  • Engineering
  • Robotics


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