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MIT Personal Robotics Group

"This project is a collaboration with the world-famous Stan Winston Studio. It combines the studio's artistry and expertise in creating compelling animatronic characters with state-of-the-art research in socially intelligent robots. We have christened this new character collaboration with a name that embodies art, science and invention. Hence, the name "Leonardo" -- namesake of Leonardo DaVinci, the Renaissance scientist, inventor and artist."



I was given the job of creating Leonardo’s head, eyes, and expressive facial functions. With my background and experience with building life-like animatronic creature heads at the Stan Winston Studio, I was thrilled to be Involved in this new opportunity in robotics research. 



MIT Personal Robotics Group 

Dr. Cynthia Breazeal is an associate professor of media arts and sciences at MIT, where she founded and directed the Personal Robots group at the Media Lab. She is Associate Director for the Bridge: MIT Quest for Intelligence, where she leads strategic initiatives in areas such a democratizing AI through K-12 and vocational education. She also founded the consumer social robotics company, Jibo, Inc., where she served as Chief Scientist and Chief Experience Officer. 



The Personal Robotics Group @ MIT needed to move into the next level of robotics research – “Interactions with people.” This robot, or ‘creature,’ needed to be equally friendly-looking and inviting for both children and adults. Because of our history in bringing Animatronics alive on film, they reached out to our team at the Stan Winston Studio and asked if we could develop a robotic creature with some very sophisticated but organic & friendly looking features.  


Motors – For repeatability and reliability, we provided small, precision servo motors with optical encoders (Maxon). 

Face – I knew the animated face's success was going to be the most critical part of this project. The expressions would let you know how the creature was feeling or reacting. I carefully designed and machined each precision part so that all the facial moves and expressions worked flawlessly.  Face functions: Smile, Frown, Upper Lip - in/out, up/down, Lower Lip – in/out, up/down, Mouth - open/close, Nose - up/down, Eyebrows – up/down, Ears – curl forward/ back, move up/down, and Tongue up/down (for possible pronunciation and talking). 

 Eyes and Blinks – I designed the eye movements to be extremely smooth and precise. Each one contained a small camera to support motion tracking, face recognition, and parallax depth focusing.  Any jiggle or vibration would have a significant impact on the tiny cameras. Eye Functions: Eyeballs – right/left, up/down, on-board cameras, Eyelids – open/close, blink, squint, eye movement tracking,  

Skin – With our long history in organic-looking creatures and make-ups for film, the Skin and Hair departments produced a natural-looking flexible outer skin with hair for the face, ears, arms, and body. 



With my proven success in the design and construction of many animatronic characters at Stan Winston Studio, I was able to deliver a 32-function head that far exceeded MIT’s expectations and is still a prominent research project today. 

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