PlasmaBot: World’s Coolest Marionette

Art & Sculpture Craft & Design Robotics Technology
PlasmaBot: World’s Coolest Marionette
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Found in the “dark room” at the World Maker Faire in New York: a larger-than-life robot marionette made of hand-blown glass tubes, noble gases, and a highly unusual marionette motor drive.

It was the glass sculpture’s eerie, squirming glow that caught my eye, but as I got closer I realized that it was moving, too. The PlasmaBot’s joints are suspended by wires connected to motors, and its Maker, Wayne Strattman, was driving his creation to move and wave at me.

At the World Maker Faire in New York, PlasmaBot moves as a marionette.
At the World Maker Faire in New York, PlasmaBot moves as a marionette.

Strattman told me that while he’s an old hand at making plasma displays (you’ve seen his works providing special effects in science museums and in Star Trek movies), making a 7-foot-high marionette was a new experience for him.

It was new for MIT, too. Strattman said he worked with robot experts there to computerize his marionette, but that the team hit roadblocks, since “the marionette robot problem is unsolved.” Apparently body parts, wires, and the suspending beams interact in a way that has yet to be programmed successfully into a motion control system. They’re working on it. In the meantime, Strattman controls PlasmaBot with a panel of toggle switches.

If you’re in New York for the World Maker Faire, the stunning PlasmaBot is in the dark room, which is upstairs in the science museum’s Viscusi Gallery.

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Rafe Needleman

Rafe Needleman is the editor-in-chief of Maker Media. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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