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Robotic Photographer 107

Boojum137 writes " ExtremeTech has an article on a robotic wedding photographer named Lewis. Lewis's hardware stats are modest, so he uses a clever trick to locate people based on skin tone, which is also independent of race. After locating potential subjects with a myriad of sensors, including sonar, laser range finders, and infra-red, he tries to frame the shot according to photographic rules of composition. But the real innovation behind this "red trashcan" is its ability to fade into the background. According to Lewis's creators at Washington University's Media and Machines lab, because of the robot's passive nature, people tend to ignore it after short period of ogling. This allows for some great natural shots, instead of the typical forced and self-conscious shots from human wedding photographers. And, in case you were wondering, Lewis is going to live up to his name in November."
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Robotic Photographer

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Just buy a whole load of disposable cameras and leave them laying around, and tell people to use them if they feel like it. You need quite a few, (at least 20 or so), but it's excellent, you'll get loads of silly pictures, though :-)
    • I've had friends do this. They left a disposable 24 exp. cam with a flash on every table at the reception. You get a lot of good pics of the wedding party, and a lot of pics of all your guests too.
      • Yep. Good, low-cost, low-tech way to get lots of candid reception shots, works out very well.

        Best pattern I've seen = pro to do the ceremony and a *brief* set of posed shots afterwards, disposable cameras for the rest.

        The "robot photog" is not going to be a cheap piece of machinery for a long time, and a dozen disposable cameras in friends'/relatives' hands will get more and more interesting photos than a single robot could possibly produce.

        Of course, at robot weddings with robot guests, things may be different...

        (Don't forget, because of my limo experience I've been to more wedding than most people, literally hundreds of them.)

        - Robin
    • Yeah, it's a great idea...until you realise that some guests think think everything at the reception is a "party favor", and that they can take it home with them.

      My wife and I did this at our wedding, and several guests walked off with "our" cameras.


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  • Well, I guess X10 just got made irrelevant. Watch those celebrities run in terror as their sex lives are captured by Lewis the Robot. At least I won't have to see the annoying popups anymore.
  • You could probably expect to see something similar to this in one of those "big brother" style tv shows..

    What other applications would this have? In airports or shops to spot out suspicious behaviour without raising much attention?
  • by AssFace ( 118098 ) <stenz77@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Tuesday September 03, 2002 @08:37AM (#4188088) Homepage Journal
    that thing totally just blends. I could see how people would just not notice a fire engine red barrel wandering through a party.
  • but, has anyone ever seen "Drop Dead Fred"? There are some serious implications for some pretty cool photos that the best man may want to see. (IE the dressing room of the bride's maids, you get the picture). Of course, it works both ways.
    You could also get those much desired shots of the groom making out with the maid of honor and use it for some pretty heavy blackmail material.
    This opens up so many avenues... think of the possibilities!
  • sure, u might get some natural shots. but then again, any good wedding photographer is going to get some natural shots too. on top of that, the talent with which a human can execute a good photograph, i would expect far exceeds that which lewis can do. sure, there are always the standard photos of ppl standing together looking at the camera, but if u look at ALL the pictures, there are often some brilliant compositional and well-lit photographs that i cannot imagine that a computer could do

  • by LarsBT ( 580206 )
    In other news:

    A robotic wedding photographer went haywire earlier today. The "Lewis" robot killed and injuring half a wedding party when it suddenly became selfawareand began shooting people with it's build-in laser.

    In a comment from the University who build it claimed that the laser-range finders were harmless.

    The casualties were quite high since noone could hide from the infrared cameras. "Lewis" found them and did away with them.

    The weird thing was "Lewis" suddenly seized its frenzy when it ran out of film??

  • I mean really, who's ever going to notice a five foot tall, fire engine red barrel wandering the party and using spotlights strategically placed around the room for guidance? It's the perfect disguise! At least (for once) the technology for detecting skin tones and taking pictures of it wasn't developed by the porn industry.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    We don't actually see any pictures taken by this robot. Why? Because they're crap.

    It's nonsense to say that wedding photographs have to look posed. Many photographers are experienced at taking candid pictures - that's what street photography's all about.
  • People may try to drop a lot of bad cake on the poor thing.
  • I thought skin tone was highly correlated with race.

    Are they really trying to say that the machine does just as good a job of identifying all skin colors? I'm willing to believe that, but the statement that skin tone is independent of race seems a little goofy.
  • by efatapo ( 567889 ) on Tuesday September 03, 2002 @09:01AM (#4188169)
    Does this mean the women with the smallest dresses will be photographed the most?
  • by Aceticon ( 140883 ) on Tuesday September 03, 2002 @09:04AM (#4188176)
    Lewis is able to determine that it's seeing a human by recognizing that it's looking at a pair of legs. Once this realization is made, Lewis gazes up to look at the individual's face.

    That pretty much describes the way most guys recognize chicks (especially in sunny climates)
    • > > Lewis is able to determine that it's seeing a human by recognizing that it's looking at a pair of legs. Once this realization is made, Lewis gazes up to look at the individual's face.
      > That pretty much describes the way most guys recognize chicks (especially in sunny climates)

      The poster of that comment must be female.

      A male poster would say "Face? Never seen one of those..." *rimshot*

  • by BenEnglishAtHome ( 449670 ) on Tuesday September 03, 2002 @09:09AM (#4188191)
    I wish the developers of this device luck. They're gonna need it.

    Problems? You want problems? We got problems!

    1. It's too short. Candid shots from that level, looking up at the subject, are not flattering. And people don't buy wedding photographs that don't flatter them.

    2. It's digital, I guess, but in any event uses some kind of video camera to capture images. That's (probably) crap. Still captures from video cameras are of lesser quality than a good digital camera and good digital cameras (that is, "good" by pro photo standards) are as expensive as your house. Weddings are one of the few times in their lives that most people will actually pay good money for high quality photographs. Digital has its place at the low end, but is something as expensive as this is sure to be going to be cost-effective at the low end? I kinda doubt it. Good wedding photography still requires film, preferably nice, wide rolls of it. Show me a machine that can operate a Hassy and we'll talk again.

    3. Yes, adult humans tend to ignore something like this after a brief period of familiarization. But there are lots of kids running around at weddings. Ever show a 4 year old the hamster dance page? After 30 seconds, you're bored but they're just getting started. They'll giggle for hours. Same principle here. Just wait till a few unattended kiddos (and there's always at least a couple of kids at every wedding whose parents are nowhere to be found while they tear a path of destruction through the place) notice this thing and decide to play "Let's push over R2D2!" with it. It'll happen.

    4. Good wedding photography (Wait - this comment might not be a good one since we've already established that this device is only worthwhile at the low end - but I'll go ahead anyway...) requires making art (sometimes hack art, but art nonetheless) quickly. That requires aesthetic sensibilities and brainpower that this thing just doesn't have.

    One last note - I can understand the concept. There are WAY too many wedding photogrpahers in this world with gigantic egos who act like a wedding is a get-together for the purpose of taking pictures. They take over and try to run the whole show. After dealing with them, I can certainly imagine being motivated to invent a machine that would just shut up, do the job, and not get in anyone's way. But that's a by-product of pain-in-the-ass photographers, not really a good reason to develop a new machine. A truly good photographer knows how to be totally unobtrusive 98% of the time. The solution is to not hire bozos. The solution is not to try to replace photographers, even if it's just a few at the low end, with a machine that will necessarily produce substandard output.
    • I've seen my share of robotic wedding pics. Maybe this device is already in use.

      Seriously though, a lot of social photography is about relationships between people, and if a robot has no idea which one is the bride's cousin and what she's doing behind a hedge with the best man, it's going to miss a lot of intereting stuff. Though most wedding hacks I've seen miss that too. I'd love to see pictures from this machine, if only to emulate that "mindless robot" look.

      Disclaimer: I am not a wedding photographer. [ripserve.com]
    • I do wonder about the height/angle thing, seems like most shots are at least at "head level" or higher.

      It would be cool if it had both a video camera and a better quality still digitical camera mounted at about the same spot, that could get around some of the image quaity issues I imagine.

      So this probably won't replace a human in the loop, but hell...people put those cheap disposables on the tables for the guests, I think the bot has at least the potential to supplement or replace that.

      now if they could have one fly around ala a probedroid....that'd be kind of cool. Mount it on a little helicopter...and maybe have an optional base station so people could compose their own shots... ...hrrrm, if I had one of those at my wedding reception i don't think there would've been *any* dancing, just people lined up to play with the bot.
    • Some obvious replies...

      1. It's too short.
      For full-body shots, this is much less of a concern. Yes, if you are trying to take head-shots, you don't wnat to do that from waist level. But then, if people are sitting down, you're at about the right height.

      2. It's digital ... crap
      Current digital SLRs are pretty good quality, actually. 6MP is not at all bad, and only costs about $3k including storage media. This will give you something about equivalent to 35mm photography. Not 6x6/6x7/6x9 Hasselbrad, but a lot of wedding photography isn't done on medium format.
      Also, note that this was for unposed pics of the guests, not posed pics of the wedding party. It isn't replacing the wedding photographer (yet).
      On this topic, I have a 4MP point-n-shoot digital camera (Canon S40), and it does very acceptable 5"x7" prints. I'll replace it when 20MP digital cameras come out that will do acceptable 8"x10" prints. Until then, it won't be worth it to me.

      3. "Let's push over R2D2!"
      Yes, this is a problem. Make it heavy enough and you'll use more battery just moving.

      4. Good wedding photography ... making art
      As stated, this is currently for candid shots of the guests, not the posed wedding party pictures. But even so... a lot of wedding photog "art" is still following simple rules. (And a lot of wedding photogs can't follow even those rules, ending up with some really bad wedding pictures I've seen.)

      I don't dispute that the system has limitations. And using a video camera for captures is not my first choice either (though it's probably easier for the subject-recognition system... constant video capture). But it's a concept system. Give them a couple years to turn it into a product, and (aside from "Let's tip over R2D2") it can be a decent system for its intended purpose.
    • It always hurts when you're told that you can be replaced with a shell script ;-)
    • by overunderunderdone ( 521462 ) on Tuesday September 03, 2002 @12:47PM (#4189651)
      Points 1-3 are engineering problems and solvable. Point 4 is quite valid. Until artificial intelligence is much more human I can't imagine something like this being able to do a good job of this task. Unfortunatly there are MANY very bad photographers doing wedding photography. I've been to weddings where a walking red trashcan would be less obtrusive and would probably take better pictures to boot.

      Your final note about getting a GOOD photographer is the real solution. (at least until we are ALL replaced by robots). I had a great photographer at my wedding, totally unobtrusive and a real artist. We also had some friends who where good photographers that we asked to take B&W candid shots. Admittedly as art students we had a lot more knowledge of photographers (and friends with BFA's in photography) but there are good photographers out there. For candid shots, if there is an art school nearby getting a student who is really interested in street photography (probably most of them) to do candids would probably get you some really nice candid shots for very little money (If you want unobtrusive just pick one without too many piercings & maybe pay them extra wear something that *isn't* making a statement ;)
  • We all want to know:
    Is the robot photographer gay? [globalcrossing.net]

    C3P0 is such a drama queen.

  • Contrary to what most of the comments so far would suggest (only 30 though...) this is a good thing. It's size, colour and primitiveness are immaterial - it's only a prototype.

    What it does show is that it is feasible to do more work in this area - despite its size, people lose interest (although I would imagine this is more to do with wedding-associated alcohol than anything else...) and let it click away without ogling at it - all it is is fairly simple technology appliying simple rules (e.g. face should be in centre or photo or wherever) and then takes a few pictures.

    While a lot of these will be crap (same as for a human photographer) what this does allow is more natural photos, where people are not posing, or forcing smiles, or having to hold their smile just a bit too long as the cameraman waits for whatever moment all cameramen seem to thnk comes about 5 seconds after asking everyone to say cheese (don't you hate that?).

    So we get lots of natural photos, discard the rest, and end up with some good ones which we might not have achieved with a human.

    In the long term, though, this might have much more application - we can get it to recognise terrorists, criminals, finally get the intrusive Minority Report style advertising, and maybe we can train Lewis to recognise cleavage.

    • > What it does show is that it is feasible to do more work in this area - despite its size, people lose interest (although I would imagine this is more to do with wedding-associated alcohol than anything else...) and let it click away without ogling at it - all it is is fairly simple technology appliying simple rules (e.g. face should be in centre or photo or wherever) and then takes a few pictures.

      It's a good thing so many of us geeks are so stereotypically asexual.

      I mean, this would be the perfect thing to have at a /.er's wedding. Except that you'd just get roll after roll of close-ups of geeks' noses as they examine the wedcambot for 3 hours while the reception goes on in the background.

      Groom included. ("Huh? Oh yeah, yeah, I do, I do, whatever. Just gimme a few minutes, I think I can get a Quake server running on this thing! Tell the best d00d to bring his laptop, we're gonna have wireless LAN gaming at the reception!")

      • Tell the best d00d to bring his laptop, we're gonna have wireless LAN gaming at the reception!

        funny thing about this - it does happen. a former friend had setup a sega genesis in another room at his reception for kids. the groom and bestman spent most of the reception playing altered beast. which explains why that marriage didn't last.
  • by Aquaman616 ( 131268 ) <bhall@figle[ ]com ['af.' in gap]> on Tuesday September 03, 2002 @09:37AM (#4188352) Homepage Journal
    Lewis was actually rolling around the Emerging Technologies area of SIGGRAPH this year and I got to talk quite a bit with some of the folks that were following him around to make sure he didn't get into any trouble and explain how it worked. (Which is good, because it's just this big red column looking thing and doesn't look particularly friendly)

    The photos it "composed" were actually quite good as it would use the rule of thirds when trying to set up a photo. The only real problems I saw with it from a tech standpoint was that the lighting in that area of the convention center was a bit yellow so their white balance was off and the robot had the embarasing habit of totally ignoring anyone with very dark skin. At the time I was talking to a student from a local school who was there who happend to be black and we let the robot take a few pictures of us... when we went to look at the pics every single one of her was cut off as she was basically being ignored as "background".

    The other problem were the batteries - I saw them change the batteries on the 'bot once and there were a *LOT* of what appeared to be very heavy lead -based batteries - they looked like motorcycle batteries, but I'm not sure. Apparently the bot lasts for a few hours on a single charge, but then you have to swap out all of its batteries (I think there were at least 5 of them)
  • It's a good start. Simple image recognition camera work will have it's useses. The wedding bit is a bit of a gimic.

    However it would be interesting to tie this in with high end digital cameras r even film. Theoretically it would not be difficult to teach a computer the basics of photograpic technique and asthetic ideals (framing, compositional percentages, light qualities) and get them taking photographs better than 90 percent of people) weddings especially. There is an art to wedding photography, but most of it is donkey work and getting people into frame with the right relatives and friends in every shot (unless you have to deal with force 8 gales on a clifftop like my last commision :-/ )

    That is when it would get to be something more than just an image tracking and recognition system whcih is pretty old hat. Teaching a computer how to distinguish a good from a bad photo would impress me.

    Although it would put pay to some of my business admittedly ;-)
  • neat but primitive.. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 )
    first you will get low quality photos out of lewis.. that is a standard NTSC video camera on it's head. 640X480 fuzzy at it's best.

    next most wedding receptions are at dark places... so without the ability to flash (as I highly doubt the low cost video camera is a 3ccd 0.05lux color array with plossl lenses costing around $15,000.00 (for the CHEAP one.. Ours was $35,000.00 but we wanted Zoom)

    It's a great proof of concept, and with some upgrades it can be a really cool device. but it needs to get away from video for the camera and use a regular Off the shelf 3megapizel digital camera with flash or 35mm film to do the job.. I certianly dont want my wedding photos to be nothing but low rez,underexposed,blurry NTSC captures..

    • first you will get low quality photos out of lewis.. that is a standard NTSC video camera on it's head. 640X480 fuzzy at it's best.
      Using a decent digital camera shouldn't be difficult. Most of them have (NTSC) video out, plus USB to take and download pictures.
  • ...It should play the the song [mysongbook.de]!
  • by Scrameustache ( 459504 ) on Tuesday September 03, 2002 @09:54AM (#4188464) Homepage Journal
    because of the robot's passive nature, people tend to ignore it after short period of ogling. This allows for some great natural shots, instead of the typical forced and self-conscious shots from human wedding photographers.

    Yeah, but can it kiss the bride [bdnet.com]?
  • Other uses... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Razzy ( 175090 )
    I was a cs student at Wash U until May and I saw Lewis running around the halls quite a bit. The robot itself is just a general purpose machine for many robotics applications, the software could be moved to a more purpose-specific robot in an actual commerical wedding photographer. So it doesn't have to be a big red trashcan.

    But the real breakthrough is the ability to identify a target among a group of people. Let's just say that this project was DOD funded.
    • Yeah, the key thing is the application, not the current platform. Though for some reason people seem more hung up on the idea of wedding photography robots being bright red than the idea of terrorist-stalking robots being unable to climb stairs (the stairs issue was why we didn't invite a similarly shaped robot to our wedding - as a friend/co-worker of the groom, of course, not as a photographer).

  • They should create another version of this robot to serve as a roving wedding jukebox!
  • A few more details (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sangui5 ( 12317 ) on Tuesday September 03, 2002 @10:38AM (#4188730)

    So I'm a student at Washington University, and I know the people who programmed Lewis. A couple of points:

    1. Skin tone: For the most part, the skin tone thing works. Lewis was left roaming around CS happy hour, and he merrirly took pictures of people from India and Africa as well as those from Sweden. He did have problems with one person from India who was *very* dark skinned, but at the time his training data was pictures of Micheal Dixon [negative273.com], the guy who programmed the people recognizer. Micheal is as pale as they get, so that's pretty good. Unfortunately Lewis works much better if the training data is taken under the same lighting conditions as he'll be working on, so if nobody with rather dark skin was available to make training data at SIGGRAPH, it's likely he would have ignored them.
    2. People ignoring Lewis: Eventually, even little kids get bored with him. It's cool at first, but the novelty wears off. Besides, little kids would have a hard time pushing him over: he weights a lot.
    3. Hardware: Lewis is a commercial robot, and runs on the order of $80,000. Consider a 1 time investment in a robot, or having to pay the salary of a real photographer year after year. At 10%, Lewis's yearly cost is only $8,000. Also, he has a lot of sensors and other features that aren't used when he's in photographer mode. Either way his current hardware wouldn't work for a wedding: Dr. Smart's strictly forbidden putting food or drink on top of Lewis, for good reasons.
    4. Kill all humans mode: Lewis has only gone into kill all humans mode twice before, and we've kept the casualties down to an art student and a couple of drunk B-schoolers. Personally, those are acceptable casualty rates. But seriously, a huge quantity of robot research money comes from the DoD. Who really thinks that a robot photographer was what was written on the grant application? Apparently they've already sent 1 robot into caves into Afgahnistan with a payload that included a live weapon. Lewis can navigate around, avoid moving obsticles, and point his camera right at head hight. Now, nobody's applied the technology in Lewis in such a manner yet, but connect the dots.

    Anyway, it was a lot more work than you'd imagine to get Lewis to function properly. Lots of things you don't think of crop up (The laser's can't see the legs of a table. Micheal is pale and other people aren't. Wooden doors are approximately skin toned.), and the problem is intrinsically difficult. The skin tone stuff alone eats up most of the processor, nevermind the path planing and mobile obsticle avoidence. For SIGGRAPH he was running on reduced hardware too: he has a dual mobo, but it isn't as reliable as the singe-processor one used at SIGGRAPH.

    • Apparently they've already sent 1 robot into caves into Afgahnistan with a payload that included a live weapon.

      Actually, that was more of a remotely piloted vehicle or a drone, wasn't it? Although the Dod has done some research in autonomous vehicles, a remote controlled mechanical man is a lot more usefull for killing people. We need a different term to use for autonomous, self-controlled mechanica then we use for glorified RC cars on steroids; unfortunately common usage seems to refer to both as "robots". Wouldn't "Robot Wars" be a lot more cool if there wasn't a geek with a joystick actually controling the action?

  • What kind of camera does this thing use? Can it get better than 640x480x16-bit? I've been avoiding the $1000-drop on a digital camera for a while. I just can't see spending $1000 on a single-use device like that, but I can't stand lower-quality images. Since manufacturers also refuse to put a hard drive in them, I don't see any point in messing with temporary storage--especially since a standard cannot be agreed upon.

    So, my thoughts were always toward using my laptop to take pictures. You can't a much better preview screen than a 14-inch TFT LCD. The only problem is, where can you get a high-quality 'web cam'? Keep in mind, the desired effect is that the laptop would the bulky and expensive part. I don't want to hang a $1000 friggin DV camcorder off of my laptop.

  • I don't think it is possible for a Dalek to go undetected at a party.

    http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~mimrie/dalek/d al ekgal.htm

  • Rather than use a $80,000 robot and risk a major party foul, why not use multiple strategically placed hemispherical cameras [designwizardry.com], setting them to shoot photos semi-randomly when people are present, (you could also allow people to pose and say cheese somehow I guess) then batch process the resulting frames post-wedding to find good compositions and remap them?
    Nah, self-navigating robots are far more cool.
  • because of the robot's passive nature, people tend to ignore it after short period of ogling. This allows for some great natural shots, instead of the typical forced and self-conscious shots

    IOW, people blinking, coughing, scratching, and picking their nose.

    Personally, I find other people's wendings a huuuuuge borefest. It takes every trick in the book to get out of one. If you want to make use of robotics, then make one that can transform into the look of a person and go as a proxy.
  • by pease1 ( 134187 )
    I worked my way through college shooting weddings and before that shot grip and grins in the US Navy for a several years.

    Perhaps one of the most boring things a human can have to do... especially the weddings.

    Something like this might force a lot of artist wanna-bes to get real jobs

  • Audio input (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MediaBoy77 ( 469933 )
    I wonder if they've considered adding a few microphones to Lewis?

    I remember a gimmick 35mm camera a while back that came mounted on a tabletop tripod with a servo and directional mic. When the microphone picked up loud noise, the camera swiveled around and shot, the theory being you'd pick up the wildest party moments on film.
  • I suspect that Lewis will be an option that wedding mills (which all medium-to-large cities have, you know the catering halls with huge parking lots that we all wind up going to when our various friends are married) will add for the bride to choose from: cocktail hour? check! three-layer white cake? check! special event photographer? check! robot photographer at reception? check! clean-up after reception? check!
  • Is it just me or does this thing look like a red Dalek?

    Start Dalek Voice

    I am the wedding photographer! You will line up at the Head Table! You will obey! CIR-CU-LATE! CIR-CU-LATE!

    End Dalek Voice

    (Lameness filter wouldn't let me use caps for the Dalek voice)

    And I though my wedding was scarey....
  • This whole wedding photo thing is overrated. The last wedding i went to wasn't bad, but the first time one of my friends got married after college, there was like an hour of picture takin' downtime between the ceremony and the food. This whole process could be done away with by a high-end image based rendering package. You could get a few good images of each guest as they came in, maybe a 3D laser scan, and a few really detailed datasets for the bride and groom while they're being fitted for the dress and tux (or whathaveyou). Render up a few group shots with the romantic background of your choosing, some closeups of the couple, and you're set. If you wanted to, you could add capabilities for candid reception shots (although you might need some training data for the system to transform 'respectable wedding guest' photos into 'drunken reception partygoer' photos). Plus, you don't have to worry about real life situations like that one 8 year old who refuses to smile for the camera, and you can do Orwellian modifications if you later decide you wish you hadn't invited some particular person.
    Or you could just hire a decent photographer, maybe do the time consuming stuff ahead of time, and leave a bunch of disposable cameras around for the reception.
    Not that i can in any way fault the robot idea. It does, in fact, kick ass.
    (And one last nitpick, it's not really fire engine red, it's Research Robot Red [irobot.com]. If it's anything similar to what ActivMedia uses on the Pioneer robots, it's an amazingly impervious, apparently epoxy-based coating which can only be removed with a grinding wheel or similarly serious abrasive.)
    • The last wedding i went to wasn't bad, but the first time one of my friends got married after college, there was like an hour of picture takin' downtime between the ceremony and the food.


      The "altar return" should last no more than 15 minutes, absolute max, no matter how big the wedding party. I've done full sets at traditional Mexican catholic weddings (read: more than 30 people in the wedding party) in that time frame. I've done small wedding parties in under 10 minutes. There is absolutely NO excuse for keeping everyone waiting for an hour. That's just pure incompetence on the part of the photographer.

  • because of the robot's passive nature, people tend to ignore it after short period of ogling. This allows for some great natural shots, instead of the typical forced and self-conscious shots from human wedding photographers.

    I have photographed a couple of weddings. People seemed to ignore me the entire time (ie. no period of ogling, sniff-). I guess I am just one of those people who lurks in the background, going unnoticed. 'tis true, I did end up with a great deal of "natural" (excellent) photographs, some possibly embarrassing memories.

    Ciao, -xtype
  • The skin finding hack to locate faces has been used a lot.

    The trick for those of you are interested is to convert you image from RGB (or whatever format you have your image in) to HLS coordinates (hue, lightness and saturation). Or TLS (tint).

    As skin (regardless of race excepting albinos) is colored with melatonin and the "color" varies with the amount of melatonin the hue is roughly a constant for most people. Using that and LS info and connectedness you can improve your hits.

    Of course there are better methods and a google [google.com] reveals some of them.

    Using hue and ratio of red/green ratios [bu.edu] seems to work very nicely.
    • A bit of clarification on Lewis' skin detection. (If anyone cares.) Since data came from the camera in YUV format, we didnt need to do any color-space conversions. YUV is similar to HSL insofar as one component cooresponds to the luminosity of the pixel (Y,L respectively) and the other two components describe the essential color. (Note: all skin is essentially red.) Since variation in skin tone due to different races or glare/shadows only really affects the luminosity, this component is ignored. The remaining UV pair is then checked against a look-up table of known skin chromosities. It turns out that skin occupies a fairly small region in the chromosity plane, so this technique is somewhat effective.

      Two caveats: first, changing lighting conditions shift where skin falls in the chromosity plane, so the UV look-up table needs to be retrained for new environments or automatically shifted to account for lighting. Second, we found that because we ignore the Y component, certain shades of red are labeled as skin even though they dont resemble skin to a human eye. As such, for more robust skin detection the Y component cannot be completely ignored.

      Michael Dixon
      Media and Machines Lab [wustl.edu]
      Computer Science and Engineering
      Washington University in St.Louis

  • Unless I'm hallucinating, it looks like the Washington University people just updated their Lewis Webpage [wustl.edu] once they realized that they were being slashdotted. They've addressed a lot of the issues raised here, including why they built it in the first place. They also added a nice page of specs [wustl.edu] and some robot-photos too [wustl.edu].
  • As a member of the team working on the Lewis project, I'd like to provide some additional technical details. It should also be noted that the Lewis project is not intended to replace human photographers. It's an easily accessible research-oriented endeavor to explore human/robot interactions in a real-world environment.


    • Pentium III 800Mhz CPU
    • Linux operating system, kernel v2.2
    • Wireless ethernet
    • Sony DFW-VL500 digital 1394 camera
    • Approximately 4' 6" tall, 2' diameter, 300 lbs with batteries
    • 4 12V deep cycle lead-acid batteries provide nearly 6 hours of continuous use between charges.

    Processor - Lewis is a B21r mobile research robot from iRobot Corporation [irobot.com]. It's powered by a single 800Mhz Pentium IV processor. This CPU must handle all of the motor drive and low-level robot tasks such processing the data from the large array of sensors. On top of this CPU load is the task of finding faces, navigating crowds, and taking and processing the photos. The two additional processors to be installed in the future will allow Lewis much more power for its photographer duties.

    Camera - Lewis currently uses a Sony DFW-VL500 [technical manual [sony.co.jp]] digital 1394 (Firewire) camera. This has a 1/3" CCD that produces 640x480 color images at up to 30 frames per second. Image output is YUV 422 format and is not compressed. The built-in 12X zoom lens is sensitive to 14 lx (F1.8). Higher-resolution 1394 cameras are available, but these do not have built-in lenses; this is bad because focus, aperture, and zoom must be fixed.

    Safety - The entire enclosure is lined with bump-sensitive panels, so that if the robot runs into anything, the currently executing program is terminated, the motors are halted, and the brake is applied.

    Operating System - The operating system on Lewis is a standard Linux distribution using kernel version 2.2. Various libraries for control of the motors, sensors, pan/tilt unit, and camera are used.

    A couple of other comments: the camera is not an NTSC video camera. It was chosen because of the easy ability to control zoom, focus, and aperture from software. Since our goal at the moment is not film-quality pictures, this camera suffices.

    Sample photos are available on our website [wustl.edu]. We have been slow in posting samples due to privacy concerns, not because the pictures are bad. We have over 3,500 photos, and I'd say well less than 2% are false hits -- photos of doors, walls, elbows, etc.

  • I think I've spotted the flaw...
    (From the article) Lewis is able to determine that it's seeing a human by recognizing that it's looking at a pair of legs

    Spotted it yet?

    What about the bride [virginbride.co.uk]

  • If they want droids unobtrusive, just play some Jedi mind tricks.
  • I can imagine these things wandering around the mall / supermarket or a campus (even in the city if it were weather proofed - although a low flying silent drone would be cooler) taking candid shots of the people it 'sees'. It could be programmed to pay particular attention to suspicious people or loiterers and notify human security staff too.
  • A bunch of ugly robotic bridesmaids in bad dresses to make the homely bride look even better.
  • I saw this Robot at SigGraph and spoke at some length with
    it's designer. I think it's a lot more cool (and *clever*)
    than it first seems.

    It's not so much that it's invisible (*obviously* not) - it's
    just that he's slow moving and quiet and generally unobtrusive.

    When you pay attention to him and pose, his camera makes an
    audible (and unnecessary) "CLICK" - but when he's just quietly
    rolling around capturing 'natural' photo's, his camera goes

    He's all novelty to start with - so he gets a bunch of
    posed photo's - but soon people lose interest and get
    lost in conversation and/or alcohol & wedding cake - and
    then the robot's ability quietly roll around grabbing
    photo's comes into it's own.

    It's software automatically frames pleasing photo's
    according to the usual 'golden ratio' rules. The version
    at SigGraph had a base station that would allow guests
    to view photo's and have them emailed to them.

    I liked it - and I'd definitely invite it to my wedding.

    If I had to find a criticism, it is that it's framing
    algorithm doesn't cope well with very short people - notably
    children. I'm sure that could easily be fixed.

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