While some may fear a future in which robots have replaced human workers or worse, enslaved us all, amateur robotics designer Arthur Wait has created a mechanical tripod that might one day replace one specific profession, the cameraman.
Wait's submission to the Microsoft Robotics @ Home Competition won Grand Prize. His robotic cameraman, called the "smart tripod" was born out of a desire to improve the quality of home-made 'How To' videos found across the Internet on websites like YouTube.
"The challenge with a lot of these videos is that the star of the show is often also the camera person," explains Wait in his submission video, which was filmed using the Smart Tripod.
His solution was an autonomous cameraman who follows the star around and can even respond to hand signals.
"I'm using the smart tripod right now to create this video," continued Wait, "and you can see that as a i move around my house the camera is following me smoothly in a natural human way."
The Smart Tripod's design is fairly simply. The mobile base has wheels, and holds a laptop and an extra battery. The middle is a regular tripod, and the top is a custom head with two decks. The lower one holds a Microsoft Kinect (a device used to incorporate motion sensor technology into Xbox games). The top level holds a camera and a home-made tilt system.
The smart tripod has multiple modes, including follow mode and dolly mode. In static mode the camera stands still but still follows the star's movements.
"The motion is subtle but very human like," says Waits.
In Cue Zone mode specific hand gestures can be used to control the camera's movements.
According to Arthur Wait, possible uses for the smart tripod include any sort of demonstration or how to video, online education, school media rooms where students shoot their own videos, and anywhere a cameraman isn't available.
Wait plans to use the prize money to improve on his robot, possibly adding a second camera to the head as well as live-streaming capabilities.