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BLUE RIBBON

This robot doing rhythmic gymnastics will make you feel weirdly uncomfortable

Robot rhythmic gymnastics
FIG. - Amana Prototyping Lab
Gunning for that gold medal in Rio 2016.
  • Adam Epstein
By Adam Epstein

Entertainment reporter

This article is more than 2 years old.

Robots are already coming to take our jobs. Now, they want to steal away one of our sacred institutions: rhythmic gymnastics.

Japanese company FIG. – Amana Prototyping Lab has taken a robotic arm meant for menial industrial work and transformed it into a majestic, elegant ribbon-twirling gymnast.

The robot, Denso VS-050S2, was originally designed for use in manufacturing plants. It won a 2014 Good Design Award partly for its ability to “deal flexibly with various work requirements.” FIG, apparently, saw its potential for pliability and decided to see how it would fare in one of the Olympics’ most stately sports.

The team took basic movements performed by real rhythmic gymnasts and turned them into an algorithm that it could teach the robot, using a simulated 3D environment. The video is several independent moves edited to look like one routine.

FIG. - Amana Prototyping Lab

While it’s undoubtedly cool, and shows the great potential for adapting and modifying robots for various applications, it’s also a bit unsettling. For one, the robot is obviously stationary, while rhythmic gymnasts are anything but. Second, the movements are a little too sensual and emotive for a non-sentient being to be making. It certainly doesn’t look like a human, but it moves like one, and that tends to creep us out.

Weirdness aside, the Denso VS-050S2 is no match for the grace and beauty of a real human gymnast. See how the robot stacks up against the best performers from the 2012 Olympics in London:

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