“There doesn’t exist a person who makes robots today that wasn’t inspired by characters like those in Star Wars or Astro Boy. And it works both ways. What motion graphics or 3D artist doesn’t have a robot on their reel? There is so much creative energy in these fields. I want to foster that connection between design and robots. It’s these connections that give meaning to work.”

-Heather Knight

This July 2011, the world’s first Robot Film Festival will take place in New York City. The festival was founded by roboticist Heather Knight, who is currently conducting her doctoral research at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute while running Marilyn Monrobot Labs in NYC, which creates socially intelligent robot performances and sensor-based electronic art.

Knight hopes the festival will inject a sense of playfulness into traditional science and engineering, while exploring new frontiers for robotics before the technology is even possible. Her work with Marilyn Monrobot allowed her to explore how robot characters interact with people and how robots can be integrated into everyday life.

Knight naturally fell into studying the interaction of robots and art through comedy. “Comedy is one of those coincidences with a high amount of audience interaction because the spirit of the room influences you to some degree,” she explains. Knight recently gave a TED talk introducing Data, a robotic stand-up comedian that gathers audience feedback and tunes its act as the crowd responds. Watch her TED Talk here.

Last year, Knight worked with Syyn Labs on OK Go‘s famous viral video This Too Shall Pass. “I realized how incredibly talented entertainers are at engaging and touching an audience. They know how to craft a story that will go viral. Meanwhile, as engineers and roboticists, we’re good at packing something together and making something work. It seems like a perfect marriage to combine those communities for inspiration and the ability to follow through,” says Knight.

180162 608352963628 709829 34174869 1106967 n 194x300 The worlds first Robot Film Festival in New York CityThink of the film festival as the first dance on the path of creating an interdisciplinary community; a rich and fun way to kickstart this integration between technologists and artists, roboticists and performers. “There’s something forgiving about film versus live performances. In addition, story telling has a powerful force in terms of shaping innovation, which is why science fiction is so influential in this space,” she says.

The Robot Film Festival opened up 6 days ago and Knight has already seen submissions from famous rappers, interesting experiments in claymation, crazy performance art from Italy, clips from Portal 2 and a query from Tazmania: “Is this festival really open to the whole world?” Yes, it is. Submissions are due by June 5th, more details here.

The team and advisory board includes a number of stellar names in the scene including Natalie Be’er of NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, Suzan Eraslan and Kevin Laibson of Magic Future Box Productions, Documentary filmmaker Jason Sosnoff and Ken Perlin, the Director of the Games for Learning Institute at NYU.

The main event will take place July 16-17th at the Three Legged Dog Art and Technology Center in New York City. The “Botskers” Award Ceremony will be a red carpet event with full on robot paparazzi and dramatic art installations. There will be multiple categories such as “Best Robot Actor,” and maybe even “Best Robot Director.”

“We grew up with Terminator, and we’ve seen commercials where copy machines turn into robots, but what if we could make positive stories about robots? What about seeing the world through the robot’s eyes? What is the place of the robot in our world? What are the ramifications of unleashing interactive robots to take care of the elderly? Where’s freedom? And how do we actually want things to play out with robots in the end? These are the kinds of things I’m trying to unearth,” says Knight.

65144 593901973528 709829 33862806 901474 n 520x390 The worlds first Robot Film Festival in New York City