NPR logo Bow Before Craig Ferguson's Robot Sidekick

Television

Bow Before Craig Ferguson's Robot Sidekick

Grant Imahara looks carefully at Craig Ferguson's robotic sidekick under construction.

Grant Imahara is building Craig Ferguson's robot skeleton sidekick — an "entertainment robot" that poses no threat to mankind, he claims. Grant Imahara hide caption

toggle caption Grant Imahara

A little over a month ago, the best news in the history of television (well, if you happen to be me) broke: Grant Imahara, the robot guru of Mythbusters (who previously worked for George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic), agreed to build a robot sidekick for Craig Ferguson. And it was to be a robot skeleton sidekick, just as Ferguson calls his fans on Twitter the Robot Skeleton Army.

Grant Imahara's sketch of the robot sidekick.

The best part of Grant's sketch of the roboskeleton is the mohawk. Grant Imahara hide caption

toggle caption Grant Imahara

After a whirlwind manufacturing process, the sidekick is debuting on tonight's The Late Late Show — the show airs at 12:35 a.m. Eastern, after David Letterman, so now's the time to think about brewing a thermos of coffee or setting your alarm clock. (Note: As one of our wise commenters pointed out, you might also want to pad your recording time generously, if you go that route, because it could be delayed by the NCAA basketball championship final.)

Meanwhile, I spoke to Grant to ply him for hints about the roboskeleton's creation. I also investigated what Grant calls its capabilities for a "complete sidekick experience," and asked about the machine's potential to become our evil overlord.

How did this Mythbusters/Craig Ferguson relationship get off the ground?

It's interesting, because Craig is really, genuinely a huge fan of the show. He talks about the show a lot, and he had Adam [Savage] and Jamie [Hyneman] on before, and then in January, Kari [Byron], Tory [Belleci] and I went on the show, and that's pretty much how we met. Being a fan of the show, he sort of knows what all of our skills are. And so he had the idea to create a robotic sidekick, and asked me if I wanted to do it. How could I refuse?

What can you tell me about what he's made of?

Craig's original concept was to have a little box on his desk with a bunch of buttons. And he would push a button, and then the sidekick would respond with a pre-programmed phrase, like, "You're the man, Craig," or "That's awesome."

But his show, one of the things he does is that he's very self-deprecating. So he talks about himself, and his set, and CBS, and so he's like, "I don't want a Terminator skeleton. I just want a plastic one." So pretty much, the skeleton served out its life as a plastic skeleton, and I've just taken that and augmented some of the bones with aluminum, put servo motors on, and made an aluminum plate backing to connect everything together.

So he's a souped-up biology-class skeleton.

Yes, he's a biology-class skeleton on steroids.

The roboskeleton's special abilities, and the inevitable question of his potential to turn on us, after the jump.

Does he have special abilities?

Yes. He can say up to seven phrases that come through, you push a button and it repeats the phrase from the skeleton — the skeleton has an on-board amplifier, and a sound board, and so it can play back the phrase. In addition, there is a microcontroller that I'll program with the synchronized movements. So it'll be a complete sidekick experience along with movement, and he can move his jaw, his eyes light up, his head turns, and he can raise one arm.

The raising of the one arm is very important. I've seen the pointing.

Yes, yes. That was definitely identified early on as something that he wanted to do.

Grant Imahara's sketch of the roboskeleton's arm.

As you can see, this is a sidekick that can point. Grant Imahara hide caption

toggle caption Grant Imahara

So is he still named Geoff Peterson?

He's named Geoff Peterson. And I have no idea where that name comes from. In fact, according to my information, nobody knows where the name comes from, except for Craig.

Originally, I thought there was some other names, more robot-skeleton-type names, and then all of a sudden...

Yeah. I think that he came up with that name. There was sort of a Twitter online poll as to what the name for the robot would be. And some people were saying "Roboskelly," some people were "Fergbot," there was probably about half a dozen names that people were talking about. And Craig just said, "No, the name is Geoff Peterson."

That surprised me at the time, because I thought, if you're going to bother having a robot skeleton...but now he sounds like he's just your pal. Maybe it's the desire for a true sidekick. A true friend.

Yeah, I think it's all part of his grand plan.

Grant Imahara works on the roboskeleton.

"Part of his grand plan," indeed. Grant Imahara hide caption

toggle caption Grant Imahara

Are there other elements of the grand plan?

I have no idea, although I suspect that this is just the beginning of...once he has Geoff Peterson, then he'll probably move on to getting a band, in an effort to be more like the other shows. Next could be a robot band. You never know.

I think everybody will want to know whether you have been careful in building Geoff Peterson to make sure that he cannot turn on us.

Right, right. Yes, I've gotten a lot of messages from the Robot Skeleton Army on Twitter, urging me to be careful that Geoff Peterson does not become self-aware and turn on humanity. I can guarantee you that I've put in place programming to prevent that from happening.

So his eighth phrase is not "Kneel before me, I am Geoff Peterson."

I certainly hope not. He's already got his seven phrases — which were recorded by Craig himself. So when Geoff speaks, it's actually a processed version of Craig's own voice. "Bow before me, humanity" is not one of the phrases.

That's a relief. I'm sure the entire army will be very relieved that they don't have to worry about Geoff turning on Craig.

There have been a lot of references to Terminator, and people from the future coming to stop me from building Geoff. It's all in good fun.

So Geoff represents no threat, is what you're saying.

That's right. Geoff is an entertainment robot. He has no armaments.

He has no weapons.

That's right. He is not armed, he contains no weapons, and his servo motor is only capable of lifting 27 pounds.

Grant Imahara's sketch of the shoulder of the roboskeleton.

Does this shoulder mechanism look dangerous? Grant Imahara hide caption

toggle caption Grant Imahara

Is it more fun to design a robot that is designed to live a long time, as opposed to potentially getting smashed, blown up, or dropped off a building?

You know, it's varying degrees of fun. Before, I worked on the Energizer Bunny and R2D2. And those are fun, because you get to see them. They are around a long time. And whenever I see the Energizer commercial, I think back fondly to working on the bunny — the third generation of Energizer bunnies was done through ILM, so I programmed the circuit that beats the bunny's arms. So whenever I see those commercials, I think back fondly on when I worked on the bunny and drove the Energizer bunny for several years.

But when you make something for Battlebots, it's a totally different type of fun, because that is sort of more like a party, and your robot is your ticket to play this game where you know going in that there's a high likelihood that it's going to be damaged, but that's all part of the fun. So I think they're different that way.

But hopefully, Geoff will have a long and fruitful life.

Yes, yes. During the build process, every couple of days, Craig would come back with a new idea — can he do this, can he do this — so I think that he's got big plans for this sidekick.

Grant Imahara works on the robot skeleton.

Grant works on Geoff, who will debut on The Late Late Show tonight. Grant Imahara hide caption

toggle caption Grant Imahara

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.