This Real-Life Pixar Lamp Cutely Refuses To Let You Turn It Off

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Dec. 4 2012 4:34 PM

This Real-Life Pixar Lamp Cutely Refuses To Let You Turn It Off

Pinokio project
Some design-class projects are more impressive than others.

Screenshot / Vimeo

Design-class projects have come a long way. That's the only conclusion I can draw from this brilliant video of a robotic desk lamp that squeaks, swivels, and mugs for attention like the Pixar mascot come to life.

The lamp is the work of three students at Victoria University in New Zealand: Shanshan Zhou, Adam Ben-Dror, and Joss Doggett. For a class called physical computing, they took an ordinary desk lamp and rebuilt it from the ground up, using servo motors and a webcam to imbue it with the ability to hear noises, recognize faces, and make adorable gestures. Here's the impressively anthropomorphic result:


In a blog post outlining the process in detail, the team members report that they pulled this off using the open-source prototyping platform Arduino and the design-oriented programming language Processing. They set out to give the lamp the power to simulate at least three types of emotionally evocative gestures: scrunching up to inspect an object, stretching out in pursuit of something in the distance, and rearing back to avoid conflict. It's amazing to watch how the three add up to something that feels like a sympathetic personality. Then they gave the lamp a friend: a book that it guards jealously, and upon which it shines lovingly. Finally, as is clear from the video, they gave it the power to turn itself back on. From the group's write-up:

... Observer should be under the impression that the lamp is ordinary until the user interacts with it. Once the user attempts to turn it off it will not, the lamp is in control and is leading its own life. This can/will lead into the past idea for the lamp's purpose and personality.

Though clearly inspired by Luxo Jr., the team avoided making its lamp a perfect copy of Pixar's creation. One thing it can't do is hop—which is probably all to the good, since it means we'll never have to worry that the lamp will meet its end in a calamity like this.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.



Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Republicans Want the Government to Listen to the American Public on Ebola. That’s a Horrible Idea.

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Tom Hanks Has a Short Story in the New Yorker. It’s Not Good.

Brow Beat

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 6:32 PM Taylor Swift’s Pro-Gay “Welcome to New York” Takes Her Further Than Ever From Nashville 
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.