A third RobotWorx robot took to the stage in the most recent episode of NBC's Knight Rider.
"Hank" is a robot with feelings. With this industrial robot character, the NBC TV show explores human-robot connections. Not only does he communicate with other human cast members, but he's rather sentimental about his past. Like Katie and Lisa, Hank is presented as another one of Dr. Als Graiman's artificial intelligence creations. In this episode, Hank malfunctions, throwing objects till the Dr. has to temporarily cut the robot's power.
The Technical Side of Hank
Hank is a reconditioned Fanuc ARC Mate 100i robot identical in construction to both Katie and Lisa. This robot is a 6-axis model with a 6kg payload and 1373mm reach. However, this time the Knight Rider special effects team outfitted the robot with "eyes" and a customized gripper.
The end-of-arm-tooling (EOAT) was simulated in AutoCAD, then cut out with a CNC machine. An extra ram was built into the gripper, allowing Hank to propel objects much like a pinball machine. The pneumatics of the gripper mechanism are all handled by the industrial robot's controller.
NBC achieved a human-like quality when they created the robot's radio-controlled, moving eyes.
"That's what really sold it - to have the eyes go up and down - which makes it look like he's tracking something," NBC's special effects technician said.
As with programming for any industrial application - welding, material handling, cutting - the movements of NBC's Hank, Lisa, and Katie are inputted using a handheld teach pendant. While some of the programming is handled in advance, with the help of a breakout panel, at other times the special effects technician has to move the robot "on the fly" with the pendant. This robot adlibbing can be very challenging.
NBC's special effects technician received his robot training in one day at RobotWorx' facility. "I picked it up really quickly, but there's still a lot I can learn," he said. RobotWorx offers free training to every customer. The robot integrator also provides technical support over the phone, another benefit NBC's tech appreciates. He normally talks to one of RobotWorx' project managers, Dustin McDowell: "Dustin's really smart - he actually knows what's wrong before I call."
This isn't the first time a RobotWorx robot has appeared on the big screen! Our robots deserve a star on Hollywood Boulevard as they have worked with many other TV and movie companies to supply them with industrial robots as props.