'Russia's most modern robot' revealed to be just a person in a suit

Onlookers immediately notice a series of things wrong with the robot

Andrew Griffin
Wednesday 12 December 2018 16:33 GMT
Man dressed up as robot dances in front of crowd

A robot hailed as the most advanced created in Russia was actually just a man in a suit.

The android – known as Boris – took to the stage at a Russian technology conference to delight the world with its entirely lifelike moving and dancing. It was so impressive that it appeared on Russian state television, celebrated as the most modern robot, and produced by a team of students.

Video of the event went around the world, showing him taking part in banter with people on stage and being led through a series of dances. Its success was used to encourage children to explore robotics, and as proof of a technological breakthrough.

It was clear that if the robot was real it would be one of the most advanced examples of robotics in the world. Soon after that celebration, however, it became clear that it was so lifelike because it was literally alive, with a man standing inside its body controlling its functions.

Local reports straight away noted a variety of things wrong with the robot.

It wasn’t clear where the sensors that would allow it to take in the world were placed, for one. It only seemed to have LED lights in its head, rather than any visible camera or other sensors to allow it to understand its environment.

It also appeared to have come entirely out of nowhere. The robots made by Boston Dynamics – often touted as the leading company in creating robots that move like humans – have taken years to develop even simple abilities, and iheir movements are far behind some of those shown during the demonstration.

Its dancing seemed a little too human, too: its movements were clumsy – like a person trying to dance while struggling with the weight of a robot suit, not a robot that had been taught to dance, as claimed.

And perhaps most tellingly of all, the robot suit looked perfectly made to allow a man to fit inside of it. Other, real robots tend to have very slim limbs – but Boris’s limbs seemed to be well proportioned to allow a person’s arms and legs to fit inside.

If that wasn’t enough, pictures soon emerged of the robot from slightly different angles. And there, clearly visible, was the neck of whoever had been put inside it.

The organisers of the event did not claim that the android was anything other than a man in a suit, according to local reports. But when footage of it was rebroadcast on state TV, the confusion about whether the robot was real seemed to arise.

The Russia 24 video that shared the robot breakthrough with the world seemed to disappear soon after the robot was pointed out not to be a robot at all. But it is online once again.

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