Cyborg night: Robot will turn on Downtown Christmas lights

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Friends, Brooklynites, countrymen, lend me your gears.

A robot named Caesar — or cellularly accessible expressive semi-autonomous robot — is going to help Santa spread Christmas cheer at the 25th annual tree lighting at MetroTech Commons Downtown on Dec. 1. The electronic emperor, which stands 40-inches tall, is going to press a button on St. Nick’s stomach that will activate the lights. But Caesar’s primary job will be getting spectators young and old, naughty and nice into the holiday spirit, according to one of his creators.

“His main goal is to stand there and smile at onlookers, to wave his arms, and do other small facial expressions,” said Jared Alan Frank, a doctoral student at New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering and the principle investigator of the project. “Caesar will be very animated on stage.”

A team of more than six students and professors helped construct Caesar about two years ago as part of the university’s robotics program, which is funded by the National Science Foundation. But Frank said he has given the droid some new upgrades specifically for the tree lighting ceremony. The button that operates the tree lights is a heavy-duty industrial knob, so Frank had to restructure Caesar’s arm into a much thicker limb than the original prototype.

“To be able to generate that amount of force has taken a lot of brainstorming and repurposes,” he said.

The tree lighting celebration will also feature some other electrifying acts — dancers from the American Ballet Theatre Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, entertainers from Big Apple Circus, singers from the Brooklyn Tech High School Choir, and members the Brooklyn Nets.

Frank said the ceremony will give Caesar a chance to mingle with the crowd and he said he hopes that the audience realizes that robots are truly a gift to all mankind.

“To illustrate that robotics is advancing where it can be brought out in public settings and used — we’re going to show that,” he said.

MetroTech Commons (2 MetroTech Center between Lawrence and Bridge streets Downtown). Dec. 1 at 5 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Vanessa Ogle at or by calling (718) 260–4507. Follow her
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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