Stargazer camera robot can film how-to videos

Researchers at the University of Toronto have developed a robot designed to film how-to tutorial videos. The robot has been named Stargazer by the team.

What is Stargazer?

Stargazer is an interactive camera robot. The team of researchers has designed it for content creators working on their own. The research team also published a paper on Stargazer at an international conference about human and computer interaction. If you don’t have a separate camera person, you will most likely only be able to work with a static camera. However, Stargazer can add dynamic movement to your videos to make them more engaging.

How does Stargazer work?

Stargazer consists of a robot arm with a video camera attached to it. There are also seven independent motors that can move the robot arm to track the video’s subject. Stargazer responds to the tutor’s body movements, gestures and what they are saying to move the camera. Via a wireless microphone, the tutor’s speech is analyzed by the Microsoft Azure Speech-to-Text speech-recognition software. The speech is then transcribed and sent to the GPT-3 AI program.

What can Stargazer do?

Stargazer responds to the cues given by the tutor to frame the shots for the how-to video. It can also move between standard and high-level shots or between normal and tighter-framed shots. The research team explained that a tutor could point to different items to prompt Stargazer to pan the camera. In addition, if a tutor says, “If you look at how I put ‘A’ into ‘B’ from the top,” Stargazer will move to shoot down from a high angle.

What has the team said

Lead researcher Jiannan Li says, “The goal is to have the robot understand in real time what kind of shot the instructor wants. The important part of this goal is that we want these vocabularies to be non-disruptive. It should feel like they fit into the tutorial.” Li also said: “The robot is there to help humans, but not to replace humans. The instructors are here to teach. The robot’s role is to help with filming — the heavy-lifting work.”

What next for Stargazer?

Image courtesy: Matt Hintsa

In a test, Stargazer was used to make six tutorial videos. These covered subjects such as skateboard maintenance, interactive sculpture making and setting up a virtual reality headset. However, the research team wants to move Stargazer away from the tabletop using camera drones and robots on wheels. They also want to develop the robot’s responses to more subtle cues from the tutor’s gaze, posture and speech.

When can you buy one?

Stargazer is a university research project, so don’t expect it to be appearing in shops any time soon. However, Jiannan Li said, “I think there’s a real market for robotic filming equipment, even at the consumer level. Stargazer is expanding that realm but looking farther ahead with a bit more autonomy and a little bit more interaction. So realistically, it could be available to consumers.”

What we think

Stargazer is another interesting use of AI technologies. For solo content creators, it could be a great way to shoot more dynamic videos if an affordable commercial version could be developed. However, Stargazer could put some jobs at risk, despite the reassurances of the research team. For example, it’s easy to see how the system could replace the studio-based camera operators on a TV news station or even a game show. AI offers many future benefits, but we must be careful adopting it.

Pete Tomkies
Pete Tomkies
Pete Tomkies is a freelance cinematographer and camera operator from Manchester, UK. He also produces and directs short films as Duck66 Films. Pete's latest short Once Bitten... won 15 awards and was selected for 105 film festivals around the world.

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