One of the comedians that performed standup at the Barbican Centre earlier this month had a somewhat robotic delivery—for obvious reasons. And RoboThespian doesn't just tell jokes; it also reads the crowd.

Researchers from Queen Mary’s Cognitive Science Research Group are using RoboThespian to study how the audience relates to a robot performer, and what adjustments the robot can make on the fly to better connect with its audience. PhD student Kleomenis Katevas programmed the robot and comedian Tiernan Douieb wrote the jokes. But Katevas explains that RoboThespian's programming allows it to make small adjustments to its delivery:

“We used computer vision and audio processing software to detect the response of each audience member simultaneously– something a human comic cannot do. The machine used this information to determine who to look at and which gestures to use.

“We still have to analyse the performance but it’s clear already that even relatively small changes in the timing of delivery make a big difference to audience response.”

According to Professor Pat Healey, leader of the Cognitive Science Research Group, the team is hoping that by studying how audiences respond to robots like RoboThespian, they can create robots that are "more entertaining and engaging." Now it just needs a subroutine for dealing with hecklers.

Comedy robot metal tested at the Barbican [Queen Mary University of London, via Geekosystem]