This Gravity-Defying Robot Disco Ball Will Make Your Mind Boogie

Take a look at what Google’s gone and done since acquiring Bot & Dolly, the San Francisco robotics company used to film parts of Gravity.

Earlier this week, Google announced that it had acquired Bot & Dolly, the San Francisco-based robotics startup. And what better way for the company to celebrate than by heading to Las Vegas, strapping a disco ball to the end of its massive robot rig, and choreographing an electronic dance timed to pop music and flashing lights?


That’s exactly what attendees of Autodesk’s University conference witnessed this week at the Venetian Hotel, where Bot & Dolly made a surprise splash at the show with an unexpected and mesmerizing display. The company’s Iris robotic system, which looks like a futuristic automotive manufacturing arm fresh off the line in Minority Report, is typically used for advanced cinematography in Hollywood blockbusters. But just for kicks, Bot & Dolly jerry-rigged a sparkly disco ball to the end of the contraption, transforming Iris into a dubstep dancing robot. Watch the result and you’ll immediately get a sense that Bot & Dolly will fit in just fine with the rest of the characters and oddballs at Google.

Though the experience might’ve appeared random, it did give the startup a chance to show off the extreme flexibility of Iris. Filmmakers now use the robot to capture gravity-defying, motion-controlled camera shots–in fact, Bot & Dolly was used to create many of the eye-popping effects seen in the hit movie Gravity, simulating weightlessness by moving the camera angle rather than the actors themselves.

With a disco ball on the end, and a pre-defined pathway timed to Flux Pavilion’s “I Can’t Stop,” the robot bopped and bounced around, like Justin Timberlake at a VMA performance. Gyrating and twisting, the massive crane soared to ceiling-level nights before swooping back down again. Perhaps most cool, Bot & Dolly hooked the rig up to a laser scanner, which tracked the location of the arm and intermittently shot lights at the disco ball, illuminating the enormous hotel space with a blinding light show.

We’ve come a long way since Saturday Night Fever.

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.