Thu, 27 Jun 2019

It can walk, talk, and can even do the robot.

But is it really a robot?

After a machine marvel named Boris was unveiled at a youth career forum in Yaroslavl on December 11, a Russian state TV reporter strongly suggested that indeed it was.

The Rossia-24 reporter described Boris as 'one of the most advanced robots,' who had 'already learned how to dance,' and 'not at all badly.'

But it turned out Boris was nothing like Asimo, the high-tech robotic humanoid produced by Japan's Honda that it slightly resembled.

It was, in fact, merely a man in a costume -- trotted on stage for the annual high-profile forum that President Vladimir Putin himself had a say in creating years ago.

But the Rossia-24 report apparently took it all a bit more seriously, and now finds itself the center of ridicule from some Russian news outlets and others on social media.

So, who -- or what -- was on display at Yaroslavl? The Russian high-tech-focused site, Tjournal.ru, thinks it knows.

It tracked down a Russian-based company, Show Robots, that produces 'Robot Alyosha' costumes that are similar to the one boogieing at the Yaroslavl forum.

On its site, the company boasts 'the design and the technical execution of the costume creates a nearly perfect illusion that a real robot is standing in front of you,' adding that the costumes can be rented or purchased individually for 250,000 rubles ($3,765 at current exchange rates).

Tjournal notes that organizers at the forum did not refer to Boris as an actual robot, explaining the costumed machine man was part of a discussion on robots in the future workplace.

Originally called the Future Intellectual Leaders Of Russia, the forum is an annual event supported by the Education Ministry.

The project was reportedly the brainchild of Putin himself, who attended the event in 2017. Education Minister Olga Vasilyeva and the governor of the Yaroslavl region, Dmitry Mironov, were on hand for the opening of this year's event.

The pictures of Boris mingling with the young forum-goers shows there was little concern of the robot being 'outed.'

A photo uploaded on Twitter by News-Yaroslavl shows Boris being photographed with smiling young Russians. The photo is taken from behind and shows a man's neck clearly visible underneath the 'robot' head.

The Russian news site Meduza said Rossia-24 pulled the clip from its YouTube channel following Boris's exposure as a robotic fraud.

However, the video was still available on Rossia-24 as of December 12.

Tjournal notes that in its broadcast, Rossia-24 at no time noted it was all a bit of a gizmo gag, giving it an air of authenticity that organizers did not.

Tony Wesolowsky

Tony Wesolowsky is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL.

WesolowskyA@rferl.org Subscribe via RSS

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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