Yaskawa’s Motoman handling robot in show applications

09. June 2018

Art and technology as an inseparable entity

A different kind of service robotics: when the successful international artiste UliK appears on stage, he is often accompanied by a Motoman handling robot.

At the 39th “World Festival of the Circus of Tomorrow” (Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain) in Paris in February 2018 UliK was presented with the “Cirque du Soleil Innovation Prize”. (Photo: Christophe Chaumanet) / Beim 39. „Weltfestival des Zirkus von Morgen“ (Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain) im Februar 2018 in Paris wurde UliK mit dem „Cirque du Soleil Innovationspreis“ ausgezeichnet. (Foto: Christophe Chaumanet)

For over 30 years Ulrich Kahlert has been successful on international show stages under the stage name UliK. His speciality is “extraordinary things”. For the well-travelled Lower Bavarian that always involves “plenty of technology – and abstruse, often self-made devices such as jet-propelled inline skates.” Special highlights are his performances with real industrial robots. They whirl the artiste and his acrobatic colleagues several metres up into the air. UliK was the first artiste ever to introduce this kind of robot to the stage as early as 2007.


Decision in favour of for Motoman handling robot

It was a bumpy road: “In the 90s even second-hand robots were simply too expensive – and they had enormous controllers,” says UliK. Besides this, the special task called for a high degree of flexibility. And the majority of manufacturers with their robots designed for industrial use were unable to offer such flexibility. The artiste finally found a solution at Yaskawa, when the company lent him a Motoman handling robot with a payload of 150 kg. “It was surprisingly good,” UliK remembers, “I only had to build a substructure that was able to cope with a counterweight of several tonnes.”

Today UliK uses two of his own robots from the Motoman MH series with payload of 200 and 280 kg. Mounted on a mobile platform developed by UliK himself, they can be comfortably transported and assembled. The Motoman MH series of 6-axis robots features an impressive payload and a high degree of working accuracy with a small footprint and high speeds. Thanks to a new type of vibration control system, the increased axis speed and inherent rigidity of the gears can be used to achieve particularly fast acceleration in short movements. In addition, the manipulators can easily be equipped with a wide range of tools – in this case, for example, with large Japanese drums or fireballs.


Fast and easy programming

UliK values not only the efficient hardware of his robots, but also their control technology that enables simple and fast programming. “Between engagements and especially for shows-to-order we often have little time to reprogram the robot. For that reason I have to see the robot in practice and on site, so I can easily program it,” UliK explains. For him it is almost an everyday challenge. In the meantime he manages the programming of a five-minute show in only one day.

Reliably calculating and programming that all distances and movements is meanwhile a matter of course for UliK and his technical and artistic colleagues: “We’ve never had an incident in the past eleven years, because we work responsibly with the robots,” he says, and makes an interesting comparison: “With the robots it’s a bit like lion training in a cage. Due to the strong forces that also requires a certain amount of caution. “The new technical capabilities of safe human-robot collaboration there is really no alternative for UliK: “A touch-sensitive robot would be for too inflexible for our purposes.”


An effective combination

No question about it: in the opinion of Ulrich Kahlert, alias UliK, art and technology are an inseparable entity – “a combination that is well-suite to our times.” His success with the audience proves him right, as does his recognition in the show and circus business. In February 2018 one of his current performances at the 39th “World Festival of the Circus of Tomorrow” (Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain) in Paris received the “Cirque du Soleil Innovation Prize”.


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