A clever, hilarious project that manages to combine some San Francisco whimsy with very 2023 robotics and AI continues to bring delight to passersby after debuting earlier this year.
The animatronic muppet, who doesn't seem to have a name herself, only knows one song — and it's Vanessa Carlton's 2002 hit "A Thousand Miles." A video of her doing her schtick, "playing" a piano and rolling atop a decommissioned food-delivery robot, went viral this spring, as SFGate first reported.
But she was back out doing her thing over the weekend, rolling down the car lane on Saturday night (not the bike lane!) on Valencia Street, to the delight of everyone who encountered her.
The robot muppet playing A Thousand Miles on Valencia St. last night 💖 pic.twitter.com/olnrmyYuix— Danielle Baskin (@djbaskin) August 6, 2023
The muppet, which apparently has the blessing of Ms. Carlton (the creators brought the muppet to Carlton's show in Petaluma in April to let her see it), is the work of 34-year-old aerospace engineer and Mission resident Ben Howard, with help from high school friend Noah Klugman and lawyer friend Lane Powell.
This was a pandemic-times project, and as Howard told SFGate in May, the inspiration came after he acquired the former food-delivery robot cart, and after he'd used it to make some contactless deliveries of Halloween candy in 2020. In 2021, Howard and his friends began creating the robotic piano player — Howard said he filmed himself lip-synching to "A Thousand Miles" and then motion-mapped it onto the puppet.
"I learned to play [Carlton's] song on piano as a kid, along with a zillion other people. Her old music is just classic, and she’s still putting out new great music," Howard told SFGate.
The video below, shot back in March and April in different locales around the city, now has over 124,000 views on YouTube — but it probably deserves more!
There's no word on when or where you might see the muppet next — kind of like Robot Dance Party, she'll just appear when you most need a boost.