|On a snowy day, people stopped by to hold the cold hands of the grandma and gave her warm-hearted smiles. Photo provided by Lee Sung-hyung.
An old woman with a bent back makes her way slowly across the street, carrying a heavy cart filled with cardboard boxes. Although her head was wrapped tightly with a scarf, and she wore her working gloves, her clothing did little to keep the cold away. The dynamic energy of the young hustling past her created a great comparison. Some were looking at her with concern, and some came to hold her cold rusty hands.
The old woman however, is not a real human, but a robot made by Lee Sung-hyung. Lee has been an entertainer for 15 years and is more well-known as MarineBOY. Growing up in Namdo Island hemmed on all sides by a vast ocean, he enjoyed dismantling machines since he was a kid, which led him to dream of inventing something that could change the world. He enrolled at the university as a Mechanical Engineering major, but soon dropped out and came to Seoul to become an entertainer as he enjoyed making people laugh.
However, he did not put away his love of inventing. He made his own tools for his circus performances, such as a mini car he rides, and a mini rocket that flies up 100 meters. After he attended a workshop about puppet shows, Lee made his own small show and was fascinated of how a lifeless doll could bring so much life and emotions to people.
“While I was contemplating on my next project, I discovered an old cart piled with cardboard boxes by the road,” Lee said. “What was the moment I decided to work on a life-sized robot that resembled an elderly collecting waste papers and boxes to show people how the old refuse collector is also a human being.”
The process of making a robot was quite a challenge for Lee as making the robot walk smooth like a human required a lot of work. He studied various kinetic artist’s work in the process of creating the most natural human walk. Intriguingly, he altered the ratios of a horse’s movement to replicate the walk of a person. After putting a mask of an old grandmother and some clothes on his creation last November, Lee showcased his work Grandma’s Cart to the world.
Snow paved the sidewalk, the first day Grandma’s Cart roamed the streets. Passerby were all huddled in their thick coats, trying to stay warm. With cameras built into the robot, Lee was able to watch people’s reactions.
“One of the reactions from people that I specifically remember was when one middle aged woman came to the grandma and gave her a warm hug with tears in her eyes,” Lee said. “The friend next to the woman also began to cry, and it was a special moment for me, when I could feel the warmth of humanity. As I had expected people to hold hands of the robot, I installed a hot wire to give in response to the warmth that the people were giving.”
The Grandma’s Cart has been officially invited by the Seoul Street Arts Festival 2017 this October. For 50 minutes, the Grandma’s Cart walked around Cheonggyecheon-ro and Mugyo-ro, capturing people’s warm hearts.
Some people do not know whether the grandma is in fact a robot, but Lee says that is secondary. Rather, the importance lies in how the viewers themselves feel through Grandma’s Cart. Lee believes the project is one way of communicating with various people, and a tool to allow people to spread the spirit of kindness and mutual support.
“There’s a quote who I always keep in mind: I will be an entertainer that carries the world’s happiness and sadness,” Lee said. “I want to perform and interact with my audience even when I become an old man. By that time, I might have created something different like the Grandma’s Cart. I just wish I can spread happiness to the world!”