Mad Mechanical Men

By Scott Budman

We all know how the advertising “Mad Men” got the word out in the 1960s.  These days, of course, it’s all about viral marketing on the web.  In case you’re wondering, a super cool robot doesn’t hurt, either.  Take the gigantic robotic arm taking up space in an even biger warehouse in San Francisco.  It’s already a web legend.  The robot, a precursor to the launch of the newest “Halo” video game, is building a sculpture of light.

We got to spend some time with it, and it’s awesome.  Straight outta Motown, a robotic arm plucked off the auto assembly line, brought to Silicon Valley to obey your web commands.  When you log into the website rememberreach.com, you can choose a point of light to help create a sculpture that promotes the newest “Halo” game.

Here’s the robot in action:

The robot comes courtesy of AKQA, a super hip agency brought in by Microsoft to stir things up before the Halo: Reach launch.  And it’s working.  Hundreds of thousands of people have gone onto the website to pick one of the (with apologies to President Bush) thousands of points of light.  Each gets a personalized message about how he or she has helped to remember those virtual fighters who gave their all for the cause, and their Facebook page lets friends know that they’re part of the Halo crowd.  The message has spread, and while the Halo:Reach launch was already a sure thing, the campaign has worked.  As one of the AKQA spokespeople said to me, “You’re here, aren’t you?”

The arm itself is something to see.  It’s from a German company called Kuka, and was really built for work on cars.  24 hour a day welding type work.  It has an LED light at the end of its arm, and as the arm swings around, it points the light at a canvas, which gives you the computerized image.  The AKQA team tells us that each sculpture takes 54,000 individual points of light.  It’s been created over and over again, as people line up to be a part of it.  It will last until “Reach” is released on September 14

It’s a marvel of modern engineering; what it’s doing may soon be the model for modern marketing.

Scott made his mark on the Halo memorial. He’s on Twitter: @scottbudman

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