When Mannequins Move

By Megan Garber

A store lures customers with marionettes that mimic humans

Marionettes have a long history. In ancient Greece, they are thought to have acted out epics like "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" for illiterate audiences. In Renaissance Italy, they performed morality tales to the masses. In the court of Burma, they occasionally acted as intermediaries between royals and their subjects, relaying coded, authorless messages without conveying disrespect. (As one history noted, "a marionette could say things that a human could never get away with.")

Now, marionettes are acting as another kind of intermediary: between store and consumer.

A department store in Japan used Kinect technology to create a new kind of marionette: one directed not (just) by strings and human will, but by strings and human will and interactive technology. Mannequins that move! And that mimic your movements! Whether you happen to find the mannequin-marionettes in the video above incredibly awesome or incredibly creepy, it's a good gimmick for stores that are always looking for ways to lure customers to their brick-and-mortar establishments. And it's a new chapter for marionettes, which have, it seems, found a new way to tell human stories.

Hat tip: James Hamblin

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/02/when-mannequins-move/273340/