Ringling Bros. Circus is back, but the only ‘animal’ performer is a robot dog| Trending Viral hub

In an age where artificial intelligence is promoted as the next big thing, we are told incessantly about how robots will soon replace humans and everyone will be out of a job.

That hasn’t happened yet.

With one exception: circus animals.

This year, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is back and touring for the first time since it closed seven years ago. But this isn’t the Ringling Bros. you might remember from when you were a kid. There are no longer horses, tigers, or elephants anywhere. There is not a single live animal in this show.

All the circus animals have been replaced by a robot dog named Bailey.

A robot dog joins the circus

Could the modern circus – a centuries-old industry almost synonymous with live animal shows – successfully achieve this? A robot dog?

Mashable was invited to a recent performance of the latest Ringling Bros. show at the UBS Arena on Long Island. He had a lot of questions about Bailey. He also wanted to see if aides viewed Bailey as a suitable replacement.

How would the circus audience react to Bailey? More importantly, how would the circus’ most important demographic (the children) react to Bailey and the lack of live animals? To find the answers to these questions, I also took my two children, ages 4 and 8, to see Bailey.

Jan Damm aka Nick Nack and Bailey, the robot dog

Jan Damm aka Nick Nack and Bailey, the robot dog
Credit: Matt Binder/Mashable

Before the show began, Ringling Bros. invited us to get up close and personal with Bailey and speak with Bailey’s co-star, human actor Jan Damm, who plays Nick Nack, as well as Lukasz Zajda, a crew member who helps to bring Bailey. to life (via remote control).

Bailey first met us backstage, trotting around with pink and yellow fur and a spring for a tail. We followed Bailey to the circus stage, where Damm and Zajda walked us through some of Bailey’s biggest tricks. Bailey could roll over, jump, and beg like, well, a real dog.

Plus, Bailey knows how to dance, which helps when one of the show’s biggest acts is a dance between Bailey and Damm.

behind bailey

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Bailey, however, is how simple she really is. Zajda, who controls Bailey throughout the show, gave me a look at the technician behind Bailey.

Bailey has a unique design, distinct from the Ringling Bros. circus. However, beneath the colorful fur and cartoon eyes is a robot dog model that anyone can buy, the Go1 model from Unitree Robotics. The Unitree Go1 starts at around $2,700, although the company now has newer models on sale.

Bailey, side view

Take a good look at Bailey’s pink and yellow fur and spring tail.
Credit: Matt Binder/Mashable

Zajda controls Bailey’s every move from about 150 to 200 feet away using a wireless remote control, the default remote control that comes with the Unitree Go1 model. It’s basically like a drone remote control with two joysticks. And Bailey’s battery can last around 45 minutes, which is more than enough for a 2-hour multi-act performance in which Bailey makes three appearances.

And speaking of Bailey’s wacky cartoon robot dog eyes that I just mentioned earlier? That’s just a looped video playing on an iPhone 12 that Ringling Bros. connected to the robot to make Bailey’s face. It really felt like Bailey’s eyes were interacting with everyone around him, so I was surprised to hear that wasn’t the case.

The return of Ringling Bros.

Originally founded in 1871, Ringling Bros. was once the largest and most famous circus in the world. With the tagline “The Greatest Show on Earth,” the live show toured the country with its infamous three-track production. Ringling Bros. became so popular in the late 1950s that the company could no longer hold shows in its large portable tents and moved to larger sports venues and stadiums such as Madison Square Garden.

Ringling Bros. featured all the standard circus fare, from clowns to trapeze artists performing incredible stunts. But Ringling Bros.’s biggest ticket sellers were the live animals. And Ringling Bros. had the resources to bring animals to the road that competitors couldn’t, like tigers and arguably Ringling Bros.’ most popular act, elephants.

Elephants were such a big draw for Ringling Bros. that they easily became the circus’ trademark. Circus elephants appeared everywhere in promotions for the show. When Ringling Bros. came to New York City, the circus was known for parading elephants through Madison Square Garden.

However, a traveling circus cannot really provide adequate care for wild animals, as many animal rights groups have argued over the years. Ringling Bros. faced criticism and legal challenges from organizations such as the ASPCA and PETA over its treatment of its elephants. The USDA even fined Ringling Bros. under the Animal Welfare Act.

In 2016, citing new local laws regarding the use of elephants in entertainment, Ringling Bros. announced that it would retire its elephants, ending the elephant portion of its show entirely. And in 2017, eight months after the elephants retired, Ringling Bros. parent company Feld Entertainment shared that ticket sales had fallen sharply. Citing the removal of elephants from the show as the reason for the crisis, the company announced that the then 146-year-old circus would close its doors.

Ringling Bros. would remain closed until 2023, when Feld Entertainment relaunched the show without live animal acts.

Goodbye to artists with live animals: it’s the best

But now we come to the real test: How would the circus-goers react to Bailey? Would children like the robot dog?

The answers: The public loves Bailey. Children, especially.

Jan Damm aka Nick Nack and Bailey the Robot Dog live on stage

Damm and Bailey perform for the audience.
Credit: Matt Binder/Mashable

The show lasts about 2 hours and is filled with musical and comedy segments, death-defying stunts, and record-holding acts like Wesley Williams, a Guinness World Record holder who rides a 34-foot-tall unicycle in the show.

Bailey appears in only 3 segments: an appearance in the first half of the show to introduce the audience to Bailey, the aforementioned dance segment in the second half of the show, and then the farewell act with all the performers.

Judging by the crowd’s reactions every time Bailey came out, it actually seems like Ringing Bros. underutilized him. The audience lit up every time Bailey appeared. Bailey wasn’t being talked about as a “robot dog act,” like people would refer to live animals simply as “tigers” or “elephants.” The children called Bailey by his name.

Bailey is now arguably the biggest star of the Ringling Bros. And while she may be there to replace the horses, tigers and elephants, Bailey is clearly no consolation prize.

Jan Damm aka Nick Nack and Bailey the Robot Dog during their live performance

Damm, a human actor, and Bailey, a robot dog artist.
Credit: Matt Binder/Mashable

At 8 and 4 years old, my children are too young to remember the circus with live animals. I explained to them that there was once a time when you could see real-life tigers and elephants at Ringling Bros. “Woah,” they exclaimed.

After the show, I asked them if they would have preferred to see the live animals or Bailey in the circus. They could only choose one and the other had to go! Based on his reaction to my tale of the old-time circus, I was surprised by his response.

“Bailey,” they both agreed.

So, the circus has returned without live animals. And in this rare case, it’s a good thing a robot named Bailey has taken their jobs.

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