Customer experience management vendor SAP Qualtrics, and equally global entertainment troupe Cirque du Soleil, have partnered to create the visually stimulating and digitally advanced “robot-models” that are capable both of serving as a warm-up act to the main event under the big top, and also as a way to relay real-time information to the show’s producers and organizers through personalized cocktail and perfume orders. (SAP acquired Qualtrics last year.)
These robots serve as part of Cirque du Soliel’s pre-show experience, and are the creative fruit of a long-standing partnership.
“SAP and Cirque have been in partnership for many years, and Cirque has actually been a client for 20 years, and about four or five years ago we started exploring how we could start utilizing technology to create more immersive experiences,” Alicia Rivas, senior director of global sponsorships at SAP told me. “Now, as we are trying to explore what’s next, Cirque told us they were interested in pre-show experiences before [the audience is] in the show and watching it. So it was their idea to explore the intersection of costumes, technology and experience.”
Meeting the “robot-models” definitely had a pre-event, exclusive feel to it. Away from the hustle and bustle of Fashion Week, I was escorted to a dimly lit room with plush red carpeting with two “robots” on either side of the room, each surrounded by a gaggle of reporters.On one side, was a female “robot” (really a human model in a sci-fi costume), on the other side was a male “robot.” The female robot made cocktails, while the male one made fragrances. I ordered a cocktail from the female robot based on my preferences, which I entered into an iPhone touch screen. A machine attached to her back whirred, and the concoction came up over her shoulders through plastic tubes. The cocktail was poured in a miniature plastic glass in a cavity in the chest plate. It tasted a bit tart, like sour apples. It’s definitely something I would order at a happy hour or with friends.
I was fortunate enough to speak to the designer of the robots, Anouk Wipprecht. She began working in fashion at fourteen and with robotics at seventeen, and found merging her two passions effortless and seamless. “[I enjoy] looking at how garments can become interactive, can become reactive, and this is my third collaboration with Cirque du Soleil.” I pressed further, asking her what inspired her to combine design and technology, and she blurted out, “I love robots! I love the hardware elements. I just love to work with that stuff. When I was studying fashion, the materials were analog, not digital. So I just love mixing the two together.”
The core purpose of these robots is not just to make thousands of drinks or perfumes. It is to take an already elevated customer experience level and to raise it even higher. The robots don’t just give, they take. They take thousands of data points from circus attendees and present it to Cirque Du Soleil. Without this data component, the models would simply be gimmicky fixtures that would soon be forgotten. And they’re empowered to retrieve personalized data, not just from making your drink or perfume, but from understanding how you felt about the performance.
Cirque du Soleil, like most visual performance companies, is about engaging the consumer in the moment. Sending out an email survey that may slip to the bottom of email inboxes after all the glitter from the evening before has faded is not necessarily the worst method, but in an area of high stakes and stiff competition, day-old data may be too stale. It’s important to understand how consumers feel as they are feeling it. It’s too invasive (and possibly not yet legal) to hook up electrodes to a person to measure heart rate and breathing, but it’s not too much to ask event-goers how they are feeling immediately after a performance.
Imagination and feelings are subjective and difficult to quantify, let alone analyze. That’s the basis of artistic expression, really: someone likes one thing, another one likes another. But there is a tangible way to quantify engagement, and that’s by collecting the data signals they release. It’s hard to keep good news to yourself. If you are happy or excited about something, you want to share it. SAP has made it possible for Cirque du Soleil’s audience to communicate their wonder so that they can continue to be wowed.