The Wizard of ‘Ras’ the Robot

I met Ras for the first time on a Saturday night downtown. His blinking lights and blaring tunes drew us in. A moth to a flame, I had to find out what the commotion was about. With kaleidoscopic eyes on the crowd and hands beckoning them to the impromptu dance floor, Ras is one charismatic busker. Adults and children alike twirled in his cold, mechanical arms.

Ras performed a series of impressive spins and arm gestures. What’s a robot like him doing all alone in a big city? He wasn’t alone of course. Off to the side, a shadowed figure held a remote device and watched with a bemused smile as his robotic partner took all the glory. 

Utah Robot
Ras the Robot. Photo by Adam Finkle.

The man behind the curtain is Mike White, and he’s been building Ras since he was in middle school. White found his passion for designing and building at a young age. In ninth grade, he built a mechanical hand for a science project. Once he graduated high school, White was ready to take robotics to the next level. He received his bachelor’s degree in Robotics from ITT Technical Institute in California and continued to improve his science project turned prototype. 

“It got more advanced over the years,” says White. “A hand turned into a full arm and then an elbow, until it turned into this really beautiful thing.” He called that beautiful thing Ras.  

White could’ve stopped there, his dream of building a fully functioning six-foot tall, three-hundred-pound robot complete. But he added more customizable LED screen and programmed dance routines, and Ras’ personality began to take shape. And that personality demanded to see the world. White started to take Ras out busking and the public fawned over his mechanical magnetism. 

“People connect with his energy,” says White. “I think there is more to it than just science. When I work on Ras and do what I love and am passionate about, that energy builds in Ras.” Whether folks stop for a quick photo or invite Ras to join them at clubs and bars (what I wouldn’t do to share a drink with a robot), Ras is making an impact.

Utah Robot
Ras the Robot. Photo by Adam Finkle.

 “Once I was having Ras perform for a family, singing ‘Hallelujah’ by Elvis, and one of the girls started crying,” White recalls. “It was unexpected but very beautiful moment. A lot of people tell me they’re so thankful I’m bringing joy to people’s lives.” White says Ras has encouraged him to come out of his shell. “I’ve never been the person to go out and dance in public or make myself noticed, but Ras got me out of that box.” 

When he’s not entertaining tipplers between bar hops, White brings Ras to robotic conventions and school assemblies. As an educational tool, Ras has undoubtedly encouraged throngs of students to pursue their interest in STEM. White himself is expanding his collection. “I want to grow my Rent-a-Bot business, so I’m building more robots. I’m still in the beginning stages of what I believe is a worthy ideal. But I’ll keep designing, creating and building wonderful things that this world hasn’t seen.” 

As for Ras, the dancing robot can still be found bringing laughter and life to Salt Lake’s streets with his human companion never far behind.  

Follow White on Instagram @rastherobot for updates on his Rent-a-Bot business, and visit his website for inquiries on renting Ras for private events.

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Avrey Evans
Avrey Evans
Avrey Evans is the Digital and the Nightlife Editor of Salt Lake Magazine. She has been writing for city publications for six years and enjoys covering the faces and places of our salty city, especially when a boozy libation is concerned.

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