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No strings attached: Robot puppet singing Vanessa Carlton song hits all the right notes

SAN FRANCISCO -- In 2002, Vanessa Carlton rocketed to fame with her hit "A Thousand Miles" and the accompanying video showing her singing while playing a piano through the streets of Los Angeles.  

More than two decades later, she's back at it. After a fashion. Meet Vanessa 2.0 — an animatronic robot that looks and sounds just like the real thing.  

"It sort of just felt like something that should exist," said aerospace engineer -- and unlikely puppeteer -- Ben Howard. 

Robot Vanessa Carlton puppet
Robot Vanessa Carlton puppet in Golden Gate Park. CBS

It all started when Howard got an outdated food delivery robot from a friend and decided to turn into a piano-playing puppet.  

"Once you start talking about having a piano that can drive itself around, there's really only one song that you can do," he said.  

With the help of his friends Noah Klugman, also an engineer, and legal advice from lawyer Lane Powell, Howard set out to recreate Carlton's iconic video down to the smallest details, from her shirt to her hair and even the the gold moldings on the side of Carlton's piano.  

Instead of L.A., Robot Vanessa hit the streets of San Francisco. The video struck a chord, racking up more than 117,000 views and counting.  

Robot Puppet Sings "A Thousand Miles" by Vanessa Carlton by Ben Howard on YouTube

"People really enjoyed seeing all the San Francisco sights," Howard said. "There is so much negative press about San Francisco recently, I think it was a nice reminder that's it's an awesome place still." 

On a chilly May morning, Howard, Klugman and Powell took his robot on a joy ride at Golden Gate Park. It didn't take long for people around her pulled out their cameras, including Stacie Johnson, who had just seen the viral video online.  

"I just love that she's going through San Francisco and bringing joy," she said. "I think it's a city that needs joy right now." 

Robot Vanessa even got a thumbs up from real Vanessa after Howard and his friends brought the puppet to one of her concerts.  

"She really seemed to love it," Howard said. "It's hard not to get excited about someone bringing an animatronic puppet of you to your show."  

And while Robot Vanessa may not be able to walk a thousand miles, she's already generating a million smiles.  

"You can tell from far way when people can see it because they move, then they question, 'What is that?' and then there's this grin," Klugman said.  

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