At right: Science Center Director Seddon Bennington and the Robotics exhibit team surround the Basketball Arm, which shoots with remarkable accuracy and is controlled by visitors. Kneeling in front is Yuri Plotnikov, electrical engineer; behind him from left are Jim Dhayer, head of the Science Center fabrication shop; Bennington; Carol Weston, head designer; Ray Russel, mechanical engineer; Nancy Halutick, exhibit developer; and Matthew Sass, designer.

When Seddon Bennington became director of Carnegie Science Center two years ago, after overseeing the successful launching of the new Scitech Discovery Centre in Perth, Australia, he saw an important challenge for the three-year-old Center in Pittsburgh in making its educational programs relevant to the regional population. Helping workers in western Pennsylvania grasp the possibilities of future employment through a better understanding of science was, and still is, high on his agenda.

"Increasing unemployment is a very international issue at the end of the century," he said (Carnegie Magazine, Nov./Dec. 1994), and noted that "the whole range of employment opportunities is changing rapidly and we need to develop flexibility in our young people, so they can see different jobs as new opportunities and not just be daunted by the opportunities denied."

Bennington is not alone in this evaluation-every major economic study of the future of Pittsburgh emphasizes the need to increase the region's workforce, and to stem the outflow of the younger population, including thousands of university graduates annually, who want very much to stay in the area, but who cannot find the right jobs.

With its new Robotics exhibit, Carnegie Science Center is helping to plant the seeds for a new robotics culture in Pittsburgh, and is showing the public the possibilities of education and future employment in robotics. After a one-year stay in Pittsburgh, Robotics will travel to other science centers, and should reach approximately three million people over four years.

The interactive 5,000-square-foot exhibit was created by the Science Center in collaboration with local robotics businesses such as Denning Branch International Robotics and Universal Technology, Inc., Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, and leading robot manufacturers from around the country. Robotics introduces the world of intelligent machines-how they work, who builds them, and what they do-and organizes the exhibit around themes such as sensing, thinking and acting.

The exhibit dispels fantasies about robots by introducing the basic science behind robots, and comparing the human processes of sensing, thinking and acting with similar robotic functions. The exhibit also demonstrates the advantages of robots in the workplace-but as an extension of human capability, rather than as a threat to workers. It can help people define career opportunities in the robotics industry.

Decades of popular science fiction, films, television and other entertainments have ingrained in the public imagination the stereotyped android robot-a machine that looks like a person and walks, thinks, talks and performs superhuman feats-such as flying or fighting criminals the way Robocop does in the movies. In reality most robots do not look like humans or have all their capabilities, but robots are ideal for going where humans cannot, and for performing specific routines endlessly with great precision.

As humans we carry out apparently simple tasks with little thought of the multiple senses, skills, and actions involved. One example is posed in the exhibit: You can tie your shoelaces-but can you tie them by using two pairs of pliers, and do this while blindfolded? This sensory depriviation is comparable to the way robots operate, and demonstrates what technology must be designed to accomplish. A practical view of robotics reveals it to be a series of problems in designing software, engineering mechanical parts capable of specific tasks, and operating machines that "sense," "think" and "act."

Robotics includes more than 30 different hands-on activities and appeals to people of all ages. The range of both high- and low-tech exhibits encourages people to experience these cutting edge technologies in very entertaining ways.

Carnegie Science Center is once again, as in planetarium shows "Through the Eyes of Hubble" and "Journey into the Living Cell," being entrepreneurial in its production of popular science programs, and in maintaining its reputation as one of the leaders of science center education in the 1990s. When the exhibition goes on tour to other science center, the lease revenues will help recover the costs of its development and maintenance.

Exhibit Highlights:

Basketball Arm-this tall industrial robot made in Sweden for automobile manufacturing can shoot a basketball with 95 percent accuracy-visitors will be able to control the arm and adjust the parameters of the shooting program.

Multiple sensors-including a metal detector, a weight detector, a capacitance detector, and a temperature detector. Visitors will be able to examine sensor read-outs of different objects on a computer screen and experiment with how much or how little sensory information is needed to identify objects in a box.

Fool the Motion Detector-visitors move as slowly as they can in an attempt to fool an ultrasonic motion detector.

Julia, the Chatterbot-"Julia" is an artificial intelligence program housed in a computer, and she will talk to visitors about pets, while seeming to express emotions, likes and dislikes, and a personality.

Dynavox-a speech synthesis system used by physically challenged people for oral communication. The brilliant physicist and astronomer David Hawking uses this system. Words or sentences typed on the Dynavox keyboard are translated into "speech."

Terregator-developed at CMU as the world's first self-regulating vehicle designed to travel in environments too dangerous for people. A video of Terregator in action will run continuously.

Hide and Seek-Visitors hide from a locally built "Fander" teaching robot. The robot finds the visitors by sensing an arm band they wear.

Adept arm-Visitors see how a robotic arm can be used for sorting operations when combined with a vision system. They race with the robot to sort keys into their specific position-oriented slots, and the robot is at least 30 percent faster than the human.

Building a Robotics Culture in Pittsburgh

Why has robotics become such an important subject for Pittsburgh? There are several reasons. First is the large and successful commitment made by Carnegie Mellon University to be the recognized national leader in field robotics research and engineering. This has had internationally visible results, like the development of Dante (the spidery robot shown in the exhibition) that can operate in hostile environments such as the mouth of a volcano or the surface of Mars. Second is the development of start-up companies such as Red Zone Robotics which reveal a possible path for economic growth in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Third and very important for Pittsburgh is government support at all levels for research and business enterprise in robotics. In 1994, NASA provided $2.5 million in funding to create a Robotics Engineering Consortium (REC) in Pittsburgh. In 1995 Pennsylvania's Governor Tom Ridge authorized $6.5 million to Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to create a robotics research facility, and URA paid $1.3 million more to acquire a site in Lawrenceville. Widespread political support has been forthcoming for Pittsburgh's emergence in robotics. The mayor of Pittsburgh, the governor of Pennsylvania, congressional representatives and senators, as well as local political leaders, have provided support and encouragement. Former governor Richard Thornburgh headed the recent Presidential Commission on Science and Technology and coordinated many of the activities now bearing fruit in Pittsburgh. Science, business and government are uniting to spawn a new age of robots. What are these field robots? U.S. News and World Report (March 18, 1996) heralded "The New Magic Machines" under development in Pittsburgh as "part of a new generation of smart, flexible machines that can perform work in unstructured environments almost anywhere." Besides mobile robots that can toil at radioactive sites, other uses are predicted in entertainment, defense, lumbering, inspections and security. At REC in Lawrenceville, housed in a renovated century-old Pittsburgh foundry building, some of the most exciting new machines are under development, such as "Demeter" (named after the Greek goddess of agriculture and fertility), a harvester for New Holland North America that will work tirelessly down rows of plants, distinguishing the cut from the uncut as it makes its selection. Also at REC, driverless vehicles are being experimented with by Caterpillar Corp., which wants to use automated equipment to expand its market in the surface mining industry. Totally automated mining machines are being developed for the National Mining Company of Chile, and the "autonomous"-i.e. no human is in the car-driving of a vehicle at high speeds off the highway is under analysis for Boeing Corp. Other projects include robotic cargo handling, "telepresence" conferencing-which can put a viewer in an environment, such as in the driver's seat of a robot on the moon; and a Simlab "virtual reality bicycle" for Children's Hospital-which can test and evaluate a child's motor responses and other physical functions.

But a cornucopia of new products and the weathervanes of science, business and government pointing towards a future for robotics in Pittsburgh do not themselves guarantee that robotics will grow into a great industry here. There is much more to be done, including a great deal of public education.

"We are talking about a set of technologies that companies all over the world are going to be utilizing," says David Pahnos, director of the new NASA-CMU consortium. "The opportunity for Pittsburgh is to be one of those technical centers that pushes the technology forward and, as a technical center, act as a magnet for business."

Pahnos envisions Pittsburgh as the robotics capital of the world. But Pittsburgh is in a race with other cities. At the artificial intelligence laboratory at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in several California institutions, there is equal opportunity to spark industrial growth. The director of Carnegie Science Center, Seddon Bennington, points out that "factory robots" are already being built in great numbers in Japan and Sweden, and that Pittsburgh cannot simply replicate this first generation of industrial effort. Rather, Pittsburgh's developing expertise and potential niche, world-wide, is in the new high-end technology-the programming, the software and hardware, electronic engineering, biological and environmental research and applications, and communications, that will drive the field robotics industry forward.

"For the past eight or nine years the niche market for advanced robotics techn ology has been developing," says Pahnos, "until it is now about to go commercial, and transition in the next few years into a mass market." There is no longer any question of whether the advanced machines will work-we know they will. Now the question is whether Pittsburgh can mount a total community effort at the right time-new combinations of business, government, banking, corporate support, research and education. Once again, says Pahnos, Pittsburgh must reward the creative strategies and superior knowledge of its entrepreneurs, just as it did for those who built the 19th-century businesses that became the legendary Pittsburgh money machines of subsequent decades.

Carnegie Mellon's dozen or so scientific leaders in robotics have made Pittsburgh the world leader in robotics research, and a hundred or so advanced graduate students in the Ph.D. pipeline can help maximize Pittsburgh's research advantage. But more than research is required. "What is needed is more than an expertise; it's a culture," says Red Whittaker, Pittsburgh's most visible robotics scientist/entrepreneur. The automobile became central to Detroit, and Silicon Valley emerged in California, as steel did a century ago in Pittsburgh, because in each case entrepreneurs created new business structures to promote the products of the new technologies.

There are not as many jobs in robotics as there were in 19th century heavy industry, when 5,000 laborers passed through a gate during a shift change at the mill. Today the educational bar is being raised higher all over the world, says Pahnos, even as the dollar value of unskilled labor on the world, market continues to drop. But skilled labor in the manufacturing of robotics could be highly valued. Manufacturing in western Pennsylvania created a culture of metalworking that produced an excellent workforce, and that has not disappeared.

As it competes economically for national attention against comparable cities like Cleveland, Boston, Seattle, Austin, Baltimore or Raleigh, Pittsburgh must use to its advantage all of its historic strengths.

When Robotics tours other metropolitan centers, it will promote Pittsburgh's leadership in this emerging new field of technology.

-R. Jay Gangewere is editor of Carnegie Magazine.

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