about townSummer 2008
Carnegie Science Center has teamed up with robotics powerhouse Carnegie Mellon University and local robotics companies to deliver a one-of-a-kind experience that will not only put already robotics-rich Pittsburgh on the high-tech map, but encourage a new generation  of ‘bot builders.
Robotic Wonder

By John Altdorfer
RoboWorld exhibit renderingReports of robotic invasions can incite widespread panic and chaos. Well, at least in the movies. But here in “Roboburgh,” the recent announcement that a boat-load of ’bots will soon descend upon Carnegie Science Center is cause for a regional celebration.

Early next year, much of the second floor of the popular North Shore destination will transform into roboworld, a 6,400-square-foot showcase of 30 hands-on, interactive exhibits that zero in on the latest advances in robotic development. Both educational and entertaining, roboworld will blend high-tech reality with science-fiction fantasy to appeal to a wide range of interests and audiences. And the Science Center, with one successful robotics exhibit under its belt already, believes there’s no better place for it.

Roboworld would be a great attraction here, in Des Moines, Iowa, or anywhere else,” says Jo Haas, the Henry Buhl, Jr. director of the Science Center. “But it makes sense in Pittsburgh because of the region’s many achievements on the world stage of robotic technology. With roboworld, we’re committed to putting a lens on the amazing things that are happening here at companies like Aethon, Automatika, and Integrated Industrial Technologies among others.”

Not so coincidentally, many of those “amazing things” can be found at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center and its Robotics Institute, major partners in the project that, once completed, will be the largest and most comprehensive robotics exhibit in the nation.

“Carnegie Mellon is inarguably in the forefront of robot innovation,” continues Haas. “However, it isn’t set up to give the general public an inside look at what it does. By working together, we can present an informal educational look at the hardcore science and technology happening at the university. When you add in the entertainment value of the Science Center, you really have a homerun.”

To be sure, roboworld will touch all the bases. The groundbreaking, $3.4-million attraction will lead visitors through three focus areas: robot sensing, thinking, and acting. To better understand what makes the machines tick, visitors will discover how robots “see” and “hear,” how they process information, and how they do everything from walk, roll, climb, fly, grasp items, and work with tools. Visitors will even be able to create and test their own robots in an interactive workshop designed to expose younger audiences to a new world of academic and career opportunities in the high-tech field.

“Since 1980, the United States has dropped from first to sixth in  the world in terms of the number   of engineers graduating from our colleges,” notes Ron Baillie, the Science Center’s chief program officer. “Right here in Pittsburgh   and across the country, so many high-tech jobs remain open because there aren’t enough people with the skills to fill them. Robotics has been  shown as one of the ways to engage youngsters at an early age in a way that can lead to their pursuit of   technology-related careers.”

In fact, Haas sees roboworld as a breeding ground for future talent to develop and thrive right here in western Pennsylvania.

“We want to assume a major role in workforce development with roboworld,” she says. “We are going to concretely connect the exhibit to the major science and technology sectors in this region. The goal is to  have children interact with robots here  at the Science Center and realize that robots are being made right here in their own backyard.”

At CMU, principal scientist and roboworld advisor David Bourne says that the Robotics Institute’s involvement stems from the shared desire to inspire young people to pursue the sciences as a career.

“Ultimately, we want our children to become the world’s leading scientists,” says Bourne, who helped design the Science Center’s groundbreaking 1996 robotics exhibit that still travels around the country today. “This partnership allows us at CMU to flow our technology to the Science Center so that students are exposed to robots in a way that will spark their imaginations.”

For Kim Amey, the exhibit’s project manager, the goals are even more wide ranging. On board with the project since this past January, she’s connecting with local businesses and educational institutions to broaden roboworld appeal.

“We want to make roboworld a major destination for people from around the world who are interested in this type of technology” says Amey. “As a tourist attraction, roboworld is a great economic tool. As a promotional tool, it’s going to be a great way to use local technology to showcase regional innovation.”

While roboworld will spotlight the area’s achievements, it will also be the home of some of this planet’s and other planet’s most famous mechanical marvels in a special section of the exhibit dedicated to the Robot Hall of Fame™, which was created by CMU in 2003.­

“It would be great if roboworld had the same effect on a youngster as the planetarium had on Mike Fincke when he was a kid,” says Haas, referring to the Emsworth native who grew up to become a scientist and NASA astronaut. “He tells people how he spent so many hours looking at the stars on the old Buhl Dome and then grew up to be an astronaut. I would love to hear a young man or woman come up to me 10 years from now and say that he or she is working in robotics because of roboworld. We want to inspire kids to be the next generation of robot innovators.”

Also in this issue:

Celebrating the Mark that Makes Us Human  ·  Voices From Mars  ·  American Doggedness and the Carnegie International  ·  Clash of the “Tyrant Lizards”  ·  Hip to Be Square  ·  Special Supplement: Thanks to Our Donors  ·  Director's Note  ·  NewsWorthy  ·  Now Showing  ·  Face Time: Sam Taylor  ·  Field Trip: Red Hot Find  ·  Science & Nature: Ready, Set, Go! Sports Works 2.0  ·  Artistic License: Kinetic Energy  ·  Another Look: Section of Mollusks