Kim Amey, project manager of Carnegie Science Center’s new roboworld exhibit opening June 13, says she always had a “sort
of geeky interest in robots and sci fi.” So when this Pittsburgh native and graduate of Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz School of Public Policy and Management got an offer to be part of creating the country’s first permanent robotics exhibit, she jumped at the chance. Amey had spent seven years as development coordinator for the Sports & Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, where, among other projects, she managed the maintenance and programming of Pittsburgh’s North Shore Riverfront Park. So what do Pittsburgh’s rivers and its growing robotics community have in common? They’re both distinctively ours, she notes. “If any place is going to be the home of the largest permanent robotics exhibit in the country, we think it should be here,” she says, emphatically. “We need to step up and say why it’s us. And that’s what we’re doing with roboworld.”
By Betsy Momich
What got you the most excited about this job?
I think that roboworld is this great opport-unity for Pittsburgh to shine. The Science Center gets visitors from all over the world, and this is a chance to show them what’s happening right here in our city. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to get a new generation of young people excited about science and technology.
Who all is working on roboworld?
It’s a massive collaborative effort. We’re working with local universities—Carnegie Mellon, Pitt, Robert Morris, and California University—local spin-offs, international companies, and world-renowned researchers. Our advisory committee includes scientists, professors, engineers, and entrepreneurs. The enthusiasm has been overwhelming. That’s one of the most exciting things about it.
Who are some of the companies working with you on the exhibits?
There’s Roto Studio out of Dublin, Ohio, who is doing our structure design and
fabrication, as well as the graphics, video production, and a few of the exhibits. We’re also working with vendors like Integrated Industrial Technologies, Educational Robot Company, and Nuvation. And our own staff is doing some excellent exhibit work. So it’s just a lot of different players all working together to produce this one-of-a-kind exhibition.
Are any of the robots donated?
Yes, we have several. McKesson, an international health care services company with an automation center in Cranberry, donated a robot called Robot RX, which is used in hospital pharmacies to improve efficiency and safety in hospital environments. RedZone Robotics is donating a robot that’s used to inspect sewers. And Aethon is a local company donating Tug, a robot that works in institutions like hospitals, carrying a cart on it to deliver lunch trays or take laundry around. When I had my son in 2007, I saw one at Magee (Hospital) pushing my tray around. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I know now! We’ll also have two robots on loan: Pong, a facial-tracking robot from IBM, and Star Kick, a robot foosball table from Gauselmann, a company out of Germany.
How will the Robot Hall of Fame be incorporated into roboworld?
The Robot Hall of Fame was created by Carnegie Mellon in 2003, and it will have its permanent home in roboworld. We’ll have replicas of the Hall of Fame winners and something called an ‘I-Wall,’ which is a large graphic display with a timeline of robots starting with the 20th century forward. Along the way on that timeline you’ll see both fictional and real robots, and the Hall of Fame inductees will be called out graphically. You’ll be able to learn more about their historical context, which I think is really important in order to understand their influence. Also, students at the Entertainment Technology Center have created an interactive experience for us called the Holopix Station, where visitors can have their photos taken with Hall of Fame robots, including C3P0 and R2-D2 from Star Wars.
Were you surprised by the level of interest when the Science Center first announced this project?
We definitely expected that, locally, people would get excited about it. But the fact that we got media attention from Italy, the United Kingdom, and Australia was really amazing and exciting.
Is there some kind of common denominator among all those robot enthusiasts?
They’re all so excited about what they do, so passionate. I mean, if we could capture that in a little bottle and give it to the kids coming into the Science Center … That’s really our goal here, to get the young visitors engaged and excited about science, so that if they’re in middle school they can think about advanced math or maybe engineering when they get into high school. If we can just catch them early and give them some of that spark …
How will artificial intelligence be represented in roboworld?
We’re working with Carnegie Mellon to do an exhibit based on their robot that greets visitors at the Robotics Institute. Our ‘chatbot’ will be able to answer everyday questions, but also questions about robotics, the Science Center, and even Pittsburgh. There’s also really cool software called AARON, developed by artist Harold Cohen in California, that creates art on its own. So it will challenge visitors to think about things like, can a software program be creative? Can a robot be an artist?
Has anything totally surprised you about what robots are already doing?
The most amazing thing I’ve seen was nanobots playing soccer. We saw it last spring during the RoboCup Soccer Tournament—through a microscope. It was unbelievable.
What one thing would you love to have a robot do in your life?
I wish I had a robot to help me manage this project! That’s the number one thing right now. On the other hand, a robot in my home like “Rosie” (from The Jetsons cartoon) would be awesome, too.