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Robots at the South FL Science Museum

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The following appeared December 16, 2006 in the

MAN AND MACHINES

'Robotics' exhibit to open today.
Display at Science Museum to demonstrate types of robots and the mechanisms that help them function.


Daily News Staff Writer

Robots are everywhere — hiding in plain sight.

   That's reality, not the plot of a cheesy B-movie from the 1950s.

    While robots are commonly perceived as machines with the shape and mannerisms of humans, most robots bear no resemblance to Lt. Data, the android in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" or to David, the eternally young robot in Steven Spielberg's "AI: Artificial Intelligence."

   "We are very far from having a robotic maid," South Florida Science Museum exhibits director Peter Feher said in reference to Rosie the Robot, the wise-cracking servant in "The Jetsons" cartoon of the 1960s.

   Robots come in many shapes and sizes.

   They assemble cars in Detroit, allow people with vocal damage to communicate, dispose of bombs for police SWAT teams, test thousands of potential drugs simultaneously for biotech firms, vacuum floors without supervision and, in the form of a red fuzzy toy named Elmo, tickle children's funny bones.

   "Robotics," an exhibit that opens today at the science museum, explores the types of robots that exist, the characteristics that define them and the mechanisms with which they function.

   The 4,000-square-foot experience, whose core is a traveling exhibit from the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, is packed with fun interactive displays that will entertain and educate children and adults alike.

   Feher said he designed the Carnegie portion while working there 11 years ago. The Robot Rodeo, another portion, comes from Seattle's Northwest Invention Center, headed by former South Florida Science Museum director Ed Sobey. The West Palm Beach museum created some of the displays itself.

   The two stars of "Robotics" are replicas of Robby the Robot from the 1956 sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet and B9, the robot from the campy Lost in Space TV series of the 1960s. Local celebrities will perform the voices of the robots this weekend. After that, the two will banter about each other's Hollywood career, Feher said.

   "It's pretty cool," he said.

   ("Robby the Robot" and the B9 "Lost in Space" Robot replicas are both owned by HighTechScience.org's founder Richard Newman).

   During a recent visit, Feher demonstrated the Race the Robot challenge. It allows visitors to compete with an industrial robot to identify from a handful of keys the ones that open a set of three locks. The robot employs a camera and a computer program to quickly identify the right keys by silhouette.

   "That's why the robot usually wins," he said.

   This time, though, Feher was able to find the correct keys for his set of locks quicker than the computer. He attributed his win to sheer luck.

   Other components demonstrate robots' ability to sense the world around them, manipulate objects and navigate their way across a space.

   Manufacturers use of robots to replace human workers, and malevolent robotic characters in movies such as The Terminator and 2001: A Space Odyssey make some people suspicious of efforts to hone artificial intelligence, Feyer said.

   "But we don't have to worry about robots taking over the world — in the next decade," he said.

   With any luck, though, Rosie the Robot will be on the market in 10 years, ready to do laundry, fix a cocktail and run the household.

  Until then, there's the Roomba and Scooba — household robots that vacuum and mop floors, respectively.

Visit www.SFSM.org or call 832-1988 for more details.


    For more information about our robots, visit
www.HighTechScience.org

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