I married a geek. Three years later, I gestated his miniature. So it’s not a stretch to say that the world’s largest robotics exhibit would be something of interest to these two. But here’s the thing. Even if you’re not a geek (or haven’t outed yourself yet), you’re still going to love roboworld™, the world’s largest permanent robotics exhibition, at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh.
Where we went, and who was coerced into going:
On our road trip to Pittsburgh, PA last week, the four of us spent the morning at the Carnegie Science Center. NOTE: A single morning was not enough time. I hated myself for having to rush the kids from exhibit to exhibit.
Bad Mommy: “No more Bernoulli Effect for you! Keep moving!”
WHY did you go there, exactly?
Did you know that there’s a $500 billion emerging robotics industry in southwestern Pennsylvania? Pittsburgh, then, was the natural location for roboworld, which opened in 2009. This $3.5 million exhibition occupies 6,000 square feet, with three distinct areas featuring robots sensing, thinking, and acting.
Okay, what was so cool about it?
The Science Center is four floors of pure geek revelry, but roboworld is on the second floor. You’re greeted by Andy, the life-sized RoboThespian™, who you can program to speak and move via touch screen.
Along one whole wall is a robot Hall of Fame showcasing robot replicas from popular movies and TV shows spanning several decades. The Boy was overjoyed to see C3-PO and R2-D2, while Matt and I related more HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and Robby from “Forbidden Planet”.
Practically every exhibit had some interactive component, so you could spend hours just in roboworld. (But you do want to leave time for the other exhibits, especially the model train village right next door).
There are exhibits describing, replicating and demonstrating various concepts and technologies, like sonar range finders, radar, and “lidar” (long-range distance sensor for robotic vehicles). There was thermal imaging, object tracking systems, medical bots, and a robot mapping exhibit where you program a mobile robot across the floor through a course via touch-screen.
The Boy was mostly intrigued by air hockeybot, which plays air hockey against a human. He didn’t even want to play, so immersed was he in watching the robot and trying to figure it all out. The attendant told us that you can – occasionally — score goals against the bot, and recommended we check out the screen behind it. The information panel describes how it works via ultraviolet light. The robot’s disadvantage is that, despite its ability to predict the speed and direction of the puck, its arm cannot move as fast as a human’s arm.
He also enjoyed “chatting” with Athina, an artificial intelligence chatbot with a computer-generated face on a screen who would interact – somewhat humorously – with the conversations you type in. When he asked, “how are you?,” she responded, “I’m operating well within normal parameters. That’s robot talk for ‘I’m fine.’”
Of the few non-interactive exhibits, our favorite was “Hoops,” the giant robotic arm which shot basketballs into a regulation net. He shoots with 98% accuracy. He seems to have a cheeky personality which endeared us, by bowing repeatedly when he made his shot.
Or in the case of these missed shots, after which he seems to humbly hang his “head” in shame:
How it rated on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = snoozefest, 10 = add to your bucket list):
It’s a 9! If you have even an ounce of geek in your blood, you will enjoy this exhibit. The only downside was the crowds, and the lines to interact with some of the more popular exhibits, like the air hockey table.
Hey you! Go BIG!:
One Allegheny Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Disclaimer: Visit Pittsburgh provided us with complimentary admission to the Science Center.