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Issue Date: January 2009

Ready for Bots

Matt Beargie
Robots have captivated us ever since the lovable digital duo of C-3PO and R2-D2 aided Luke Skywalker in his quest to save the Cinnabon-haired Princess Leia. (Sorry, Lost in Space fans, but that robot was just too ... um, robotic.)

But now technology is catching up with our fertile imaginations, and examples of some fascinating innovations are on display as part of Robots + Us at the Great Lakes Science Center through April 26.

The exhibit gives visitors a glimpse of real-life robots and artificial intelligence by way of 24 child-friendly, interactive exhibits.

One of the most striking is “Jeremiah,” a giant, computer-generated avatar. Stand anywhere in front of him, and he will look at you. That’s thanks to an intricate computer program and a camera that shows him the location of objects in front of his screen.

“You could roll a beach ball across the floor, and he will react like it’s a person,” explains Great Lakes Science Center director of education Dante Centuori.

Another exhibit allows visitors to compete against a robotic arm to solve a puzzle, and kids will love the chance to play robot designer at the Jitterbug station, where they can attach a battery-operated propeller, toothpicks and pipe cleaners to a styrofoam body. (Kids can even take their Jitterbug creations home for $5.)

Parents and kids alike will get a kick out of the robot diner outfitted with a faux jukebox that features songs such as “Mr. Roboto” by Styx and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” by the Flaming Lips.

While Robots + Us offers a fun and educational look at the minds of machines that appear to think, it also shows that there won’t be an army of evil androids looking to wipe out the human race any time soon.

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