From the factory floor to nursing homes, people are increasingly getting help from robots. Now you can see and interact with more than 40 different types at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry at "Robot Revolution," which opens on Thursday, May 21.
"It's really an unprecedented exhibit for a museum to produce," said Kathleen McCarthy, the museum's director of collections and head curator. "It will provide guests with the opportunity to see robots that they really couldn't see in any other situation."
"Robot Revolution"Where: Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, (773) 864-1414, msichicago.org
When: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily from Thursday, May 21, through January 2016
Admission: General admission: $18 adults, $11 kids 3-11, $17 seniors 65 and older. Timed-entry tickets to "Robot Revolution": $11 adults and seniors, $9 kids 3-11
The exhibit opens with a section on cooperation, which shows how robots work with humans and other robots, ranging from a team of robots that can play soccer together built by a Chinese university for an annual competition to advance research into artificial intelligence, to a robotic exoskeleton that helps people who are paralyzed walk again. A two-armed robot will challenge two visitors at a time to a game of tic-tac-toe.
"We want guests to see ways in which humans and robots will cooperate in the future as well as how robots will cooperate with other robots to improve our world and how we live, work and play," McCarthy said.
The exhibit also explores the challenges engineers face when developing robots that can connect well with humans. Humans use facial expressions to communicate their thoughts, and you'll be able to interact with robots that try to simulate human emotion, making faces to indicate they are happy or surprised, or imitating faces humans make at them.
"One of the really interesting things about robotics that we found is the incredible amount of collaboration across the sciences: bioengineers working with mechanical engineers and people in the humanities for social robots," McCarthy said.
Another robot sure to be a hit is an artificial baby seal used for robot pet therapy in nursing homes, helping patients who might be afraid of or allergic to conventional animals. The entire surface under the fur is composed of touch sensors: The seal will turn toward people talking to it, and it also uses a gyroscope to understand if it's being held upright so it can bend in for a hug.
"They've seen really great improvements with patients using it in nursing homes," McCarthy said. "It's also just absolutely adorable."
In the exhibit, you'll also get to control Rex, a two-foot-long robot modeled after a cockroach that was built by a research lab at the University of Pennsylvania, as it nimbly navigates around rough terrain. Another robot, built by a German company, combines aspects of an elephant's trunk and fish's fin to delicately grasp objects.
"Sometimes robots can be modeled after human anatomy, and that makes sense," McCarthy said. "Sometimes roboticists look to the natural world and sometimes, depending on the task at hand, it makes sense to make something totally new."
MSI sent cameras to research labs around the world to film their work and create two-minute documentary films to provide a look at what they do. Guests can also see specialists working firsthand in a RoboGarage.
"As you can imagine, keeping 40-plus robots operating can be difficult," McCarthy said. "We took what we thought could be a liability and turned it into an asset so guests can see the robots being worked on."
Funded with help from Google.org as part of their commitment to get more kids involved in science and engineering, the exhibit was developed by the Museum of Science and Industry. After its Chicago run, it will spend years traveling across the country.
"It's a very forward-focused exhibit," McCarthy said. "We hope people that come to see it really leave inspired to engage in the field of robotics."