“Robots + Us” Explores the History and Future of Robotics at The Science Museum of Virginia
The Science Museum of Virginia unveiled a new exhibit on May 11th, Robots + Us, and it takes a fresh look back at the history of robotics. From the great number of tasks robots perform each day, to the entertainment they bring to humanity, Robots + Us covers lots of ground.
The completely hands-on exhibit brings the complexities of the mechanical world into our everyday activities. “We want a really strong interactive factor, so people can get in there and check things out and see things that make them excited,” said Museum Manager of Communications And Stories Nancy Tait. From the moment you walk in, you are greeted by Larry the in-house robot and a history dating back to the 1700s of moving mechanics.
The exhibit dives into an age old competition of man versus machine. One part of the exhibit, a challenge against a very animated robotic arm to build a puzzle has become a quick favorite. “That robot is amazingly programmed and so much fun. I love the way he bows and recognizes you,” said Tait. “He is programmed to be more than ‘okay you hit go, I will create this puzzle’. He has timing and he flourishes.”
Not only does the arm challenge you with puzzles and tricks but a small bit of philosophy. Posted along the walls are questions that dare you to consider how you would feel if you cheated against a robot in a game or even ‘killed’ a machine. These questions become more interesting as you learn about the continuous pursuit humans are making to give robots a more realistic feel with emotions and skin.
From piece to piece, visitors will explore moving, sensing, thinking and being as the robots recreate basic human functions such as speech and hearing. Some pieces allow a participant to give the computer a tongue twister or hear as someone with a cochlear implant hearing device would hear. The exhibit shows how robotics has helped to recover what many have lost and even how robots heal through social interactive artificial intelligence.
On the opening day of the exhibit, VirginiaFIRST a robotics league associated with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), had a small demonstration of their robots. “Science is not something you stare at from a distance,” says Tait. Working with groups is part of the museums mission to create a better learning experience.
“I think [the exhibit] is really cool and fresh and I am excited to have it until the end of September,” says Tait. “Families are going to like it and groups are finding it exciting, especially school groups. There is something for everybody here.”
Come June, the Spring N2 Summer event, an outdoor celebration of science, will include robots in the larger new permanent exhibit at the museum.
The event runs until the September 29th at the Science Museum of Virginia along with Imax presentations and other hosted events and exhibits. Robot + Us is included with admission tickets which are $11 with a $1 discount for ages 4-12 and 60+.
“We’re not just a look but don’t touch,” said Tait. “We’re very much interactive. We want people come in and try it out.”
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