“They’re here … to help and improve our lives,” The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI) announces on its Web site. MSI is hosting a new national touring exhibit, Robot Revolution, which explores how robots, created by human ingenuity, will ultimately be our companions and colleagues, changing how we play, live and work together. The exhibit allows guests to step into a visionary world where robots are not just a curiosity, but a vital asset.
Robot Revolution comes to life with a collection of cutting-edge robots that have been secured from some of the most innovative global robotics companies and universities. About 40 robots from all the over the world — including Japan, Poland, Denmark, Germany, China, Canada, as well as coast-to-coast throughout the U.S., present opportunities to interact and to see robots that have rarely been shown to the public.
From Yume Robo, the climbing robot that greets you at the exhibit entry while traversing up and down a ladder, to the Recon Scout Throwbot XT that can literally be thrown into a dangerous situation to collect vital information — the breakthroughs and capabilities of these machines are showcased throughout.
“Robotics is a truly fascinating field — and it’s one that is growing exponentially,” said David Mosena, president and CEO of the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago. “This exhibit, in a fun and engaging way, helps answer questions like: How do robots work? How will they potentially change our lives? How can I get involved in robotics? We are thrilled to bring this cutting-edge content to MSI and to tour it to other science museums around the nation.”
MSI’s Robot Revolution exhibit development team worked with a renowned group of robotics experts to offer insight on the exhibit’s content. This team of advisors includes
- lead advisor Dr. Henrik I. Christensen, KUKA Chair of Robotics at the College of Computing of Georgia Institute of Technology and executive director of the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines
- Dr. Dennis Hong, professor and founding director of RoMeLa (Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory) of the Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering Department at UCLA
The exhibit is divided into four areas that delve into various aspects of robotics and offer specific hands-on activities with “amazing robot specimens,” as well as videos that feature Dr. Hong.
“This is not a history of robotics. This is showing you what’s out there right now and what’s being developed for the future,” John Beckman, the Museum of Science and Industry’s director of exhibit design and development recently told the Chicago Tribune.
Four focus areas and featured robots
- Cooperation: This area demonstrates how engineering breakthroughs are helping to create robots that can work with humans effectively to enhance our lives. Robots in this area include:
- da Vinci Surgical System from Intuitive Surgical in Sunnyvale, CA: Guests learn about surgical hardware and software that allows specially trained surgeons to perform minimally invasive surgery for a wide range of operations. With a 3-D high-definition vision system, special instruments and computer software, surgeons can operate with enhanced vision, precision and control.
- EMYS from Wroclaw University of Technology in Poland: This social machine uses a Facial Action Coding System to mimic guests’ faces and express basic human emotions with its head and eyes. Guests can also push buttons to trigger facial emotions on EMYS, like happiness, fear and surprise.
- Ekso GT Robotic Skeleton from Ekso Bionics in Richmond, CA: EKSO is a wearable robot, which provides extra strength and endurance. It can be used to help those who have problems walking or who are paralyzed.
- PARO from Dr. Takanori Shibata of Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology: Guests experience how PARO, a therapeutic baby harp seal robot, is used to help the physical and emotional health of medical patients.
- r-one Swarm Robots from Rice University in Houston: Controlled by guests in an expansive arena setting, this group of robots is inspired by swarms of insects, schools of fish and flocks of birds. They explore how robots in groups can work together and possess advantages over single robots.
- Soccer Robots from the ZJUNlict Team of Zhejiang University in China: The soccer ‘bots go head-to-head in a competition, using the same rules as human players. Visitors see which team of robots wins in the “ultimate game of autonomy,” as they play without any human input.
- Smarts: This area showcases how machines are able to sense, plan and then act, while comparing and contrasting the ways in which humans and robots learn. Robots featured are:
- Baxter from Rethink Robotics in Boston: Guests play tic-tac-toe with this smart, collaborative robot, easily trained for a wide range of simple, repetitive tasks. Because specialists aren’t needed to program it, smaller companies with fewer resources can use Baxter.
- LiDAR sensors from Velodyne in Morgan Hill, CA: While sitting in a mock-up of a self-driving car, visitors experience a simulated drive down a city street, learning how the car operates using LiDAR (“light” and “radar”) sensors that assess road conditions and can “see” obstacles, including other cars.
- ROBOTIS-OP from ROBOTIS in Korea: This humanoid robot uses face-tracking software to sense when a human is looking at it, and can align its gaze with that of a guest’s.
- UR5 Robot Arm from Universal Robots in Denmark: Visitors can teach this robotic arm basic motions, as it learns to repeat movements demonstrated by its user, and can manipulate it to their liking, then watch it play back the same motion.
- Skills: The skills robots possess mimic — and often surpass — human capabilities. This area features a wide variety of gripping robots. Guests place objects for the grippers to pick up and observe their varied and specific traits, developed for their work environment. These robot-gripping interactive stations demonstrate how challenging it is to replicate the gripping ability of a human and include:
- 5-Finger Hand from SCHUNK in Germany, with nine motors, 20 joints and elastic fingertips to gently grasp and hold objects, similar to humans.
- 3-Finger Hand, attached to the Powerball arm, both from SCHUNK, which combined allow for more than 20 degrees of freedom to grip various objects.
- Bellows Gripper from FESTO of Germany, a soft gripper with a gentle touch that inflates a rubber or silicone ball so that it can safely pick up a delicate glass and place it next to other glasses in a carton.
- Bionic Handling Assistant from FESTO, inspired by an elephant’s flexible and powerful trunk and made of rings of flexible plastic, so there are no rigid joints. It has 11 degrees of freedom and “can move through space as no other robot arm can.”
- Fin Gripper from FESTO, which functions like the muscles in a fish’s tail, with struts connecting to flexible bands that allow it to adjust its shape without putting much pressure on the object it grasps.
- Learning Gripper from FESTO, which learns by using sensors in its fingertips. If robots can learn on their own, they won’t need to be reprogrammed for each new task.
- Adaptive Gripper from Robotiq of Canada, used in factories, where it handles tough and punishing jobs. It has three fingers, 10 degrees of freedom and, like humans, it can grasp, pinch and enclose very tiny objects.
- Industrial Grippers from SCHUNK, sturdy and simple grippers that can be used to grasp a variety of small objects. They can be easily modified with pads, sleeves and sensors — making them useful in many kinds of industrial environments.
- VERSABALL of Empire Robotics in Boston, a highly adaptable squishy gripper. When the inflated ball is lowered, the particles inside the gripper surround the object. VERSABALL uses very little force when grasping objects and can handle fragile items, such as light bulbs.
- Robotic21 System from Yaskawa Motoman Robotics of Japan: Guests play a game of 21 with this revolutionary robot, which uses two suction cups circling its grippers to pick up playing cards.
- ROBOTIS-OP from ROBOTIS in Korea: This robot can recognize objects, then respond accordingly. Visitors can see it kick a ball.
- Fanuc delta robot of FANUC of Japan: To demonstrate how it’s used for factory assembly line tasks, because of its ability to select and sort items with precision and speed, this robot sorts different-colored items into separate bottles.
- Roomba from iRobot: This household helper vacuums on its own, driving around a floor and detecting dirt and debris with its sensors.
- Locomotion: In this area, visitors can explore the variety of ways that robots can move and how they can offer humans access to places we can’t venture ourselves. Robots include:
- CHARLI of Terrestrial Robotics Engineering & Controls, Virginia Tech and RoMeLa in Blacksburg, VA: CHARLI is a humanoid robot that can walk in all directions, turn, kick and perform other simple upper-body tasks.
- Three different drones are on display:
- The Phantom drone from DJI of China, a flying camera drone, which brings “an unprecedented photographic experience.” This particular kind was made famous for crashing on the White House lawn.
- The Walkera TALI H50 Carbon Edition drone is a GPS hexacopter drone that can equip a GoPro camera.
- The HyTAQ Quadcopter of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, IL, operates both on the ground and in the air, making it useful in more situations.
- DROP of the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA: This climbing robot has tiny hooks that fan out from wheels on flexible treads to grip wood, concrete and stucco. Each microspine is very small, but together they hold the robot’s weight with ease.
- MURATA BOY and MURATA GIRL from Murata of Japan: MURATA BOY can ride a bike very slowly and even balance while still, which humans can’t do. MURATA GIRL rides forward and backward and also balances while still.
- Recon Scout Throwbot XT of Recon Robotics in Edina, MN: Used by the police and military to explore dangerous environments before sending in people, this rugged, remotely operated micro-robot can maneuver through cluttered indoor environments and over landscapes of dirt, sand and rocks. Guests can issue commands to this robot to navigate ramps and other terrain.
- RHex from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia: Guests can control this robot around rough and rugged terrain in a small arena. With springy legs, RHex is able to sprint across flat ground, fling itself up curbs and leap over gaps, especially in hard-to-traverse rocks and sand.
- RiSE from the University of Pennsylvania: RiSE is able to shimmy and crawl up brick and stucco walls, moving one of its six legs at a time.
- ROBOTIS-MINI from ROBOTIS: By controlling these miniature versions of ROBOTIS-OP, visitors can make ROBOTIS-MINI put one foot in front of the other, perform dance routines and more.
- THES from HiBot of Japan: Guests manipulate THES to snake its way through clear acrylic pipes and watch as it makes its path on a nearby screen. It is equipped to work its way through pipes in the bowels of our cities and factories, looking for flaws that could become chemical leaks, gas explosions or nuclear alerts.
- OSCAR from TOPY of Japan: Built like a miniature tractor, this robot climbs up or down steps as steep as 45 degrees and can investigate unstable buildings to send information to humans, keeping people out of dangerous situations.
Other robots on display and at work throughout the exhibit include:
- Double from Double Robotics in Sunnyvale, CA: This telepresence robot is a tablet mounted on a dock that wheels throughout the exhibit, providing a physical presence at work or school when someone can’t be there in person.
- Yume Robo from Muscle Corporation of Japan: At the exhibit entrance, guests can watch as a 60-pound robot with arms and legs, coordinated by smart motors, climbs a ladder.
- Cubelets from Modular Robotics in Boulder, CO: Guests can snap these together to create a robot, teaching them about basic robotic components.
A 10-minute Drone Show takes place four times an hour, offering “a fascinating glimpse into what these popular devices can do.” Featured in this live demonstration is the Parrot MiniDrone, an ultra-compact drone controlled by smartphone and tablets.
Guests also get an inside look at the regular maintenance of the robots in the RoboGarage. Inside this dynamic space, robots get checked and repaired to keep them operating smoothly. Visitors watch as highly trained robot specialists check sensors, troubleshoot programming and keep the exhibit full of functioning robots.
Robot Revolution is supported by Google.org with additional support from The Boeing Company, RACO Industrial, The David Bohnett Foundation, The Kaplan Foundation and official airline United Airlines. MSI also acknowledges the Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO), the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers – Robotics and Automation Society (IEEE RAS) and ITA for their assistance with the development of the exhibit.
Throughout Robot Revolution, exhibits feature “hands-on elements, intriguing video and thought-provoking questions” designed to enable guests to recognize the amazing ways that robotics can better society. “We believe it is vital to inspire the next generation of engineers and tech entrepreneurs so that we can continue to see technology change the world,” said Jim Lecinski, head of Google’s Chicago office. “Google is happy to support MSI’s Robot Revolution exhibit to make complex concepts accessible to kids of all ages and to get them excited about science, technology, engineering and math.”
Robot Revolution is not included in Museum Entry and requires an additional timed-entry ticket ($11 for adults and seniors, and $9 for children). The exhibit will run at MSI through January 2016 and will then go on a limited North American tour from 2016 through 2020.