Carnegie Science Center: Roboworld (and a bit of SportsWorks)

Here’s a brief video, made up of clips I took at the Carnegie Science Center in July 2009, just a few weeks after the opening of the new, permanent exhibit, Roboworld.

The clips have been sitting idle on my hard drive for years, but I’ve recently gotten some practice with Apple’s iMovie, and thought I’d try telling some stories with these clips. (I’m usually a textual thinker, as you can see from my very exciting post on automata and mimesis in theater history,  so it’s a stretch for me to create moods and tell stories with images and sounds.)

We’ve been back to the CSC many many times since, most recently on Father’s Day, when we learned from this strolling marine fish why seahourse daddies are so unusual in the animal kingdom. (They give birth.)

While it’s only very tangentially about science, this four-player caterpillar computer game has long been a favorite stop at the CSC.

Not too long ago, little Carolyn would pitch a fit when she couldn’t keep up with the older kids. Now, she’s still temperamental, but here she is, kicking virtual caterpillar posterior: “Blue Wins.”

This marks the first trip that Carolyn was big enough to ride this counterweighted unicyclee in SportsWorks. She did well, but after she came off, she said it was scary, then asked “Where’s the bathroom?”

Later, when my son tried the same ride, my daughter had moved onto the climbing wall.

…which is, apparently, far less scary.

Okay, back to RoboWorld.

Gort, the hulking alien bot from The Day the Earth Stood Still, is represented in the CSC. A classic design, from a classic movie.

The movie’s most famous line, “Klaatu, barada nikto” appears in Larry Shue’s 1984 comedy play, The Foreigner. (It just so happens I’ve reserved two tickets to the St. Vincent Summer Theater production next weekend.) A

nd my former student Mike Rubino is part of a comedy group that produces a radio adventure show about a time-travelling librarian. One of the recent episodes features Elektro, the GE robot, whose abilities as a showman and PR rep  (that appear very modest by our standards) were celebrated in the early 20th C. See Dodge Intrepid and the Pages of Time: The Men of Tomorrow.

All this goes to show that robots are deeply embedded in our popular culture, much as miraculous statues were part of the culture of generations past.

That reminds me, I’ve still got to get the kids to see Silent Running, an important precursor to the droids of Star Wars and the ‘bots of MST3000.

This little guy from Silent Running (played by a multiple-amputee walking on his hands) had an empathetic quality that most of the human characters lacked. (That was the point of the movie, by the way.)  I was thinking of the Silent Running bots when my daughter asked me to draw the character “Moonbot,” who is part of the steampunk bedtme stories I’ve been telling her since she was five or six.


If you’re dying to learn more about robots, take a look at the pages I created on R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), the 1920 Czech play that introduced the word “robot” to languages around the world. And if you’re in the Pittsburgh area, head over to the Carnegie Science Center to take a look.

What’s your favorite robot?

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