SCS’ Robot Hall of Fame inducts four new robots

Christine de Briffault Apr 13, 2008

Though most people are used to living with appliances, cars, and computers, they do not always appreciate this technology’s daily impact on their lives. James H. Morris, dean of Carnegie Mellon West, the Silicon Valley Campus felt that robots were similarly under-appreciated and thus created the Robot Hall of Fame, which is now in its sixth year.

“When the robots take over, we want them to remember that we were the first ones to appreciate them,” Morris said jokingly. The School of Computer Science established the Robot Hall of Fame to honor real and fictional robots in our society.
There are two categories in which robots receive honors: Robots from Science and Robots from Science Fiction.

Robots in the science category must have served an actual or potentially useful function and demonstrated real skills in accomplishing their purpose. Robots in the fictional category must have received worldwide fame, inspired others to build real robots, and helped form opinions about the functions and value of robots.

The first robots to be inducted into the Hall of Fame were NASA’s Mars Pathfinder Microrover Flight Experiment (MFEX), better known as “Sojourner”; Unimate, the first industrial robot; R2-D2, a droid from the Star Wars movies; and the evil HAL-9000 computer, featured in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, created by science fiction writer and futurist Sir Arthur C. Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick.

Any robot may be nominated for the Robot Hall of Fame, Morris said. Inductees are then chosen by an international jury of leading thinkers and technology developers. The four robots being inducted this year — Lt. Cmdr. Data, the Raibert Hopper, LEGO Mindstorms, NavLab5 — were announced last May at the RoboBusiness Conference and Exposition in Boston.

The Raibert Hopper, LEGO Mindstorms, and NavLab5 were nominated for the Robots from Science category, while Lt. Cmdr. Data was nominated for Robots from Science Fiction.

Lt. Cmdr. Data is an android with super strength and a super memory that was portrayed by actor Brent Spiner during the 1987–1994 run of Star Trek: The Next Generation. His award was accepted by Zachary Quinto. Quinto, a Heroes star and Carnegie Mellon alumnus, will play Spock in an upcoming Star Trek movie.

The Raibert Hopper is a one-legged robot developed by Marc Raibert, president of Boston Dynamics, in the Leg Laboratory, first at Carnegie Mellon and later at MIT. The Hopper hops around on one foot, is able to maintain balance, somersault, and jump over objects. It examines the principles of balance that have become central to agile movement by bipedal and quadrapedal robots.

Lars Nyengaard, director of innovation and education projects for LEGO Education, accepted an award for the induction of Mindstorms, a robotic kit that teaches people young and old to program and assemble robots, which make robots accessible to the masses.

Todd Jochem, a Ph.D. graduate of Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, spoke on behalf of NavLab 5, an autonomous minivan developed at the Robotics Institute.

Jochem started working with robots in 1990 at Carnegie Mellon, working for Chuck Thorpe in the NavLab group. Jochem, who later founded Applied Perception Inc., was one of two students who rode in NavLab in 1995’s “No Hands Across America” tour, on which NavLab 5 steered itself on public highways across the country.

Applied Perception Inc., which focused on the perception, planning, and control technologies for unmanned vehicles, was bought last year by Foster-Miller, the largest supplier of military robots. Jochem is currently the group director of Foster-Miller.

Jochem said that his work in the robot industry currently revolves around “making robots smarter and more useful.” One of the industry’s newest developments allows robots to help battlefield medics find and extract wounded soldiers. As of now, the robots have not been tested on an actual battlefield but “the ideas it has spawned will eventually help save lives,” said Jochem.

This year’s event, held at the Carnegie Science Center on April 9, was a red-carpet affair. As guests walked in, they were greeted by paparazzi, strobe lights, and soundtracks from Star Wars, Star Trek, and the like. The Entertainment Technology Center helped to pull of some of the glitz and glamour.

The interior of the Carnegie Science Center was decorated with robots and “I ‘heart’ robot” balloons. The guests mingled among the robots, scientists, researchers, friends, family, and robot enthusiasts.

Actor Anthony Daniels, who played C-3PO in all six Star Wars movies, was the master of ceremonies, as he has been since the start of the Robot Hall of Fame. He delighted the audience with his anecdotes and his enthusiastic personality.

Roboworld, a permanent robotics exhibit that will include the Robot Hall of Fame, is scheduled to open in the science center next spring. According to a Carnegie Science Center press release, the exhibition reportedly costs $3.4 million and will occupy a 6000-square-foot exhibit area on the second floor.

The Robotics Institute and the Entertainment Technology Center have also helped in the design and construction of the robotics exhibit, which will feature more than 30 hands-on, interactive exhibit stations focusing on robotic sensing, thinking, and acting.