News / USA

Robots Drive, Swarm, Jump into Smithsonian Collection

Museum acquires milestone pieces of robotic history

Created by 'Star Wars' filmmaker George Lucas, C-3PO is among the most famous of all science-fiction robots.
Created by 'Star Wars' filmmaker George Lucas, C-3PO is among the most famous of all science-fiction robots.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

C-3PO of "Star Wars" movie fame lives here. So, does his side-kick R2D2. They are part of the robot collection at the National Museum of American History in Washington.

Curator Carlene Stephens says even though these androids are just movie props, they represent something much more. “They have a long history. And, as a history museum, they fit directly into our interest in things relating to industry, things relating to invention and innovation."



Among Stephens’ favorites is a 450-year old carved wood figure from Germany. The intricately designed object, less than 40 centimeters tall, is a kind of prototype robot from the mechanical age.

“It looks like a figure of a monk and it rolls across the floor, simulating walking, simulating the mea culpa and simulating rising a crucifix to its lips and kissing it," says Stephens. "All the while, he’s rolling across the floor his eyes are moving side to side.”

Worldwide, more than six million robots labor on factory assembly lines and perform military service.  Among the robots in the museum is PackBot, a remote controlled minesweeper that’s also used in surveillance operations by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Then there is the driverless car, named Stanley, that raced more than 200-plus kilometers across southern California’s Mojave Desert to win the $2 million DARPA Challenge.  

“I had to take a chance that Stanley is going to represent a key moment in the history of American technology that indicates the future of driving," says Stephens. "Stanley at this moment influences driving of the future. Already we have cars that park themselves, that have collision avoidance systems. Stanley is in this stream of inventive outpouring.”

That stream of inventive outpouring has helped generate new gifts to the museum. Bruce Hall, the president of a California-based company called Velodyne, came to the Smithsonian with an assortment of electronic sensors and obstacle-detection devices that were invented by his brother Dave and deployed on robotic vehicles in DARPA Challenge races.  He says the HDL-64 is a game-changer.

“It contains 64 lasers. So we have all this: about 2.5 million points of data per second - distance points per second - around the vehicle. So it gives us a complete understanding of everything going on around us so we can make intelligent navigation decisions.”

Hall says his company's innovation could make its way into safety features and eventually, the brothers believe, to robotic cars and trucks. “You will see advancements, I believe in our lifetimes, when you tell (the car) to drive somewhere and it will take you there.”

Barry Spletzer, former senior scientist at Sandia National Laboratories Intelligence Systems and Robotics Center, was “nothing short of astonished” to have his miniature robots in the Smithsonian.  “It was just a project to see how small we could make robots.”

Spletzer came to the museum with a gift box of mini-robots that include the Miniature Autonomous Robotic Vehicle or MARV and other tiny offshoots. “They are historically significant because we have the world’s smallest robot. We have the world’s highest-hopping robot. We have several cooperative, ‘swarm’ robots. These are all advances in technology in the last 10 to 15 years.”                                                                 

Spletzer says these robotic technologies are finding uses in space exploration, medicine, and security systems. Museum Curator Carlene Stephens hopes the donated robots and others that follow will remind the public about the important role science and technology play in everyday life.   

 

You May Like

Cambodia Seeks Official UN Maps for Vietnam Border

Notice of request comes as 2 countries open border talks Tuesday after a clash last month More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
Maia Pujara
July 07, 2015 10:01 PM
A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbs

A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs