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New hall of fame to honor real and fictional robots

Thursday, May 01, 2003

By Byron Spice, Post-Gazette Science Editor

"R2D2, meet NavLab, the truck that steers itself."

That could be the scene at the induction ceremonies at the new Robot Hall of Fame, which Carnegie Mellon University officials announced last night.

Created by the university's School of Computer Science and Robotics Institute in collaboration with the Carnegie Science Center and the state tourism and economic development departments, the hall will honor noteworthy robots, both real and fictional, with interactive exhibits.

Pittsburgh, already touted as the Detroit of robotics, thus could become the field's Cooperstown as well.

The hall will induct its first honorees this fall and initially will be housed at CMU. But it may be included, along with a large robotics exhibit and arena, in a proposed expansion of the Carnegie Science Center, said James Morris, dean of Carnegie Mellon's computer science school.

Betsy Momich, spokeswoman for Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, said a robotics hall and exhibit will be considered as officials develop plans for the expansion. But much remains to be determined. Parisian architect Jean Nouvel was selected for the project last year and schematic plans are being developed this year. Decisions about construction will depend in part on fund-raising efforts.

"We're committed to make this [hall] happen," Momich said. "Whether it's on our site or not, the commitment is there."

The hall will include either the robots themselves, or replicas. But just as the Baseball Hall of Fame is more than a bunch of old, musty uniforms, the hall envisioned by Morris would include a number of interactive educational and entertaining exhibits about robots. As demonstrated by UPMC SportsWorks, the science center's staff is adept at creating this sort of exhibit, he noted.

An exhibit within the expanded science center might also include a permanent or portable arena for RoboCup robotic soccer competitions, Morris said.

Inductees to the hall will be selected by a 10-member jury that includes noted roboticist Rodney Brooks, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, author of "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Morris expects two to five robots will be inducted each year, including real robots that do actual work or research as well as fictional robots that have fired the public's imagination. The jury is still discussing the criteria, but some robots would seem to be shoo-ins.

"Arthur C. Clarke has mentioned HAL twice now," Morris noted, referring to the HAL 9000 computer that controlled a robotic spaceship and ultimately turned villainous in "2001."

CMU could nominate a few of its own, such as the NavLab series of automated vehicles; Dante II, the walking robot that explored the inside of an active volcano; and Rover, the robot that retrieved sediment samples from the crippled Three Mile Island reactor. NASA's Sojourner robot, which captivated an international audience when it explored Mars in 1997, is another likely nominee, as could be any number of robotic spacecraft, such as the Voyagers.

Carnegie Mellon announced the hall last night as part of the kickoff for the RoboCup American Open, a competition here this week for North and South American robotic soccer teams. The open will serve as a tune-up for this summer's International RoboCup competition in Padua, Italy.

Morris said CMU is bidding to bring the International RoboCup to Pittsburgh in 2007. But that competition has become so big -- more than 120,000 people attended last year's matches in Japan -- that it likely would be played in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center rather than the science center, he said. This week's American Open, sort of a RoboCup Lite, is being held in CMU's University Center and will continue through Sunday.

Nominations to the hall of fame are open and will be accepted until Aug. 31. They can be e-mailed to Morris at james.morris@cmu.edu. The jury will make its selections by Oct. 1 and the inductees will be announced at a Nov. 30 ceremony.

In addition to Brooks and Clarke, the jury includes Morris and these members:

Minoru Asada, professor of engineering at Osaka University and founder of the International RoboCup Federation.

Ellsworth Brown, president, Carnegie Museums.

Henrik Christensen, director, Centre for Autonomous Systems, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm.

Ray Jarvis, director, Intelligent Robotics Research Centre, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

Donald Marinelli, drama professor and co-director of CMU's Entertainment Technology Center.

Raj Reddy, founder of the Robotics Institute.

Chuck Thorpe, director of the Robotics Institute.

Byron Spice can be reached at bspice@post-gazette.com

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