Robots among us

Robots among us

A hands-on learning experience at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

 By Jennifer Hannauer Lumpkin

The future is nigh, and the future has robots. We all saw this coming, but do we really understand how ingratiated robots have already become in our society and how advanced they truly are? Sure, we remember fondly the adorable antics of Vicki, WALL-E and Johnny Five. We’ve been anticipating some possible human-machine friction à la “Terminator,”  “A.I.,” or “I, Robot.” We’ve appreciated their usefulness from small domestic tasks (thank you, Roomba!) to much more lethal objectives (there may not be enough words to thank you, Dragon Runner). Did you know that robots are not only being used to explore outer space, but also the deep, dark chasms of our own planet? Did you know that a pregnant robot was being used to help teach medical students at Johns Hopkins University and that a baby robot was developed at Tsukuba University in Japan to help teach parenting? Did you know that some robots are so advanced that they are able to cook full meals, perform stand-up comedy, play “Jeopardy!,” smoke cigarettes, write music, fold laundry, cheat at cards, parallel park and “man” missions to Mars? Did you know that some can physically “feel” with specially designed “skin”? If you’re feeling one-upped by our automaton brethren, you’re not alone.

They haven’t taken over (yet), but robots are certainly among us and are set to become a greater part of our daily reality. It’s best to learn about and understand them so as to make the greatest use of their existence. There’s no better time than the ninth anniversary of the landing of NASA’s twin robot geologists, the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, to learn more about the thrilling world of robotics. The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force (NMUSAF) will be hosting Family Day on Saturday, Jan. 19, and all are invited to come learn about the role of robotics in the Air Force and participate in a variety of hands-on activities and demonstrations that will show the use of robots in our everyday lives.

“We typically have anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 visitors throughout the day on Family Day Saturdays,” said Cindy Henry, aerospace educator and Family Day project lead. “It is usually a mix of families and individuals of all age ranges.”

One of the first events of the day will be Story Time in the Early Years Gallery from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Pre-school and elementary school children are invited to sit under the wings of airplanes and listen to stories about robots and Mars travel before making their own paper robot.

Family Day visitors can get even more hands-on with a chance to build their own robotic “hand.” From 1:30-3 p.m. in the event area next to the Korean War Gallery, participants will be instructed on the basics of constructing an end effector – the hand at the end of a robotic arm – from simple materials such as string, duct tape and Styrofoam.

Several demonstrations will be conducted throughout the day; some by students who are members of robotic competition teams. These young people have embraced the future and are taking advantage of what the world of robotics can offer them. “Before I was just sitting around, playing video games. Now I’m busy,” said Pedro Campos, 14-year-old Team Manager and Programmer for Powerstackers, a First Tech Challenge Robotics Team. “Sometimes I wish I’m not, but in the long run it’s great because I get this product and it makes me feel good about myself.”

Other activities and demonstrations will include a USAF robot computer simulation, a Mars Rover remote control simulator, robotic arms and a 3-D robotic printer, which uses additive processes to bring a computer-designed model to the physical world.

Students and participants will learn more from robotics than simply what robots can do for them. The skills developed in the world of robotics will be beneficial to all, from the tech-savvy to the classic-analogers, during the age of technology. “It’s not only science and engineering,” said Caroline Buckey, systems engineer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. “It combines communication and problem-solving and outreach.”

The NMUSAF, the largest and oldest military aviation museum dedicated over 40 years ago by President Richard M. Nixon, has a long history of promoting education. “Through our activities, demonstrations and exhibits, [NMUSAF] strives to educate, motivate and inspire our youth to excel in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math,” said Henry. “Our future depends on citizens who are actively engaged in constantly improving the world we live in.”

Family Day will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 19 at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, 1100 Spaatz St., Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Entrance on Springfield St. at historic Wright Field, Gate 28B. Admission and parking are free. No advanced reservations are necessary. For more information, please contact the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force Education Division at 937.255.4646 or visit www.nationalmuseum.af.mil.


Reach DCP freelance writer Jennifer Lumpkin at jenniferhanauerlumpkin@daytoncitypaper.com


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