Redefining RobotsJuly Festival Celebrates Robotics' Place in Pittsburgh's History, Art and Technology

PITTSBURGH— When some people hear "robots," they conjure thoughtsand images of humanoid creatures doing dangerous or monotonous tasksmost people would prefer not to do.

But the folks at Carnegie Mellon University'sRobotics Institute want to change that perception by letting everyonesee for themselves that robots can do much, much more. Today, robotsare found in artworks, as warning or welcoming devices, as tools todocument history and heritage and as entertaining distractions. Theyassist doctors performing surgery, explore distant planets, and arebeginning to help older Americans and those with disabilities improvetheir quality of life.

Carnegie Mellon roboticists and theircolleagues are inviting everyone to take part in the Robot 250 Festivalto see with their own eyes just what a robot can do. The festival,which runs from July 11- 27, is the culmination of Robot 250, ayear-long, city-wide community art and technology program designed inconjunction with Pittsburgh's 250th anniversary that has turned thecity into a living, breathing learning lab by enabling students,families, artists and the public to build their own customized robots.

Festival attendees will see 11 gigantic roboticinstallations as well as galleries full of robots created by children,adults and families from Pittsburgh's diverse communities on display atcultural sites all over Pittsburgh. They celebrate art while enlargingthe viewer's perception of what a robot is. Far from the stereotypical"mechanical men," these BigBots range in diversity from Osman Khan's"Mower," a robotic sheep "feasting" on the lawn at Phipps Conservatoryto Jennifer Gooch's "Rise and Fall" at Flagstaff Hill, which willexplore the meaning of flags and how their position on a pole canportray the status of the "state" they represent.

Illah Nourbakhsh, associate professor ofrobotics at Carnegie Mellon is one of the people who conceived Robot250. "We had been working on educational robotics projects and decidedto make art and design a larger part of them," he said. "We askedourselves, what's the largest public robotics education program we canimagine that focuses on using art and design to get people interestedin science and technology?"

About a year ago, Nourbakhsh, along with otherfaculty, staff and graduate students of the Robotics Institute,answered that question by facilitating a series of 13 workshops inwhich artists and members of several Pittsburgh communities createdrobots that would be useful or appropriate in their neighborhoods.

In Lawrenceville, sensor-based robots werecreated to warn of dangerous road conditions like speeding; inHomewood, middle-school-aged girls gathered at the YWCA and YMCA todocument the history and heritage of East-End neighborhoods; and acrossthe river on the South Side, artists at the Brew House created"Painting Robot," a welded steel rover with a paint marker. In all,some 75 robots were created and will be on display at four Robot 250sites throughout the city.

"We were looking for a way to make roboticsmore accessible," said Georgia Tech assistant professor Carl DiSalvo,another Robot 250 visionary who holds a Ph.D. in design from CarnegieMellon. "The arts-based approach differentiates us and picks up on therich arts tradition at Carnegie Mellon and in the Pittsburgh region.Art also makes technology culturally significant. We can question itand make it in a way that is more human."

Pittsburgh is an ideal setting for the Robot250 Festival, as it is home to Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute,one of the only organizations in the world that offers a Ph.D. programin robotics. The city is also at the forefront of robotics research andinnovation. An ever-growing and diverse community of robotics companieshas launched businesses like Blueroof Technologies, a nonprofitcorporation that is making "smart" robot-controlled houses that attendto the needs of senior citizens; and Interbots™, a company, that grewout of a university project and is now producing robotic charactersthat provide interactive entertainment.

"As Pittsburgh celebrates its 250thanniversary, it is appropriate that the celebrations include ourregion's leading role in robotics, which stretches all the way back tothe 20s and 30s with pioneering work by Westinghouse," said DennisBateman, Robot 250 project director. "In addition to looking back,Robot 250 will highlight the future of Pittsburgh, emphasizingeducational and creative opportunities in robotics."

Carnegie Mellon University will host a mediaevent to kick off the Robot 250 Festival at 10 a.m., Thursday, July 10,at the Helen Wayne Rauh Theater in the Purnell Center for the Arts onthe university campus. Get a sneak preview of the BigBots before theygo on display. Meet creators of Robot 250 and the people whoparticipated in the program to build their own robots. Media will alsobe invited to take a trolley tour of the BigBot sites with the artistswho created them and have one-on-one time with the Robot 250visionaries. For more information on the media event contact AnneWatzman at 412-268-3830 or aw16@andrew.cmu.edu, or Byron Spice at412-268-9068 or bspice@cs.cmu.edu.

For more information about Robot 250 sites,exhibits and events contact Bridget McNie at 412-224-6006 orbridgetm@jackhorner.com.

About Robot 250
Robot 250is a massive city-wide community art and technology program culminatingin a two-week festival in July with exhibits, workshops, outdoordisplays, movies and other installations throughout the Pittsburgharea. It was launched by Carnegie Mellon University and the Universityof Pittsburgh with program support from a host of local communitygroups, The Heinz Endowments, The Grable Foundation, The ClaudeWorthington Benedum Foundation, the Port Authority of Allegheny Countyand City Paper.Participants include middle school students, artists, families and thegeneral public, as well as Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Tech and Universityof Pittsburgh faculty, staff and students. Participant sites includeThe Andy Warhol Museum, The Brew House Association, Carnegie Library ofPittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Science Center, TheChildren's Museum of Pittsburgh, CitiParks, CMITES, ManchesterCraftsmens' Guild, The Mattress Factory, Neighborhood Nets, PhippsConservatory and Botanical Gardens, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, PPGPlaza, YouthPlaces and the YWCA.

Available for Interviews
Illah Nourbakhsh, associate professor, Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute
Dennis Bateman, Robot 250 project director
Carl DiSalvo, assistant professor, the Georgia Institute of Technology
Ian Ingram, BigBot curator; senior research associate and artist-in-residence at Carnegie Mellon University
BigBot artists upon request

To learn more about Robot 250, or to download a map of events, visit www.robot250.org.


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For More Information
Byron Spice | 412-268-9068 | bspice@cs.cmu.edu