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Germany

It’s a Robot’s World

Robots that toss a football, send an E-Mail, mow your lawn, perform skilled surgery, paint cars? The Museum of Applied Sciences in Cologne has all these and more in its current exhibition.

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The service robot PaPeRo

If you believe that robots belong in a high-tech world and only perform complicated technical jobs in the industry, a trip to the Museum of Applied Sciences in Cologne will soon shatter those myths.

Here the robots mow lawns, vacuum the house, clean out canals and sewage systems and pour champagne without spilling a drop. They’re efficient, fast and indefatigable.

About 40 exhibits right from the early origins of robotics to state-of-the-art futuristic models are displayed in the exhibition, "Ex Machina – a story of the robot from 1950 till today" at the Museum of Applied Sciences in Cologne.

The exhibition, which kicks off on Tuesday, January 15 is a co-operation project with the international Furniture Fair in Cologne and the Technical College Aachen in the state of Rheinland Westphalia.

Can you live with one?

The exhibition focuses on the impact that robots are having on the manufacture and design of everyday products for the home such as furniture, lamps, pictures, and automobiles.

But Oliver Zybok from the museum of applied sciences believes that people in Europe are still sceptical of robots being a household help.

"The robots must be cute and must resemble humans or animals to be accepted" he says. And most importantly, the robots should not scare off or overwhelm people, who are wary or not acquainted with modern technology.

Aibo (Artificial Intelligence Robot), the four-legged toy dog robot is a perfect example. He’s cute, friendly and entertaining. Made by the Japanese electronic giant, Sony, Aibo can learn things, play football and can even perform tricks!

The evolutionary process

In keeping with its theme of recording milestones in robotic history, the presentation traces the rather fast development of robots.

The first robots that were developed were used in the military and police sectors. Since 1960, robots have been increasingly developed for deep sea and environmental research, in several industrial areas, in medicine as well as the toy and film industry and have evolved into digitally working machines.

Couple of veterans

Among others, you’ll find the British robot veterans Elsie and Elmar, the turtle-like machines built in 1949 that could independently recognise a source of light.

The famous Stanford Arm from the year 1969 was the first computer simulated arm in the world. It also proved that robots were more useful when they simulated the sensory and motor capabilities of humans. The Stanford Arm became a model for many further robots that have become almost indispensable in the automobile and mechanical engineering sectors.

Mechanical as well as skilled work

On show is also a ABB06 robot that the automobile maker Ford uses to build its car body, paint its cars and do other backbreaking menial work.

You can also marvel at "Caspar", the latest wonder weapon of surgeons. This robot can perform delicate surgical operations such as one on the human brain, which requires flawless precision and nerves of steel. And unlike the human hand, the robotic one can do all this without quivering.

A robotic office manager?

Another field, which could see an increase of these intelligent machines is the service industry.

In the current exhibition, R100 and its improved version PaPeRo, are two personalised service robots from Japan on display. They recognise voices and faces, respond to calls, can send E-Mails and can operate domestic as well as office gadgets.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is the legendary Wabot-1, the world’s first largest humanoid robot made in Tokyo in 1973.

Design is important

The design of the robots is also a focus of the exhibition. In a separate project room, numerous films and pictures document the bewildering variety of design and applications that are planned for the intelligent human-like machines.

The renowned US designer pair, Jorge Pardo and Pae White have designed the exhibition, "Ex Machina" in such a way as to allow an interaction between man and machine. Videos also allow a peek into the research phases of robotic development.

The exhibition will be open till April 14, 2002.