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'Robot 250' City-wide Display


What's with the 12-ft foam hand atop the Andy Warhol Museum? Why is a robotic sheep mowing the lawn at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens?

These "BigBots" are just two of the many robotic art installations on display at various sites throughout Pittsburgh July 11-27 as part of the region's 250th anniversary celebration.

The "Robot 250" festival was envisioned as a way to get the community interested in science and technology. It's the brainchild of Illah Nourbakhsh, a professor in Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute, and School of Design alumnus Carl DiSalvo (A '06). By spotlighting creative robotics, they are drawing new audiences to robotics — audiences who may be more compelled by the artistic side than the technological side.

Since summer 2007, students, families, artists and the general public have gathered at various Robot 250 sites around the city to build their own customized robots. These bots use technology and educational materials developed at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute.

"Gold Bird," featured here, was created at the Brew House Association R250 Open Studio by artists Chris Lisowski, Randy Sweet, Jayne Sweet, Jen Lawton and Tish Collett. The cardboard bird appears to sing along with what you sing. Its movements are controlled by a Canary sound sensor and servo motors.

Outdoors, the interactive robotic installations include a "Green Roof Roller Coaster" at the Children's Museum and a "Look-See Tree" traveling with the Citiparks Roving Art Cart. "Reach, Robot" is a giant web-like sound installation with a musical score activated by pedestrians passing through PPG Plaza. Students and faculty from Carnegie Mellon's College of Fine Arts played a bold hand in creating the BigBots.

DiSalvo and Nourbakhsh are thrilled to see their initial idea come to fruition.

"After a year and a half of planning, facilitating workshops and working with our partners, we are now participating in something very special — a new vision of what robotics are and can be, a vision that was created by children, families and artists," DiSalvo said.

The program was launched by Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh with support from a host of local community groups.

Nourbakhsh says he's eagerly anticipating walking around the city, observing Pittsburghers and visitors from all diverse backgrounds interacting with these unconventional robotic displays at such a diverse selection of venues around town.

"I am very excited about the student shows, where the students will be so very proud to see the public engage with their work; and I am equally excited about our provocative BigBot installations, which bend definitions of robotics in wonderful ways," Nourbakhsh added.

For more information on the Robot250 program, or to download a map of events, visit

Related Links: Robot 250  |  College of Fine Arts  |  Robotics Institute

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