Five robots, ranging from an iconic female humanoid in a classic silent film to a ubiquitous industrial robot that helped make electronics inexpensive and commonplace, were inducted into Carnegie Mellon University's Robot Hall of Fame® during a ceremony this June.
The third class of inductees includes Maria, the art deco star of Fritz Lang's 1927 film "Metropolis"; Gort, the metallic giant from an alien world in the 1951 sci-fi thriller "The Day the Earth Stood Still"; David, the boy-like android that stole his adoptive mother's heart in Steven Spielberg's "Artificial Intelligence: AI"; AIBO, Sony's dog-like robot pet that is also a robust research and teaching tool; and the Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm (SCARA), a widely used type of industrial arm with motions especially suited to assembling consumer products.
The inductees were announced during an April reception marking the beginning of CS50, a four-day celebration of Carnegie Mellon's first 50 years of computer science education and research hosted by its School of Computer Science.
The five robots were formally inducted at a June 21 ceremony during the third annual RoboBusiness Conference and Exposition. The international business development event for mobile robotics and intelligent systems, produced by Robotics Trends Inc., was held at Sheraton Station Square in Pittsburgh.
"The inclusion of real-world robots, such as AIBO and the SCARA industrial arm, mapped very well to the 'business ready' theme of the RoboBusiness Conference, while their fictional counterparts Gort and Maria spoke to the imagination — perhaps the most important driver for what has been called the first new industry of the 21st century," said Dan Kara, president of Robotics Trends.
James H. Morris, former dean of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science, founded the hall of fame in 2003. Past inductees include the Mars Pathfinder rover, Honda's ASIMO walking robot and the "Star Wars" duo of R2-D2 and C-3PO.
"We decided to give awards to both real and fictional robots because the fictional ones provide inspiration to the real ones," Morris said. "Now, however, we see that some robots occupy a middle ground. AIBO is real but also entertaining. R2-D2 started off with (actor) Kenny Baker inside but then became automated. Eventually, our deliberations will confront the age-old question of real vs. fiction."
This year's inductees, chosen by an international jury of leading thinkers and technology developers, include the four-legged AIBO, an entertainment robot that was mass-marketed from 1999 until early this year. Owners could train the autonomous robot to understand 100 voice commands and recognize faces, and many reprogrammed AIBO to add new behaviors.
But AIBO is more than a toy. Researchers have embraced it as a robotic research platform. It has been particularly popular in robotic soccer, a game used by artificial intelligence researchers to explore how robots can learn to work together.
"The AIBO has evolved to be a robust, fully programmable robot with perception, onboard computing and great four-legged motion," said Manuela Veloso, the Herbert Simon professor of computer science who leads Carnegie Mellon's RoboCup soccer teams.
SCARA is a popular class of industrial robot developed in the 1970s and '80s. SCARA robots, with shoulder, elbow and wrist joints, are commonly used in pick-and-place assembly and packaging operations. In nominating SCARA, Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute Director Matt Mason noted they have been particularly well-suited for placing circuit boards and mechanical computers in product cases, "enabling the inexpensive modern electronics that we now take for granted."
From the world of science fiction, inductees include the robot Maria, who in "Metropolis" works at the behest of a city's evil corporate leader to instigate a worker's revolt. In the process, she not only stole the movie from her human co-stars, but also established an image for robotics that would persist for decades. Maria's art deco design influenced that of C-3P0 in "Star Wars," a movie that premiered a half-century after the silent film classic.
The movie "The Day the Earth Stood Still" concerned an interplanetary peace mission to Earth involving Gort, a towering robot whose awesome destructive power would be kept at bay only if humans abandoned warfare.
"Gort was a reaction to a world mired in post-Holocaust existential relativism, to belief in definable concepts of 'good and evil' and other societal and moral dictums," said Don Marinelli, director of the Entertainment Technology Center. Gort represented a watershed moment in science fiction ideology, he said, and the cult classic is no less relevant today. "The proposition that there is an absolute sense of right and wrong, of acceptable and unacceptable, is a political debate that continues to dictate peace and conflict throughout the world today."
In "AI," the android boy David provides an important template for thinking about robot/human relationships, said psychologist Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. "I think that the problem he sets up with his adoptive mother, Monica — that we love the machine we nurture — is a significant model for an important psychological dynamic in contemporary robotics."