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Science Museum showcases eight giant robot animals

Eight giant and colourful robot animals including a giraffe, bat, chameleon, housefly, grasshopper, rhinoceros, platypus and squid plus 13 interactive exhibits will go on display tomorrow (June 24).

"The Robot Zoo" exhibition will run at the Hong Kong Science Museum until October 25, 2005.

The exhibition was opened today (June 23) by the Deputy Director (Culture) of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mr Chung Ling-hoi; the Chairman of Committee on Museums of Hong Kong, Dr Philip Wu Po-him; the Chair Professor of the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems, The University of Hong Kong, Professor Francis Chin Yuk-lun; the Chief Executive of the Singapore Science Centre, Dr Chew Tuan Chiong; and the Chief Curator of the Science Museum, Mr Yip Chee-kuen.

The purpose of organising this exhibition is to reveal the survival secrets of animals.

In the Robot Zoo, the giant robots vividly illustrate the biomechanics of how real animals work in the perspective of nature’s engineering and human technology.

Giraffes are the world’s tallest animals. They have keen eyesight and bulging eyes the size of golf balls give a real giraffe a 360-degree view of the world. Raising and lowering the head from great heights could make a giraffe pass out as blood rushes out of or into the head too fast. But the giraffe stays steady. The robot giraffe shows that inside the blood vessels there are valves. When the giraffe lowers or lifts its head, the valves close to keep the blood from rushing up or down its neck.

Bats are the only flying mammal. A bat's wings are made of flexible skin flags stretched between incredibly long fingers. The "fingers" of the robot's wings are lightweight tubes. The material between the tubes acts like a hang-glider sail, stretching back to the hind legs and tail. Most bats use an ultrasonic sound system to locate food while the robot bat's loudspeaker broadcasts sound waves. When the waves hit an object, they bounce back and are picked up by very sensitive sonar receptors. These sounds are turned into electrical signals by the robot's computer to identify and locate nearby objects.

The robot chameleon has the ability to blend into its surroundings. It's mini-computer bran sends a signal to the video screens to change. But sometimes a chameleon wants to be seen. When it meets another chameleon, its colour shines bright as a warning to stay away or an invitation to mate. It is funny to watch a chameleon walk. With each slow step its body rocks back and forth, as if it can't decide which way to go. But things get serious when the robot sees an insect. As it gets within range, both eyes focus forward. The chameleon shoots out its long spring-loaded tongue, and like flypaper, the tongue sticks and snaps up a meal.

The robot housefly's wings are moved by fast-acting pistons and supported by lightweight struts. In a real fly, a complex system of muscles moves the wings.

Like all insects, a grasshopper has six legs. The robot's two rear legs are specialised for jumping, while the front two pairs are for walking. Using its large powerful rear legs, a grasshopper can make gigantic leaps into the air and jump 20 times its length. The male grasshopper has filelike ridges on the inner sides of the legs. The robot insect uses the ridges to rub against the side of its body to make a loud rasping noise to signal other grasshopper robots. Real male grasshoppers make chirping songs in the same way to attract females and to mark their territories.

The robot rhinoceros is a large, heavy beast like a real white rhinoceros. The front part is supported with three weight-bearing props at each end to carry the rhinoceros's weight. On its head and necks, instead of leathery skin, the robot rhinoceros has flexible, studded armor for protection.

The robot platypus webbed front feet have two roles. With the flaps turned back, the claws stick out enabling a platypus to dig a burrow in a riverbank. With the webbing extended, the front feet are powerful paddles for swimming, while the back feet and tail act as rudders. A real platypus can't breathe under water. It must surface for air. The robot uses a snorkel to catch a breath and wears goggles to protect its eyes.

A giant squid uses a multidirectional nozzle to jet around the deep black seas where it lives. A squid's huge eyes see very well and help it find food in the dim light. A squid's arms sense its watery world and the two large, extendible tentacles shoot out from the body to catch prey. The robot squid on display uses tentacles to pull food near the mouth, the large strong beak, like a parrot's, chops up the food. A rasping tongue grinds up the pieces and the food moves to the stomach for processing.

Apart from the robots, exciting interactive games are set up for visitors to discover more about the tools for survival of animals.

To coincide with the exhibition, a "Robot Animal Design Competition" will be organised. It aims to encourage teenagers to be innovative in developing robot animals by applying their knowledge and technical know-how in technological design. Local primary and secondary schools students are welcome to take part. The deadline for applications is July 16. For details, call 2732 3224.

Located at 2 Science Museum Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East, Kowloon, the Science Museum is open from 1pm to 9pm from Monday to Friday, and from 10am to 9pm on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. It is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). Admission to the exhibition is $20, with a half-price concession for full-time students, people with disabilities and senior citizens aged 60 or above. There is no free admission on Wednesdays.

For details of the exhibition and related programmes, visit the Science Museum's website at . For enquiries, call 2732 3232.

Ends/Thursday, June 23, 2005
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