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Join the ‘Robot Revolution’ at the Franklin Institute

This hands-on exhibit helps educate, explain, and inspire.

Robots may not be our overlords — yet — but they’re an increasingly indispensable part of our everyday lives. A new exhibit at the Franklin Institute showcases these mechanical marvels, with hands-on fun and a lot of fascinating facts.


“Robot Revolution” opens October 8, 2016, and will run through April 2, 2017. The museum has tons of activities planned around the exhibit, from a new Imax movie to monthly special events — and even after-hours activities just for adults.


This is the exhibit’s third stop after its debut last year at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. The goal of “Robot Revolution” and its more than three dozen robots is simple: educate, explain, and inspire kids and adults alike.


“Robotics is an ever-growing field,” said Larry Dubinski, president and CEO of the Franklin Institute. “People want to learn more, they want to engage more.”


“Robot Revolution” gives them that chance. Divided into four sections — cooperation, skills, smarts, and locomotion — the exhibit highlights everything from the promise of a self-driving car to the way mechanical instruments have made surgery quicker and safer. Visitors can see how robots learn, how they move, and how they help us.


Of course, there’s plenty of fun intertwined with the education. The exhibit features robots playing soccer and tic-tac-toe, and solving a Rubik’s cube. Parents can finally figure out how their robot vacuum cleaner works. Kids can experiment with robot hands with different grips, to see how one with a metal clamp differs from a squishy ball — and understand why you might choose one over the other. Everyone can swoon over a furry baby seal, an adorable therapy robot with sensors that respond to your touch.


A highlight of “Robot Revolution” is the Robo Garage, where live specialists will keep the exhibit’s robots in tiptop shape. In front of it are two tables covered in irresistible, interlocking robot building blocks called Cubelets. The magnetic blocks each contain a basic component, such as a battery or an engine, and snap together to make a machine that moves.



Photograph courtesy of the Franklin Institute.


The Franklin Institute is celebrating the opening with an activity-packed day October 8. The biggest draw is the 10th annual “Battle on the Parkway,” a robot throwdown hosted by the museum’s Partnership for Achieving Careers in Technology and Science (PACTS) and the Northeast Robotics Club. More than 70 robots are registered for the competition, which is happening in the museum’s Mandell Center.


There will also be a slew of additional hands-on activities, and the first day of Drone Zone, the museum’s new daily live science show.


The museum is also hosting a special event each month during the run of “Robot Revolution,” on topics such as gaming, circuitry, science fiction, and making technology safe. There will also be editions of the Franklin’s popular “Science After Hours” events for this exhibit, featuring special activities for adults (and a cash bar).


John Beckman, the exhibit’s co-curator and the director of exhibit design and development at the Museum of Science and Industry, said he designed it to engage visitors on the wide variety of amazing things¬†robots can do these days. His team worked with about 175 universities, companies, and other robotics experts to find the robots in the exhibit. (There are local robots: two from the University of Pennsylvania.)


“This really is an unprecedented collection of robots, some of which have never been seen by the public,” Beckman said.


The Franklin Institute is at 222 N. 20th St., Philadelphia. Admission to “Robot Revolution” is $29.95 for adults and $24.95 for kids ages 3 to 11 during the day, which includes admission to the rest of the museum. An evening exhibit-only ticket is $19.95 for adults and $14.95 for kids. The exhibit is free for museum members.

Lead photograph by Gwyneth K. Shaw.




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