5 famous robots land spots in hall

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Robby the Robot, who once shared billing with Leslie Nielsen for the 1956 movie "Forbidden Planet," arguably will have more distinguished company when inducted this fall into Carnegie Mellon University's Robot Hall of Fame.

Robby will be joined by two other fictional robots, Japan's Astroboy cartoon character and Star Wars' C3PO, as well as two real robots, Honda's ASIMO humanoid robot and a pioneering mobile robot called Shakey. They will be inducted during a ceremony Oct. 11 at the Carnegie Science Center.

The hall recognizes robots that have achieved technological milestones or served as inspiration for technology development.

The robots were selected by a jury of 13 technologists that included Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Inc.; Ruzena Bajcsy, a roboticist at the University of California, Berkeley; and Will Wright, creator of the Sim City computer games.

This will be the second class of inductees to the hall, which was founded by James Morris, former dean of computer science at Carnegie Mellon. Last year, NASA's Mars Sojourner and the Unimate robotic arm were inducted along with the HAL-9000 computer of "2001: A Space Odyssey," and C3PO's Star Wars partner, R2D2.

"I'm happy to see some older, historically important robots like Shakey and Robby joining the newer ones like ASIMO and C3PO," Morris said in a statement released yesterday.

Shakey was an ungainly 6-foot-tall robot with a TV camera, rangefinder and bump sensors that was developed by the Stanford Research Institute between 1966 and 1972. It was the first autonomous mobile robot capable of sensing its environment ---- recognizing the location of plywood boxes ---- and then navigating its own course.

"Shakey was the project that put the SRI Artificial Intelligence Center on the map," said Ray Perrault, director of the AI center at SRI International in Menlo Park, Calif. "It really was fundamental, not only to robotics but to AI in general."

The robot, which was sitting in an office dripping oil when Perrault joined the center two decades ago, now is housed at the Computer Museum in Mountainview, Calif.

ASIMO, which visited Pittsburgh last year, is one of the most successful humanoid robots ever. Its human-like ability to walk and balance itself on two legs is the culmination of 17 years of research.

Of the fictional robots, the gold-plated C3PO is among the most widely recognized in the world, thanks to the popularity of the "Star Wars" series. Though a bumbling, talky and generally ineffective humanoid, C3PO nevertheless received the most nominations from the public on the hall's Web site, www.robothalloffame.org.

Lesser known in the United States, Astroboy was wildly popular in Japan and many credit him with that nation's cultural embrace of robotics. Astroboy was created as a comic book character by Osamu Tezuka in 1951 and later was an animated TV series. Astroboy could fly and had great strength; he was a crime-fighter and do-gooder in the manner of Superman.

Robby the Robot, with his barrel chest, Plexiglas-covered head and pincer-like hands, was the prototype for robots in 1950s sci-fi films, said Joanna Haas, director of the Carnegie Science Center.

"It was the first robot with a personality conveyed through motion and timing," she added.

Carnegie Mellon officials announced the inductees at a private dinner reception last night hosted by 20th Century Fox to launch its upcoming movie, "I, Robot."


Post-Gazette science editor Byron Spice can be reached at bspice@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1578.


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