If you were anything like me, when you were a kid you probably dreamed of seeing a living, breathing dinosaur.
But what if you could actually meet a T-rex face-to-face?
Could you outrun it? Should you try to climb a tree? Play dead? None of the above?
Sixty million years after she chomped her last victim with razor-edged teeth the size of bananas, a Tyrannosaurus rex named Sue is roaring back to life in the form of a huge interactive robot named RoboSUE, a lifelike, ¾-scale, animatronic robot.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with one of the developers of this astounding museum exhibit that puts you eyeball-to-eyeball with a T-rex and several other dinosaurs.
His name is Matthew Fisher, Chief Technology Officer at KumoTek of Richardson Texas. To create RoboSUE, Matt and Creative Director Gerald Cain worked with Kokoro, a Tokyo-based animatronics company.
RoboSUE and several other robotic dinosaurs have already attracted record crowds at Chicago’s Field Museum and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
Packed with visual sensors and actuators that operate like muscles, RoboSUE is surprisingly life-like. Her ribs flex. Her orange eyes blink. Her nostrils flare. Her jaws open. Her massive head moves with uncanny realism. It’s all controlled by sophisticated software running on half a dozen computers powered by some of Intel’s most powerful chips.
She is equipped with super quiet air actuated servos and a state-of-the-art artificial intelligence system called the Human Interaction System (H.I.S.), which allows her to detect guests within close proximity to her and respond to these individuals with predator-like tracking and heart pounding roars.
Matt showed me some video clips of RoboSUE in action, which can be seen below.
Her body language is not reassuring, to say the least. You quickly get the impression that making eye contact with a T-rex may not be such a good idea. After all, there’s only room for one species at the top of the food chain.
Sue shares the exhibit with an imposingly big plant-eating mother triceratops, defending her nest of young. And there are the velociraptors. You may remember velociraptors from the film Jurrasic Park. They seem to be talking to each other, behavior that Matt calls “flocking sounds.” One of the raptors tilts its head, like it’s trying to figure out which museum guest would make the best eating.
What’s so unique about RoboSUE and the other animatronic dinos? Matt says it’s their remarkable degree of interactivity. She has the built-in intelligence to detect movement in her human audience and even respond to human faces.
As Matt describes it, when you enter the exhibit space, RoboSUE’s huge orange eyes lock onto you. Make a move, and she follows you with her head. Move closer, and she emits a bellow.
That’s when my hard-wired instincts would say “run for it,” or maybe “climb that tree.”
In the video, RoboSUE is confronted by a crowd of kids. They scream with delight. And Sue roars back, right on cue.
Maybe like you, seeing a T-rex is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. Going eye-to-eye with RoboSUE could be the experience we’ve been waiting for.