Are these the Droids™ you’re looking for?

by Damon Lowe, Chief Curator of Science & Technology and Curator of Biology

robot_RobotAreaIntroR2_D2_SmallTo many people, the term “droid” conjures up one of two images: a sleek new smart phone, or a somewhat annoying, but equally endearing protocol robot that is “fluent in over six million forms of communication.” It is the second one that is the most fascinating because the reality of these types of robots isn’t as far away as we might think. Sure, we don’t have C-3PO or other “droids” acting as ambassadors and diplomats like they do in the Star Wars® movies, but we are moving much closer to that reality.

The Star Wars saga shows droids performing many different tasks, from repairing Luke’s injured hand, to fixing vehicles and even fighting battles. It may not come as a surprise that contemporary robots can do most of these things too, but the level of sophistication they are achieving makes them seem like they would be right at home in the Star Wars universe. There are many different types of robots in the real world, and they don’t all fit the definition of droid, which is “a mobile robot usually with a human form.” Human-controlled surgical robots have been around for a couple of decades, but these are merely extensions of the surgeon’s arms, just like the welding robots used for industry are replacements for part of a human’s functionality, not the entire being.

robot_RobotAreaIntroC_3POPuppetUpClose_SmallIt really gets interesting with the newest advances, where the droids start looking like they stepped right out of the Star Wars universe. One of these robots, Honda’s ASIMO, is humanoid in appearance and movement, and even has some form of artificial intelligence that allows it to assist people who lack full mobility. ASIMO can run, open screw top containers, pour juice, recognize people and even stand on one leg! Another human-like robot is Boston Dynamics PETMAN, which is being developed to test chemical protection suits for the military. Like the Star Wars droids, these real world robots don’t have unlimited power supplies, and they need wires or battery packs that require frequent recharging. While technology hasn’t quite caught up to the Star Wars universe, we aren’t light years away either. Visit the Indiana State Museum to check out the Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination and learn about droids and other out-of-this-world technologies!

Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination, presented by Bose Corporation®, was developed by the Museum of Science, Boston, and Lucasfilm Ltd. Star Wars objects in this exhibition are on loan from the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum.
TM & ©2013 Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved. Used under authorization.
This material is based upon work supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0307875.

Local Sponsor: McDonalds of Central Indiana
With additional local support from WISH-TV8 and Hamilton Exhibits

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Luke Skywalker’s robotic hand

by Damon Lowe, Chief Curator of Science & Technology and Curator of Biology

I remember watching Star Wars®: The Empire Strikes Back as a young boy and being totally devastated when my hero, Luke Skywalker, lost his hand to the evil Darth Vader. That sadness was quickly replaced with a sense of awe as I watched two medical droids fix him up with a brand new hand! Wow, to be able to suffer a devastating injury like that, and then to have a fully functional replacement would be the ultimate in technological advancement. I was quickly disappointed again when my older, more knowledgeable brother explained that, while Luke could get a new hand, in the real world it was impossible. The technology didn’t exist yet.

prosthetic_SWMedicalUpClose_SmallFast forward 30 years and, while we aren’t quite capable of affixing a fully functional hand that can feel and do everything the original hand did, we can come pretty close. Take for instance the new i-limb ultra prosthetic hand. This amazing piece of technology is made from aluminum, contains a rechargeable battery, and has a rotating thumb and individually powered fingers — each with their own tiny motors and powerful microprocessors to make it all work together. This allows for a surprising amount of dexterity in an artificial hand. The i-limb ultra allows its users to perform tasks such as tying a shoelace and using a computer mouse. It even has senses when things are slipping and automatically tightens its grip!

Another cool thing about the i-limb ultra is how users interface with it. The i-limb is myoelectric, meaning that is uses small electric signals generated by the muscles in the remaining arm to control the hand. These signals are detected by electrodes placed on the arm and the signal is transmitted to the tiny computer in the i-limb, which then controls the movement of the hand. If this isn’t high tech enough, the i-limb can also be controlled by your iPhone! It connects via Bluetooth and the user can choose from 24 pre-programmed grips or gestures, but light saber grip isn’t one of them … yet. So, while we aren’t quite able to have droids replace hands when an evil Sith Lord chops them off, we are getting much closer. Come to the Indiana State Museum to see Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination, May 25 through Sept. 2, and see what other science fiction technologies have become real!

Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination, presented by Bose Corporation®, was developed by the Museum of Science, Boston, and Lucasfilm Ltd. Star Wars objects in this exhibition are on loan from the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum.
TM & ©2013 Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved. Used under authorization.
This material is based upon work supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0307875.

Local Sponsor: McDonalds of Central Indiana
With additional local support from WISH-TV8 and Hamilton Exhibits

Let’s go to the movies!

by Katherine Gould, Associate Curator of Cultural History

What is your most memorable movie-going experience? We all have them: the epic love story that made us cry as we gazed up at that big screen; the first special effects experience to blow our minds; or the first make-out session in the back of a darkened theater (confession: Top Gun, 1986, his name was Sean).

For me, it’s not any one particular movie that is most memorable, but rather my overall movie-going experience as a kid. I grew up on Army bases across the county and most would have a single-screen theater that showed second-run films. I remember the seats being filled not only with kids and parents in civilian clothes but also men and women in uniform. Before the start of each movie, the theater would darken and everybody would rise and remove their caps for the national anthem. The screen would be filled with rousing, patriotic images of tanks rolling across rugged terrain, Navy destroyers smashing through the high seas, and fighter planes soaring over the mountains. Even now, quite a few years later, the memory of those experiences is as clear as day.

I queried the staff of the Indiana State Museum to find out about some of their favorite movie-going experiences. Because sometimes the best part of history is not researching important artifacts or examining “old-timey” photographs, but rather simply recalling our own experiences with the past, and what it means to us. That’s what makes history fun. That’s what makes it personal. So, for some of you, your memory of going to a theater to see Top Gun may involve squealing at seeing Tom Cruise playing beach volleyball or gripping your seat while watching the action-packed fighter jet scenes. For me, the memory is something completely different. Continue reading