If you've watched enough sci-fi movies - did you see HBO's Westworld? - you have witnessed the dangers of human-robot cohabitation. If you ever sat around lazily looking at your whirring Roomba vacuum up crumbs from your living room floor, you've spied robots at their dullest.
"Everyone knows about robot vacuum cleaners, but what about surgical robots, driverless cars, or that there's no human between you and your Amazon order save for the postman?" said Frederic Bertley, the Franklin Institute's senior vice president of science and education.
The interactive exhibit, which originated at the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) in Chicago is split into four sections - Cooperation, Skills, Smarts, Locomotion - and features 40 robots from the around the globe, including two from the University of Pennsylvania's GRASP lab, RHex, and RiSE. Think of the colorful, responsive Robot Revolution showcase as a greatest hits of where the automaton world is now.
What makes Robot Revolution cool in the eyes of the Franklin Institute is that it inspires passion for learning and thinking. "It grabs people's bellies through excitement and emotion, and tells a scientific or engineering narrative that can move or enrich people's understanding of technology," Bertley said.
Take the 5-Finger Hand SCHUNK. It has nine motors, 20 joints, and elastic fingertips that can act as a prosthetic limb. Pretty cool, right? The wearable Ekso GT Robotic Skeleton can help those who are paralyzed move with ease. The furry therapeutic PARO looks like a baby seal and can offer warm contact to those suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
There are robots such as the Japanese THES and OSCAR, or the Recon Scout Throwbot XT (from Minnesota) that can scale and snake to investigate unstable buildings and rugged hidden terrains and maneuver their way through dangerous battlegrounds.
"Technology can keep you warm or help you build an atomic bomb," said Bertley, who reminds us that there is no evil in the heart of robots or drones - many of which will fly in demonstration throughout Robot Revolution's many live presentations - but rather in their human application.
(That's true, but we did not have the ability to check Bertley to see whether he wasn't also a hardwired cyborg. Time will tell).
Take that, science.
While the project team for MSI's Robot Revolution searched the world over for its usable exhibits, codirector Kathleen McCarthy says, two of her coolest finds came right from Philadelphia's backyard - at the University of Pennsylvania under the auspices of professor Daniel Lee, who happens to be on the MSI's advisory committee. "The RHex and the RiSE with their springy six legs are based on insects and can act like a tripod and spin back and forth," says McCarthy. "I couldn't keep my eyes off it."
Neither should audiences.
As much as Robot Revolution looks like what we dreamed of in the past as our future, this exhibition resides very much in the present. "Seeing something like Google's driverless car or the human height robot is exciting for someone like me who grew up in the Jetsons era," says Bertley. "But this is happening now, and the idea of having a driverless-car robot pull up next to you is pretty cool."