Photos: BigBots at Robot 250

Robot 250's art installation of robots at Pittsburgh landmarks challenges conventional ideas of what makes a robot a robot.

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
2 min read

Famous Pittsburgh landmarks are the backdrop for BigBots, 11 giant robotic art installations.

The robotic art pieces, which went up on Friday, will be displayed through July 28 as part of Robot 250, one of this summer's festivals celebrating Pittsburgh's 250-year anniversary.

The collection is whimsical. Many of them are not what one might consider a robot, but each seems to speak to a philosophical topic currently being discussed in the technology community.

Here are some highlights.

Mower by Osman Khan. Robot 250

Mower, a robot designed by Osman Khan, a visiting assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon's School of Art, can be found on the grass at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. The pet/autonomous lawnmower is an allusion to Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The ideal Mower robot would include navigational and obstacle avoidance sensors, according to Khan. Hmmm...Sounds like the Auto Mower from Husqvarna, only not as cute.

Reach, Robot by Grisha Coleman. Robot 250

The Reach, Robot installation at PPG Plaza by Grisha Coleman allows people in and around the giant overhead web to create ambient music in the plaza through their movements. The sounds played are based on Pittsburgh's African-American music history. The kinetic sculpture works from laser and pressure sensing devices attached to the web (made from PPG-manufactured continuous strand fiber glass) that respond when people move under it or congregate in particular areas of the plaza.

Green Roof Roller Coaster by Joey Hays (right) and Greg Witt (left). Robot 250

With all the benefits plants give us humans, shouldn't they have some fun? To raise awareness of just how much green roof architecture gives back to the environment, artists Greg Witt and Joey Hays built the Green Roof Roller Coaster as a thank-you gift of sorts. While adults have been scratching their heads, children seem to have no problem figuring out that the installation atop the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh is simply a roller coaster for plants, Hays said at a press conference. While providing "fun" for the plants, the roller coaster roof still maintains the usual functions of a green roof such as collecting rain water.

You're #1 by Ian Ingram. Robot 250

This isn't just a giant 12-foot tall foam hand. The You're #1 robot by Ian Ingram atop the Andy Warhol Museum is connected to a series of stations around Pittsburgh. When someone walks up to a station and touches a smaller version of the foam finger, the giant one on the roof points directly at them whether it's a block or miles away.

Robot percussion by Keny Marshall. Robpt 250

Keny Marshall's installation is officially called a "prototype for an infinite array of semi-autonomous percussive devices," but has also been nicknamed Crickets for short. The robots are all connected by wires and send or receive signals to each other to play their wooden blocks or keep quiet. The system is programmed to follow Dr. John Conway's rules for the mathematical game, The Game of Life.