The Ultimate Science Street Fair: space, weather, and robots

Date: Sunday June 1, 2014
Time: 10:00 AM-06:00 PM
Venue: Washington Square Park
Participants: Michael J. MassiminoBobak FerdowsiMichael S. Hopkins
Register Now

Games, performances, interactive experiments, and the great outdoors combine for a full-day science extravaganza at the seventh annual World Science Festival Street Fair. Installations and activities from more than 50 organizations will focus on our three themes: space, weather, and robots.

There’s so much to explore: cutting-edge science experiments on the International Space Station, Mars rovers, extreme weather simulations, and robots that might someday live in your house, to name a few! We’ll also have science celebrities on hand, so you can learn from the pros – and snag a photo.

Aspiring scientists of all ages can find entertainment both inside the buildings and outside at performances and demonstrations. Start planning your day by looking through our list of activities – and check back often to see what we’ve added!

Register for the World Science Festival’s free outdoor events to receive early notification of special events, learn where you can have your photo taken with astronauts, and be the first to see the schedule of stage performances.  Each week, the World Science Festival will randomly select one registrant to receive a science gift packet.


Visit the International Space Station: Experience the next best thing to being on the ISS with the help of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Step into the newly renovated NASA Mobile Exhibit for liftoff to the orbiting home and learn about research in microgravity from a team of NASA scientists.

Create Microgravity on Earth with the NASA Glenn Research Center: Step up to the miniature drop tower and test the effects of reduced gravity on physical and chemical phenomena. You’ll be amazed by things that are normally hidden by Earth’s gravity—from plants and water to cells and fire.

Search for Exoplanets: Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are looking for planets that are often hidden by the bright lights of the stars they orbit. Hundreds of planets have already been found. Visit The Hidden Light, an installation that helps you see what is invisible to the naked eye. Then head to the StarShade Petal, a real technology being designed to block interfering light and help photograph other planets.

Study Humans In Space: Meet the NASA Johnson Space Center team that studies humans in space. How does microgravity affect everything from bones and blood to muscle and memory? Let the team tell you how they figure it all out.

Control Next-Generation Satellites: Take command of SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites) just like those currently aboard the International Space Station. MIT’s Alvar Saenz-Otero, of Zero Robotics, will teach you about this next generation of autonomous, interactive robot satellites.

Command the Rovers: Robots take over Washington Square Park at your control. Meet the New York Hall of Science’s Mars-style rover robot, created by Robert Beatty and his daughters. Check out the suspension system, solar panels, infrared camera, thermal array sensor, and eight sonar sensors. Interact with a scale version of the real Curiosity rover currently on Mars,and meet Jupiter Joe’s Rovers.

Blast Off with Aerospace Simulators: Ride in one of the many full-scale and fully functional space simulators, including the Orion CRV Flight Simulator, BD-5J Micro Jet, and a hovercraft. See what a space toilet looks like, inspect the Pluto Probe, and try on a pair of anti-gravity boots. Brought to you by the Traveling Space Museum.

Work in a Space Laboratory: Step into the Odyssey IV Mobile SpaceLab Module, a mock-up of the International Space Station. You’ll learn to live and work in space in this simulation with interactive workstations.

Build Air Cannons: Make an air cannon with Carmelo the Science Fellow to learn more about wind and gravity.

Launch Your Own Balloon Rocket Racer: Transform recycled materials into a rocket ship and use air propulsion power to race down a fishing line. Then try your hand at building and launching space gliders with Scrapkins.

3D Space Printer: Astronauts run out of tools on the International Space Station and must wait until the next resupply mission to restock. With the aid of 3D printing technology, immediate re-stock is just around the corner. Come see the first 3D printer that will head to space.


Science on a Sphere®: See our home planet as you’ve never seen it before: projected and animated on a giant suspended globe from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Gather around massive sphere to watch historic storms unfold as dramatic weather unleashes its fury, and see special spherical movies about tsunamis and waterfalls (without getting all wet). When you’re done exploring Earth, travel to other planets in our solar system and beyond and get a glimpse of conditions far from home. Finally, meet the scientists and journalists who study space, climate, and the often only marginally predictable atmosphere. 10:00 AM-06:00 PM, at Gould Plaza, NYU

Get Caught in a Hurricane: Step into the hurricane simulator and experience winds up to 78 mph. Suitable for storm chasers of all ages.

Control Your Own Tornado: Prepare to be blown away by a vortex of swirling vapor as you control the speed of four-foot tall tornadoes.

Explore the Arctic of the Future with the PoLAR Climate Project: Play games to learn how animals (from plankton all the way to polar bears) are impacted by humans. Then go through interactive displays with Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory to learn how climate and weather impact sea ice loss and change the sea level. Don’t miss the Polar Explorer app!

Investigate the New York Hall of Science: Watch dueling pressure systems create spinning clouds of air when we fire our Air Cannon. Use your cell phone to make small images appear large using forced perspective photography at Stick Pics. You can make images with your favorite astronomers, astrophysicists, astronauts, and spaceships. Finally, make your hair stand on end as lighting forms before your very eyes at the Van de Graaf Generator.

Battle Earthquakes with Engineering: Join Mueser Rutledge Consulting Engineers to make your own earthquake-proof structures. How will your building stand up to the seismic waves?

Ride the Coriolis and Forecast Weather: Join CUNY’s NOAA-CRESTto take a spin aboard the Coriolis ride, showing how hurricanes form and gain massive amounts of power. Then use real mathematical equations to predict tomorrow’s weather.

Discover Fossils and Facts at the Liberty Science Center: Excavate for fossils (including shark teeth and small bones) that you can take home with you, and learn how weather affects fossil formation. Compare natural disasters and weather conditions on home at Earth to those on other planets.

Monkey Around at the Central Park Zoo: Discover how weather affects the animal kingdom, wildlife conservation and our own lives. Join the Central Park Zoo for performances and activities that help explain how we can make our world more livable for ourselves and other unique creatures.

Crustacean Exploration: Hop onto a solar-powered, state-of-the-art mobile microscope lab that was once a 1974 transit bus. There, use high-powered microscopes to examine the cells and organs of tiny transparent crustaceans called daphnia. These strange creatures have reproductive systems that change with the weather.

Laboratory: Pop Bottle Science: Join author Lynn Brunelle to create different kinds of weather and tracking equipment, from barometers and thermometers to rain and tornadoes. You’ll build up the atmospheric pressure of a storm in a crushable bottle.


Vision: The first step to understanding how robots sense the world is by learning how they see. Unlike humans, they don’t have peripheral vision – meaning they see only what is directly in front of them. Move an object in front of a digital camera and watch how objects are tracked on a screen. Try sharing a toy with iCub a robot that mimics a human two-year-old, and see how iCub sees.

Hearing: Robot ears take in sounds and turn them into a language that robots can understand. Speak into a microphone and watch a computer translate your voice into waveforms. It will try to repeat what you said back to you.

Depth Perception: Our eyes and brain quickly calculate depth perception for us. Learn how robots tackle this crucial task by stepping up to a Microsoft Kinect and getting a strange 3D view of the world and yourself. Then have your photo taken and emailed to you.

Touch: Close your eyes and put your hand in a box – then try to decipher what you’re grabbing. Or see if you can find the object you are searching for without using your eyes. Robots have it tough! Get another sense of how a child robot would interact with the world bytickling iCub, the robot who mimics a human two-year-old. He’s covered in touch sensors and gets ticklish when you poke him. Eventually, he’ll even learn to dodge your fingers!

INSIDE THE ROBOT BRAIN: How do robots Sense, Decide, and Act?

Tame the Robot: Teach a robot how to behave by playing Tetris on a computer. In this game of robot Tetris, you decide if a robot’s action should be rewarded or not, and it learns to behave according to your rules.

Train the Robot: Use DragonBot and a programming tool kit to train a robot to respond to your signal, just like a pet dog. You’ll teach your robot to smile whenever you clap – get ready to give yourself a round of applause.

Shepherd the Robots: Robots sometimes behave based on what other nearby robots are doing. Walk in front of a projection screen and watch as simulated robots follow you around like a flock of sheep.

Robot Swarm: How does a swarm of 10 robots work? How about 10,000 birds? Or 10,000,000 ants? Join MoMath for hands-on Swarm Math activities where the audience members get to be part of a collective.

Control Robots with Your Mind: Use electricity from your brain to control robots and find out whether your brain is anything like a computer.

Play Soccer Like a Robot: Learn what it’s like for a robot to play soccer. Hint: it’s not so easy. Build robot goggles out of paper tubes, then cover one eye and try to follow instructions to play (and win) the game.

Robots at the Liberty Science Center: At Complete a Circuit, you’ll poke around the inner workings of a robot and learn how electrical circuits and systems work together. Connect different parts of circuits and use different energy sources – then apply the same principles to a programmable Arduino board. Then figure out the difference between conductors and insulators at Pocket Science: Energy Stick, where you’ll light up an energy stick by forming a human chain

ROBOTS IN MOTION: How do robots move?

Bend It Like a Robot: Teach a small humanoid NAO robot how to kick a ball by moving its legs and registering the movement on a computer – just like in stop-motion animation!

Robot Obstacle Course: Drive a KUKA youBot, a robot arm on wheels, through an obstacle course. Then try it again using only robot vision, and see how different your times are.

Drive a Planetary Rover: Drive Oryx, the planetary rover, and help it collect rock specimens on an otherworldly surface.

Drive the Turtlebots: Pick up the controls and, without ever leaving the World Science Festival, drive a telepresence robot at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Your task? To figure out Worcester Polytechnic’s motto.

Robot Fish Race: Build the fins of a robotic fish and race them against other robo-swimmers. Winner gets a prize!

Robot Control: Feel like Dr. Doolittle as you use a touchscreen device to control a robotic fish. Or relax and watch it swim on its own while you enjoy a birds-eye view of the tank provided on the display.

Fly a Drone, Drive a BEAM: Test fly a drone and operate the Beam telepresence robot, which lets you be in two places at once.

Robot Free Throw: Make your robot the star of the team as you toss beach balls into a goal to earn points.

Junior FIRST’s Lego League Challenge: Operate the winning Lego creation made by children ages 6 to 9 and meet these young inventors.

ROBOT PARTY: How do robots socialize and interact with humans?

Museum of Keepons: As you approach a row of small, yellow, snowman-like Keepon robots, try to capture their gaze. Then watch as Keepon follows you.

Bully Stoppers: Keepon will tell you a story about a bully and let you decide how to handle the situation. Then he’ll give you feedback on your choice.

Language Game: Meet a Spanish-speaking Keepon robot who can help you learn more about language.

Rock, Paper, Scissors: Play this classic game against an NAO humanoid robot, but watch carefully. He may try to trick you!

Nutrition Game: DragonBot is preparing for a long journey, and he needs your help to pick out snacks to fuel his trip. Help DragonBot choose the healthiest meal and see what happens if you try to sneak a donut in.

One-on-One with Bandit: Bandit the robot wants to play a game with you. Choose between three options using a Wiimote: an exercise game, memory game, or a cognitive game.

Befriend a Robot: DragonBot wants to be popular, and you can help it by stopping in for a chat. The more attention it receives, the more it is rewarded.

Source: Word Science


In 1925, creationists at the Scopes Trial in Tennessee argued against the theory of evolution and in favour of biblical truth. Now, 90 years later, a group of similarly fundamentalist Christians from nearby North Carolina has spent $16,000 (£9,500) on a humanoid Nao robot to explore what is arguably the next stage of evolution on Earth, the coming of the robots….

The Nao is an autonomous programmable humanoid robot developed by Aldebaran Robotics based in Paris, France, and more than 200 of them are already in use at universities and colleges around the world.

According to  Dr Kevin Staley at the Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews, North Carolina, the aim of the project is to “examine the potential impact such a technology holds for human society” as well as to “start a conversation” with other faith-based communities concerning the “development and uses” of robots.

“What better way of doing this than having a robot and taking it to groups of people to interact with it while I observe?” he tells

Staley took the Nao along to a local youth group. When the robot fell over and tried to right itself as programmed, “most of the young people — and not just the girls in the group — showed a great deal of empathy for it and wanted to help him back up”. In his view, this demonstrates that there are limits to how robots should be used, and it comes with a whiff of fire and brimstone.

The Bible teaches us that “failure to love is sin”, he says, so if robots let us “totally withdraw from caring for those so in need” like children and the elderly, then “it is clear we have sinned against them as we have failed to love them”.

Going further, he believes it would even be “idolatry” if “we grant authority to something like a super AI [artificial intelligence]” as we should “only surrender to God”.

The Southern Evangelical Seminary was founded in 1992 in order to spread the Christian message and to teach the defence of the traditional Christian faith, including the belief that the world was created in six days and the literal truth of the story of Adam and Eve. This is called Christian Apologetics.

From its founding the Seminary has been committed to seriously engaging with the issues facing contemporary culture, says Staley. Thus, after a local businessman was “blessed with extra income” that he wanted to give to an “out-of-the-box project”, the Seminary bought the Nao robot. The purchase is designed to allow these theists to consider how Christians should respond to humanoid robots, and other technological advances such as artificial intelligence. Up to now, most evangelical Christians have been more comfortable talking about issues such as abortion and stem cell research than the impact of robotics and machine learning.

Staley says that technology generally “plays well into biblical narrative” since it recognises that “most of us have to labour, sweat and suffer” during our lives, and that technological advancements have relieved some of this hardship. “After all, Jesus was about healing and restoring,” he explains.

But more important than relieving hardship is the biblical narrative around the central role that humanity plays in creation. “God even took on human form,” Staley says. “While you aren’t going to find many references to robots in the Bible, even any that can be massaged in any way, one thing you can draw is the affirmation of the importance of human-to-human relationships.” The subtext is that time spent talking to robots instead of other humans is a bad thing and can be dehumanising.

Staley argues that young children and the elderly can find true fulfilment only in human relationships, despite the way we anthropomorphise robots. This is not so different, he believes, from the secular Danish Council of Ethics report into the boundaries between humans and social robots in 2010. The Council was concerned that robots might be used as replacements for human contact, particularly in the context of care for the elderly. It also feared that extensive use of social robots might stunt human emotional life. These concerns demonstrate a “clear resemblance” to the “Christian response”, he says.

But what has Staley particularly worried is where this technology goes in the longer term: towards super AIs. He admits that a super AI could exist without people worshipping it like a god. “However, the potenital to treate a super AI as god is especially great in contemporary societies, as we have a tendency when we come to something that appears to be more right than us to surrender a great deal of trust and dependence to it.”

How then should we regard the people who want to build this potentially blasphemous technology?

“Christians, as well as those outside that faith, should ask the people and companies working on such a project to provide clear and well-reasoned arguments on the purpose and place of such artefacts in our lives.” This leads to the possibility that some Christians and other groups might decide to boycott, protest and even fire-bomb the offices of those companies developing AIs — the Googles, Apples and IBMs of this world — in the same way that some already target abortion clinics.


For Professor Brian Brock, Reader in Moral and Practical Theology at the University of Aberdeen, it is “not really clear what they [the members of the Seminary] are after”, and he speculates that it might simply be an attempt to attract publicity as the first seminary to buy a robot. Brock is author of the bookChristian Ethics in a Technological Age – one of the few Christian books to address this issue. He does, however, share with Staley concerns over the development and use of new technology as, in his opinion, it is usually about “pride and sloth”, both of which are “sinful”.

Olivia Solon

“Most tend to sloth,” since it is a lot easier to get a machine to look after children and old people than for their relatives to do it, he argues. However, these vulnerable people are not “dehumanised because of the robot but because of the human’s decision to leave them alone with a machine”.

Other technologies, he thinks, hint at a “hubristic side” to innovation.

“In the beginning God created the world and it is almost like we are trying to finish it. It is technology as idolatry, almost offering us the idea of resurrection in some of the dreams of the weightless existence of digital immortality they sell us, but they are bound to disappoint,” he says.

Brock worries that the Seminary is in danger of falling into the same trap of “pride” and points out Staley’s background in the technology industry.

Brock goes further than Staley in his criticism of the technology industry (and the press) and accuses it of having a “public face and a different private face”.

“Innovators have no moral drive,” he believes. “There is no serious desire as far as I can tell to make us better humans among that class of people. It is all about profit and control behind all the stories about making history that we see in the press.” What worries him about the so-called robots revolution is that it is “being driven by publicity”. What are the hidden agendas behind the the advertising campaigns?

Dr Stuart Armstrong, James Martin Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, believes that the kind of worries that Christians like Staley and Brock hold, in fact, massively underestimate the hugely transformative aspect of these technologies.

Armstrong and his colleague Professor Nick Bostrum faced the wrath of Christian fundamentalists in the States last year when the news broke that they were paying to have their bodies cryogenically frozen when they died, as this is seen as advocating a transhumanist agenda. Transhumanism sees technology as a solution to humanity’s problems rather than God.

“If you can have a personal robot that is capable of bringing up children and looking after the elderly then society will be so transformed that robots will be the last of your worries,” he says.

It is too easy, he feels, to discount human beings’ social urge to communicate and to compete with others:

However, Armstrong does feel that it is too easy to discount human beings’ social urge to communicate and to compete with others — an urge that explains why gamers prefer competing with others online using platforms such as Xbox Live to playing against a computer.

He also feels that the Christian fear of humans being displaced by robots is a “kind of feudal metaphor” where different levels of intelligence have to be one above the other.

“An AI lording it above humanity but not extinguishing humanity is a very human thought. If we don’t get the scenario whereby AIs wipe humanity off the planet, then they are likely to be a very alien mind” that share the planet with us perhaps in the same way we share it with dolphins, whales or even ants.

If there were a super-intelligent AI that provided what humans wanted and didn’t put demands on them, Armstrong believes that it “wouldn’t be seen as a god but as a servant”. He also disagrees that there is some kind of sinister agenda behind technological innovation: “When you build all these great and impressive things you become convinced that they are really useful for humanity.”

Those worrying that Christianity itself might be displaced need only console themselves with the knowledge that “organised religion has endured a phenomenal number of changes and has reinvented itself”.

However, while industry leader Frank Meehan thinks the technology will be of great benefit to humankind, he does, unlike Armstrong, share some sympathy with the concerns of Christians like Staley and Brock about its impact. Meehan is one of the co-founders of SparkLabs Global Ventures with a long involvement in AI businesses, including Siri and DeepMind before they were acquired by Apple and Google respectively.

“I can’t really comment about God and I do hope robots will help out humanity as they develop,” he says, but he worries that “parents will feel that robots can be used as company for their children”.

The need to retrain those people in manual occupations who will lose their jobs because of robots also “needs to be addressed”. Beyond that, there is now a huge amount of activity in AI.

Only a few years ago, says Meehan, ‘artificial intelligence’ was seen in a negative light by the investment community — deemed to be something too far off into the technological ether to warrant serious consideration. “But Google’s DeepMind investment has made other companies take a look.”

Meehan suspects that Google will be the company to take AI to the next level.

“Google’s mission is fantastic and I would rather have them than somebody else, but whoever programs the intelligence of the first true AI, whoever gives it its first set of instructions like Asimov is likely to be making the rules for all AIs.

“If that’s Google or another corporation they will probably decide these in secret and no one will want to question their decisions because they are so powerful. What will be interesting culturally is that it will probably be an American AI as well.”

Despite these reservations, Meehan believes that what “we are creating through our investments is of immense benefit to humanity” and he plans to invest in the sector “for a long time to come”.

In the end, Kevin Staley hopes that increased publicity about the nature and potential of advanced technologies will “at least be the knock that opens the door to sincere dialogue, wise deliberation, and subsequent action’ before it is too late.”

Robots in the classroom

Is there a place for humanoid robots in education? A number of innovations such as the French NAO robot developed by Aldebaran Robotics or  mini-robots Bo and Yana made by Californian startup Play-i have made their debut in the classroom in a series of experiments for creating a more fun approach to learning or helping children with learning difficulties. The idea is not for them to replace human teachers but act as a mediator for learning. Telepresence solutions have also proved useful for children away from school to keep up with their schoolwork. This new generation of robots are finding countless uses in education, healthcare and everyday life and the sector is set to grow considerably over the next two years, according to the International Federation of Robotics.
Education-robot-Play-iWith $1.4m in funding, Bo and Yana are robots on a mission to teach kids as young as five to code

Can children as young as five years old start learning programming? Vikas Gupta, the co-founder and CEO of Play-i, thinks so. And this is why he has started on a journey to create two robots called Bo and Yana. Along with the robots, there’s a visual programming environment created on touch devices for kids, which meets the children’s level of cognitive ability and motor skills, starting as early as age five and extending to beyond 12 years old.

robot-NAO Humanoid robot helps train children with autism

By David Salisbury
An interdisciplinary team of mechanical engineers and autism experts at Vanderbilt University have developed the system and used it to demonstrate that robotic systems may be powerful tools for enhancing the basic social learning skills of children with ASD.
Read more on Research News @Vanderbild

When a teacher is 2 feet tall

By Sophia Hollander
“How can you get the kids to do more math? They don’t want to. But they do want to play with the robots,” said Maja Matarić, professor of computer science, neuroscience and pediatrics at USC, who is helping to lead the project in Los Angeles. Robots in the experiments are teaching and reinforcing lessons over several weeks, researchers say, even though it seems they are merely serving as electronic playmates
Read more on The Wall Street Journal

For homebound students, a robot proxy in the classroom

The VGo is four feet tall, weighs 18 pounds and is shaped like a white chess pawn, with a video screen on its face. Lexie controls its movement with her computer mouse. Video of the classroom at Alice Drive Elementary School appears on her computer screen, and video of her face appears on the robot’s display screen. The robot and Lexie’s computer support two-way voice communication, and Lexie can flash her VGo’s lights to get the teacher’s attention.
Read more on The New York Times

Thymio educational robots coax kids to robotics

Thymio robots from Switzerland feature a graphics programming language that can help children engage with robotics, and also offer them the chance to get their hands dirty with code.
Read more on PC World

Source: Econocom