From Arnold's Terminator movies to the so-bad-it's-good Small Wonder sitcom, the brains behind modern pop culture have rammed one robotic image after another down the public's throat. These android icons usually fall into one of two camps: They're either adorable fodder for the toy industry or cold, remorseless killing machines. Rarely do the robots of sci-fi venture into the real-world gray area between huggable doll and soulless executioner. That just wouldn't sell.
Outside of Hollywood and Metropolis, however, robots are never inherently good or evil -- not yet, that is -- but they are steadily inching closer to the retail racks at Circuit City. Three years down the road, brand-name robots might well be vacuuming the carpets and snowblowing the driveways of well-to-do gadget fiends, says Steve Richards, founder and "chief propeller-head" of Boulder's Acroname Inc., a retail/design firm dedicated to all things robotic.
To help bridge the gap between comic-book fantasy and reality, Acroname is holding its second annual Robotics Expo in Boulder on Saturday. "It's meant to help people learn more about robotics," Richards says, noting that all robots in attendance will be autonomous -- self-controlled by prewritten programs -- and not the radio-controlled variety popularized by Comedy Central's BattleBots. Richards expects a turnout of 1,000 humans and thirty to fifty robots.
So what are all these freakin' robots going to do? For openers, they'll clash in a number of competitions -- fighting fires (okay, candles), following white lines, navigating an obstacle course and dancing during a free-form floor exercise. There will also be a public robotics workshop, guest speakers and the standard trade-show booth scene, all aimed at igniting the imagination of the robot fanatic.
Gawkers will definitely want to belly up to the robotic sumo-wrestling tournament and witness miniscule grapplers trying to outmuscle -- and outwit -- one another on a meter-wide disc. "You've seen BattleBots -- that's hyped-up, WWF stuff, comparatively," Richards explains. "This is much more like watching a tennis match or a finesse competition." Best of all, there is absolutely zero chance of getting splattered with the sweat of a blubbery pugilist.