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Out There

Video game technology helps visitors learn about gravity, the sun and artificial intelligence in an interactive, memorable way

A girl stands in front of an image of the sun. The rays of its surface bounce off her porcelain face, giving her cheeks an orange glow as she stares, astounded at the mass that hovers over her. Intrigued and unafraid, she waves her right arm over the immense fireball. And suddenly, both the sun and little girl come alive as her arm turns the sun's surface a fiery purple.


At the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science & Technology's new fall exhibit, "Out There: Exploring Space Through Augmented Reality," visitors can touch the sun, plant the American flag with an Apollo astronaut, and interact with artificial intelligence through a series of three panels which allow them to explore different concepts of space exploration through imagery and motion tracking.

The new exhibit is a local collaboration between Glyphr, an augmented reality company based in Syracuse's Tech Garden; Lorne Covington, a Mottville artist who designed current MOST exhibit "Dancing Light Theater: Math in Motion"; and Kevin Lucas, director of information technology at the MOST.

"The interactivity of this exhibit makes it so exciting," said Larry Leatherman, president of the MOST. "People are able to connect to the ideas because they can see themselves or their actions reflected in the screens or 'touch' the screen to change it."

The first screen, called "Astronaut Encounter," displays an astronaut dressed in gear worn by Apollo astronauts. Created by Glyphr, the screen shows the astronaut jumping in the moon's low gravity and waving at the camera as he plants the American flag. Visitors get to be a part of the experience through a camera that captures them and then displays their image on screen as they "interact" with the astronaut.

This technology is called augmented reality and, unlike virtual reality's entirely computer-generated world, projects images on top of reality. This technology is growing more popular through devices like Google Glass and is predicted to become the standard in mobile video games, where a game plays on top of an image of the real world in front of you.

The "Unseen Sun," the second screen, allows museumgoers to learn the different temperature levels of the sun by waving their hands. Solar researchers use this information to view features outside the visible spectrum. Developed by Covington and Lucas, the interactive sun uses continuously updated data from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Covington and Lucas also collaborated to develop "I Am (Free)W.I.L.L." The exhibit's final screen transforms visitors into puppeteers as they interact with a robot named W.I.L.L. (Willful Intelligent Lazy Lifeform), which has artificial intelligence built in it. The robot mimics the actions of museumgoers facing the screen, but occasionally exhibits his autonomy through such things as tapping his foot or doing a little dance.

Artificial intelligence, or A.I., is already incorporated into most video games as non-player or computer-generated characters. In the case of W.I.L.L., he learns from his interaction with people and expands his repertoire.

Nika Ribnitiski watched as W.I.L.L. mimicked her giving her younger sibling a high-five. The 12-year old said she's amazed by the robot's precision. "It's really high tech," she said.
W.I.L.L. has drawn adults to his screen, too. Michelle Monsour, mother of two, found herself amazed at W.I.L.L.'s accuracy as she balanced herself on one leg with her arms extended outward, watching the robot repeat her moves. "I really enjoyed the interaction, the interplay between your body and the screen," she said.

* This is just one of the many new additions to the museum as a result of our "Making More of the MOST!" campaign.  To learn more about the campaign, what's planned next, what's happened up till now, how we're doing and, most importantly, how you can get involved in the fun and support the museum, follow the link to the left titled "Making More of the MOST!" or use the navigation set below.

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