Science weekend puts Downtown on tech map
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
BROOKLYN — The World Science Festival came to Brooklyn on Saturday, and Brooklyn embraced it with both extendable, robotic arms.
Thousands of technology fans filled Downtown Brooklyn’s MetroTech commons, while explorers of the natural sciences took in events at Brooklyn Bridge Park. The World Science Festival takes place annually throughout the city, but this is its first major incursion into Brooklyn.
Those with their finger to the wind saw Brooklyn’s participation as part of the borough’s technological renaissance.
“All over Brooklyn’s Tech Triangle, and with the arrival of NYU’s Center for Urban Progress in Science in Downtown Brooklyn, we’re creating technology that will change the world,” said Jerry M. Hultin, President of Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly), which hosted the event at Downtown’s MetroTech.
There, tech fans played with robotic snakes, humanoids and fish in a “Robot Petting Zoo,” painted with DNA, witnessed the first public demonstration of quantum levitation and climbed inside a 3D planetarium. Inside Building 5, gamers experimented with math games and iPad apps from NYU-Poly’s Game Innovation Lab.
“They’re taking over Brooklyn. I wonder if there is such a thing as hipster robots?” joked Bandit, a therapeutic social robot displayed by Ross Mead from the University of Southern California’s Center for Robotics and Embedded Systems.
“Bandit understands body language,” said Mead, explaining that Bandit works with autistic children and adults with cognitive disorders. The noise and constant movements of the surging crowd at the festival overwhelmed Bandit, Mead said, so he was less social than usual.
A writhing snake robot held special charm for children, who seemed uncertain if they should try to step on it or run away. “This can be used for pipe inspection,” said Matthew Tesch, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon. “It can also be used for search and rescue, when larger robots can’t fit through the rubble.”
A large, bowl-shaped robot named City Alien, created by City University of New York, scooted around the plaza demonstrating its excellent eyesight (it sees in a “spherical panorama”) and “top-notch navigation.” City University also demonstrated City-Climber, “a new generation of wall-climbing robot.”
A major crowd-pleaser was the quantum levitation demonstration. Physicist Boaz Almog, who studies superconductors at Tel-Aviv University in Israel, sent a levitating disk flying around a track while observers placed their fingers under it.
Inside NYU-Poly’s Game Innovation Lab, young and old alike played games based on movement detection and used iPhones to “swordfight.” Game designer and NYU alum Mike Astolfi demonstrated his thesis game, Kifted, which is based on natural hunting and gathering instincts — killing hornets and gathering berries. Astolfi is co-creator of Blind Side, an audio-only adventure game available as an iPhone app.
In Brooklyn Bridge Park, mostly-younger participants engaged in activities related to geology, botany, astronomy and biology, including a visit from the Clearwater and kite making and flying.
Ray Shapp of Amateur Astronomers, Inc., demonstrated images of the sun using a Spacescope; Nilay Yapici, a student at Rockefeller University, demonstrated appearances differences in genetically-modified flies. Scientists using seining nets swept the cove for wildlife.
A highlight was the release of a turtle into the pond at Brooklyn Bridge Park by Rebecca McMackin, a horticulturist for the park. Ben, a 9-year-old resident of Brooklyn Heights won a contest to name the young male painted turtle; the winning name is “Shelldon.” McMackin said the park is looking to acquire a mate for Shelldon.