National Museum of American History Explores “Robots on the Road?”

November 24, 2008
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will explore the museum’s robot collection through “Robots on the Road?,” a new display within the “Science in American Life” exhibition. This new feature examines how American society will react to recent research and innovations with mobile robots. This display will be on view Nov. 21, when the museum reopens to the public after a significant architectural renovation.

“Robots on the Road?” will display about a dozen objects, including a robot motorcycle called “Ghostrider,” a 16th-century automaton of a friar and a cybernetic “tortoise” from 1950. The gallery features “Stanley,” a modified, blue 2005 Volkswagen Touareg and winner of the 2005 Grand Challenge, a robot race sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA’s goal was to accelerate research and development in autonomous ground vehicles to help save American lives on the battlefield and to show young people that science and engineering are exciting fields. The innovations demonstrated during the Grand Challenge may also one day benefit civilian life. “Stanley” is a synthesis of many technologies that allow this experimental robot vehicle to drive itself and to “see” the road ahead through special sensors, including radar, lasers, a monocular vision system and Global Positioning System receivers. “Stanley” demonstrates promising advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and driverless vehicles. Visitors will have an opportunity to touch equipment similar to Stanley’s: a GPS antenna and receiver made by NovAtel Inc. and a laser measurement sensor made by SICK Inc.

“We are very excited to shed new light not only on the new architecture but also on the new direction we have taken in interpreting objects as well. This feature displays the innovation and significance of how science impacts American life in this new millennium,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum.

The vehicle represents the work of nearly 100 people—the Stanford Racing Team. Volkswagen Group of America Inc. recently donated “Stanley” to the museum. The “Robots on the Road?” display has been made possible by Volkswagen Group of America Inc., Stanford University, DARPA, Intel Corporation, Red Bull Energy Drink and MDV-Mohr Davidow Ventures.

“Science in American Life” is a permanent exhibition that explores significant connections between science and society from 1876 to the present. From genetics to the atomic bomb, the exhibition examines some of the issues the American public has dealt with and the ever-increasing role of science in society. This exhibition features more than 1,000 scientific objects and first opened in 1994.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. Documenting the American experience from Colonial times to the present, the museum looks at growth and change in the United States. For information about the museum, please visit or call Smithsonian Information at (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).