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Wednesday, 18 July, 2001, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Robot jaws to woo summer crowds
Predators NHM
The technology has none of the jerkiness of old robots
Meet the family. The robotic T. rex that has proved such a massive draw at the Natural History Museum (NHM), London, UK, now has some animatronic friends.

The most impressive newcomer is a life-size great white shark. The metal monster gently sways from side to side, giving visitors the eye.

Predators NHM
The spider will rear up when its "web" is disturbed
It is joined by a huge Sydney funnel web spider, which rears up to defend itself when its steel "web" is disturbed.

Another robotic model is the three-metre long chameleon, which can be seen sticking its enormous tongue out to gobble up an unsuspecting insect.

The robots are part of the new Predators exhibition, which allows visitors "to see first hand the skill and cunning that decides whether an animal gets a meal or escapes being one," says the NHM.

The museum is keen to follow up the success of its animatronic T. rex launched earlier this year. At one stage 13,000 visitors a day were queuing up for 90 minutes to see the three-quarter size beast snarl, roar and shake its head.

Predators NHM
Visitors can control the eye movements
Just like the T. rex, the new creatures employ the latest in anamatronic technology.

They have been produced by Japanese company Kokoro, in partnership with the NHM. The pair hope to sell similar models - the shark costs 100,000 - to other museums around the world.

Realistic models

The latest designs are a great leap forward on past robots - the smoothness of the movements are far more realistic.

Dino BBC
Large queues formed to see the dino
Beneath each model's silicon skin lies sculptured urethane foam, glued to an aluminium and steel "skeleton". This has been articulated to move in a similar way to the living animal.

Compressed air is fed through a network of small pipes, or "veins", to pistons, which then drive the skeleton's movements. All of this is controlled by a small computer, which uses feedback information to temper the movements and ensure there is none of the jerkiness so familiar to more primitive robot designs.

Unlike the T. rex, two of the new robots - the spider and the chameleon - have interactive elements built in. Steel cables are stretched out in front of the spider to mimic the strands of its web.

Visitors plucking the cables can make the spider stand up, just as the real creature would do if an insect flew into its web.

Visitors can also control TV cameras in the eyes of the chameleon by moving joysticks. When the robot focuses in on a target in front of it, an "I'm hungry" button lights up. Pressing it will activate a rapid tongue movement to catch the "prey".

BBC Newsround
"You can run, but you can't hide"
BBC Archive
Reporter Tom Heap meets the T. Rex
See also:

06 Feb 01 | Sci/Tech
Roaring T Rex robot unveiled
24 May 99 | Sci/Tech
Grrrrreat big beast
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