Learn about birds and bees … and robot dogs at the free science festival

Robo-dog at IF Oxford

IF Oxford, the city’s much-loved science and ideas festival, continues with events and activities for adults, children and teenagers. And some promise to be very wild indeed.

Although focused on science, technology and medicine, the festival spreads its wings beyond traditional science festivals and incorporates ideas from every angle of curiosity and knowledge, from donkeys to diamonds, from drones to DNA, in combinations to surprise and intrigue all ages and interests.

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A line of events during the festival highlights the strength of the natural world and the wonders that we find within it. Visitors are invited to investigate how the biological designs and behaviors of the animals and plants that share our planet showcase engineering and data processing at their best.

Using lessons from these species, festival attendees can discover how technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies are improving and influencing society, global economies, and ecology. We wonder, as complex human-machine interactions become more and more common, how this could alter the world in the future.

This weekend in Wytham, there are animal secrets to be discovered in an Animal Senses Zone, a hands-on family day where visitors can explore how animals interact and gather information about their environment using extraordinary senses, from sight, to to taste, to vibrations.

“Vibration sensing is an enigmatic sense that is kind of like listening through your feet: vibrations reach your feet through different materials, rather than your ears through the air,” explains Dr. Beth Mortimer of the Department of Biology of the University of Oxford.

Oxford Post: Harris Hawk in Pontypool

Oxford Post: Harris Hawk in Pontypool

“It is used by a variety of animals, from spiders to elephants. He continues to work with spiders in Wytham.

“The networks are designed in an amazing way, a bit like a musical instrument. There is the material itself and the thickness and strength of the silk, there is its geometric shape and then the structural tension ”.

Visitors to the Animal Senses Zone will also have the opportunity to throw objects into a giant interactive web model to find out what the spider “feels” when the web vibrates, see bees and hives, and investigate new research on how addiction affects future choices.

They can also wield a hawk, enjoy bird flight shows from a team of Harris hawks, named after a dragon theme (Drogon and Rhaegal for Game of Thrones fans, Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon and Pokemon’s Charmander), and see motion capture demo and bird’s eye video footage.

Birds are, in very simple terms, “a wing guided by an eye” and are an amazing example of what an autonomous drone with the extraordinary capabilities of a bird could be and how these can be applied to other modern technologies, including artificial vision.

“Drones using these technological advances are making a real difference today in conservation, transportation and emergency response,” says Festival Director Dane Comerford.

Oxford post:

Oxford post:

Adrienne Hart of Neon Dance

“And this weekend festival visitors also have the opportunity to program and pilot a futuristic vehicle in the Oxfordshire County Library.”

Visitors can discover robots inspired by the natural world at various events including “BLAST”, the festival’s astronomy, space and technology zone, where, this Monday, you can build a rocket, explore the science of fusion and imagine yourself in space.

Here children and adults can touch and interact with robots that have been developed for a futuristic contemporary performance by Neon Dance Company using the latest AI robotic technology to explore relationships and themes of companionship and loneliness.

Biologically inspired with a skeletal appearance, these robots were designed by artist Ana Rajcevic and the Bristol Robotics Lab in collaboration with members of the public who influenced their appearance and movement.

“We wanted to move away from this idea of ​​robots as tin men built from metal cubes,” says art director and choreographer, Adrienne Hart.

“We asked ourselves what a robot is in today’s world and what can they do? People are often wary of robots – what we show in Prehension Blooms will surprise people and make them think again. These bio-creatures are imagined in an alien world of sand and visitors can see how friendly and tactile interactive machines can be. We also give visitors the opportunity to manipulate and animate the characters of the “puppet robots” and to learn how the robots were created “.

Meeting and talking with Adrienne and robotics principal Hemma Philamore at the Bristol Robotics Lab about their construction and code is a great way to demystify robots in their current form and consider ways to stretch their behavior in the future.

There are more incredible techno beasts to see in a robot racing extravaganza on October 28, when the robot dogs will follow a hedge course on the iconic track where Roger Bannister first beat the four-minute mile.

“While they won’t travel at such speeds, they’re still guaranteed to impress the audience,” smiles Dane. “And who knows? It could be a prototype for ethical greyhound racing in the future.

“Robots are sturdier than animals, so they can travel to places a human or dog wouldn’t dare venture, and this particular ‘species’ of bright yellow quadrupeds known as SPOT robot dogs walk like slender-legged, sure-footed animals. on any terrain.

“One meter long and 60cm high, they stretch and crouch like their biological counterparts while their internal cameras give them a 360 ° view so they can react to whatever they find, be it obstacles, heat, darkness. or rain “.

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He adds: “For those concerned that technology will conquer the world, however, we are also reminding festival visitors that we have a number of uniquely human mathematical superpowers that give us a crucial advantage.

“Even though computers are good at calculating sums and recognizing patterns, educator and writer Junaid Mubeen will be at Waterstones on October 28 with Oxford’s ever-entertaining ‘naked mathematician’ Tom Crawford. With card games and tricks, they reveal why humans shouldn’t surrender to computer owners yet. “

For more information on these events and others during the course of the festival, visit www.oxford.com.

Most of the festival events are free to enter but must be booked in advance.

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