Robot Zoo at the Swaner EcoCenter teaches the biomechanics of animals |

Robot Zoo at the Swaner EcoCenter teaches the biomechanics of animals

A robot chameleon, looking like something out of a Japanese mecha film, is one of three large interactive displays of the Robot Zoo exhibit at the Swaner EcoCenter. The exhibit is designed to teach visitors about the biomechanics of animals.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

What: Robot Zoo

When: Sept. 14 through Jan. 5

Where: Swaner EcoCenter, 1258 Center Drive at Kimball Junction

Cost: $6


Robot Zoo is an interactive arcade that teaches the biomechanics of animals. And it’s now open at the Swaner EcoCenter.

The main attractions of the 2,500 square-foot display, which will show through Jan. 5, are three large, robotic models of a chameleon, a housefly and a platypus, according to Hunter Klingensmith, the EcoCenter’s visitor experience coordinator.

“Each station is like a game where you can push buttons to move the creatures’ eyes, heads and limbs,” Klingensmith said. “You can get an idea of how flies can climb up walls and how a platypus uses its flippers to swim.”

The exhibit is based on the 1994 children’s book “The Robot Zoo: A Mechanical Guide to the Way Animals Work,” by John Kelly, Phillip Whitfield and Obin.

Each station is like a game where you can push buttons to move the creatures’ eyes, heads and limbs,” — Hunter Klingensmith, Swaner EcoCenter’s visitor experience coordinator

“The book features cutaway drawings of animals and their mechanical counterparts that show the reader how these animals survive,” Klingensmith said.

All of the robots in the exhibit are built with household items to make them more familiar to viewers.

“The fly has a vacuum cleaner mouth and toothbrushes on his feet,” Klingensmith said. “The goal is to give the visitors a point of reference so they can understand how the different parts of these creatures work.”

The exhibit also includes smaller stations, including two additional chameleon displays, that complement the large robot displays.

“You can use joysticks and video cameras to see how a chameleon’s eyes work, especially since it can move each eye independently,” Klingensmith said.

The other is a target practice game that teaches people how the lizard can launch its tongue to catch insects, and in another area, visitors can construct a platypus by choosing the correct parts.

Elsewhere, visitors can learn about animal camouflage by donning different ponchos while looking through a video display, and there’s a “Swat-a-Fly” game.

“‘Swat-a Fly’ is like ‘Whack-a-Mole,’” Klingensmith said. “Every time a fly lights up, you hit it.”

In keeping with the mechanical theme, Robot Zoo includes a Robot Body Shop display that compares different parts of an animal to an automobile.

“Ball-and-socket joints, shock absorbers and an antifreeze pump gives visitors lessons in bone and muscle structure, and cardiovascular systems,” Klingensmith said. “My favorite is the pump.”

Each of the exhibit’s station contains information about the animals, she said.

“We are waiting for someone to get back to us so we can have some Spanish translations,” Klingensmith said. “We want to at least have a pamphlet in Spanish that we can hand out.”

Klingensmith is also ordering copies of the book that will be placed throughout the exhibit, and she is planning an array of “robust” tie-in events.

Some of those events will include appearances by Wild Wonders animal presentations, Kim’s Cold-blooded Creatures and Hawkwatch International.

The Swaner EcoCenter is renting Robot Zoo from Evergreen Exhibitions in San Antonio, Texas. Klingensmith came upon the exhibit during the American Alliance of Museums conference, which was held earlier this year in New Orleans.

“We had been looking at another exhibit that fell through, and needed to find something quickly,” she said. “Evergreen had this exhibit ready and didn’t have it booked. So we thought it would be fun to bring to Park City.”

Klingensmith’s goal for the EcoCenter is to showcase two exhibits a year.

“One, like Robot Zoo, will be geared for kids and our younger guests, and the other will be more in the lines of photo and art exhibits that will appeal more to our older visitors,” she said.

In the meantime, Klingensmith is looking forward to Robot Zoo.

“We hope lots of families come to see it, and also enjoy other things we have to offer,” she said.

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