Robot animals make a ‘zoo’ out of the Grand Rapids Public Museum

  • The Robot Zoo
    The Grand Rapids Public Museum will have "The Robot Zoo" through Sept. 18.
  • The Robot Zoo
    First to great guests at "The Robot Zoo" is the 9-foot tall giraffe head and neck.
  • The Robot Zoo
    The chameleon has light up screens to show how how the animal reacts to different situations.
  • The Robot Zoo
    Grand Rapids Public Museum Marketing Manager Christie Bender blends in on a camouflage activity.
  • The Robot Zoo
    This close up of the giraffe's next shows the copper pipe and values used to control blood flow.
  • The Robot Zoo
    The giant squid focuses on the respiratory system.
  • The Robot Zoo
    The Hear's Seeing You! activity demonstrates how a bat's sonar helps the animal hunt for prey.
  • The Robot Zoo
    This one is referred to as the "monster of the night," better known as a bat.
  • The Robot Zoo
    A close up the display board about the grasshopper and how it hops.
  • The Robot Zoo
    The larger-than-life grasshopper


















By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma


Ever wonder why a giraffe does not pass out when it lifts its head up and down? Curious how a giant squid breathes?


These and other animal questions are explored in the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s newest exhibit “The Robot Zoo,” opening this weekend.


“There has been a lot of comments and interest on social media about the show,” said Kate Moore, the museum’s vice president of marketing and public relations, who added that the 1,700 tickets for the grand opening event on Saturday, March 19, are sold out.


“Part of the appeal comes from the fact that it is a little more hands on then our last exhibit [‘The Discovery of King Tut’] and it is a shift from the historic subject matter to more a science focus.”


Moore added that the staff purposely works to vary the different exhibitions at the Museum so as to attract different audiences. While the Museum’s last exhibits, “Tut” and “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition,” were for more of an older crowd, “The Robot Zoo” is geared more toward kindergarten through eighth grade. The Museum has developed a pre-kindergarten curriculum to go with the exhibit as well.


“The Robot Zoo,” which is based on a book of the same name that is now out-of-print, exhibits machinery in the robot animals that simulate the body parts of the machine’s real-life counterparts. Muscles become pistons, intestines become filtering pipes and the brain becomes a computer. For example, in the giraffe, a cooper pipe outlines the main vein in the giraffe’s neck with several gages showing where the vents are located. These vents are what help control the giraffe’s blood flow so the animal does not pass out from too much or too little blood flowing to its head.


Because of the design of this exhibit, it has an appeal to those interested in biology as well as those interested in technology and engineering, Moore said.


Eight robot animals and more than a dozen hands-on activities illustrate real-life characteristics, such as how a chameleon changes colors, a giant squid propels itself and a fly walks on the ceiling.


Popular among the staff is the chameleon, which rocks back and forth as it turns its head, looks around and fires its tongue at its insect pray. “It also has three interactive elements,” Moore said. Those include being able to see what happens when the chameleon is angry, scared, and looking to attract a mate.


Other larger-than-life-size animated robots, besides the chameleon and the giraffe, are a rhinoceros, a giant squid with 18-foot tentacles, and a platypus. Joining the animals are a house fly with a 10-foot wingspread, a grasshopper and the monster-of-the-night bug eater, the bat.


Admission to the exhibit is free for Museum members and for non-members, $11 for adults, $10 for seniors, and $6 for children with the price including general admission to the entire Museum. Staff does recommend purchasing tickets early since lines can get long on Saturdays and during Spring Break. A membership is $65 for a family and includes parking and planetarium shows, which staff said a new planetarium show for “The Robot Zoo” will be opening soon.


Several activities are planned around the exhibit including special Spring Break programs and a summer camp dedicated to robotics. Also, in May, the museum will be opening the National Geographic exhibit “Earth Explorers,” which Moore said has a connection to the “The Robot Zoo” since it looks at animals living in various environments around the globe.


“The Robot Zoo” will be open through Sept. 18. The Grand Rapids Public Museum is located at 272 Pearl St. NW. For more on programs and upcoming exhibits, click here.