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Science Center robot serves yogurt and smiles

| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 9:09 p.m.
'The robot made the best yogurt in the whole wide world', said Ethan Kreft, 3, of Stanton Heights, after watching the RoboFusion frozen yogurt robotic kiosk make him and his grandfather Rick Melton of Cabot a personal treat at the Carnegie Science Center Thursday, February 7, 2013. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Natasha Nesbitt, 6, watched intently through the transparent booth doors as a robotic arm with a horseshoe-like hand prepared her frozen yogurt order, step-by-step: First, a layer of chocolate and vanilla yogurt swirl, then Reese's Pieces, then another layer of yogurt, and finally a cap of Nerds candy.

After the robot fills the plastic cup, it places it on a platform. A window opens and — ta-da! — there's your fro-yo.

“Ohhh!” exclaimed Natasha, of Forest Hills.

The Carnegie Science Center in the North Side has opened a RoboFusion frozen yogurt kiosk in its River View Cafe, which overlooks the Ohio River. Visitors can swipe their credit or debit cards for $6, then use a touch screen to design a four-layered frozen yogurt treat, with two flavors to pick out of chocolate, vanilla or swirl, and two toppings out of six: Mini M&Ms, Reese's Pieces, granola, Nerds and chocolate or colored sprinkles.

Visitors choose an animated cartoon robot — either Cid, Reis, Rev or Ivory — to entertain them on a backing screen while the snakelike arm robot prepares the order.

The cartoon robots add personality to the RoboFusion kiosk, although the actual robot doesn't have a face. But that's typical.

Most robots don't resemble the humanlike ones on “Star Wars” or “The Jetsons,” says Ann Metzger, co-director of the center.

“We think of robots as people,” Metzger says. “We sort of anthropomorphize them.”

The Charleston, S.C.-based RoboFusion company has created many of these kiosks, operated here by Parkhurst Dining Services, and is opening the yogurt kiosks at several locations in the United States.

“These kiosks aren't just delivering yogurt. They are providing a means of educating kids in an engaging manner — demonstrating the exciting new ways in which technology and robots are being utilized in everyday life,” says Allan Jones, founder and CEO of RoboFusion, in a written statement.

RoboFusion fits well with the center's playful science theme, Metzger says, and leaders thought it was the perfect thing to give their visitors, given the science center's popular “roboworld” exhibit. You don't have to pay admission to get yogurt or eat at the cafe.

Natasha's mom, Jessica Nesbitt, checked out RoboFusion while visiting with her daughters.

“It's interesting,” says Newbitt, 36. “It was a little bit confusing at first because I haven't used it before, but it was cool. It's just an interesting contraption.”

Watching the robot assemble the yogurt “seems amazing because it's usually something you have to do by yourself,” says Nataliya, 8, Natasha's sister. “I think it's super-cool. ... It's like the robots are reading your mind.”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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