MODESTO -- Myen Mason and his fellow robot builders from Beyer High School love showing off their latest creations. They usually get amazed reactions from onlookers, but occasionally, he said, people are wary about advances in robotics.
"Sometimes they get scared, because they think robots are going to take over the world," the 17-year-old said with a sly smile.
It's more likely that robots will be taking over household chores, a robotics expert told a crowd of more than 100 attendees Sunday at the State Theatre. The event was part of the theater's Science on Screen series, in which science fiction movies are paired with discussions and demonstrations of real-life advances in science and technology.
Before a screening of "Robot and Frank," an offbeat buddy movie about an elderly ex-jewel thief and his caretaker robot, keynote speaker Kevin Gucwa gave the audience a glimpse of the future of robotics.
By the end of this decade, he said, it's likely that robots will be in homes doing the dishes or folding laundry. Almost every major university is working on making robot butlers and other designs a reality.
"Pretty much everybody is doing some type of robotics research," said Gucwa, who works for the University of California at Davis C-STEM Center, a program designed to improve computing, science, technology, engineering and mathematics in K-14 education.
Robots, however, are being designed for much more than daily chores. Gucwa said there will be robots helping pharmacists, paralegals, astronauts, search and rescue crews, and baby sitters. People will want to place robots where it's unsafe for humans, such as chemical cleanups.
Gucwa said it's students in high school today who will decide what robots will be used for in the near future. Students such as 15-year-old Jelea Glover and her classmates in the Beyer High robotics program.
She was inspired to learn about robotics after watching "Iron Man," an action flick about a superhero who uses his engineering skills to build a suit of armor to fight evil villains.
"I love that I can be able to work with electronics to help people," Jelea said.
She's part of a team of robot builders who demonstrated their creations at Sunday's event. They spend a lot of time building and programming the robots, along with participating in regional competitions.
"I like the problem-solving, the creative solutions we come up with," said Greg Pagani, 14, one of the team members. "I also like the feeling of accomplishment, having built something."
Robot Ben and Fancy Moose
Other, more-advanced robotics teams from Beyer used their creations, Robot Ben and Fancy Moose, to get some real audience interaction. The 4-foot-tall robots were designed to launch basketballs and hurl Frisbees into the crowd.
Gucwa said it's his goal to get students interested in robotics at an early age.
Robin Siefkin, a 9-year-old from Denair, is a robot creator in the third grade. He helped put together tiny eco-bots made with the tip of a toothbrush, a small battery and a motor from a pager.
"We're calling them Brush-bots," he said. They were made for a 4-H Science Day project, with the theme of creating robots that could clean up an oil spill.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.