Pop-Up PARO: A Behind the Scenes Tour

Robotic seal in front of Entry Hall

Hi! I’m PARO, an interactive robot modeled after a baby harp seal.

I was made in Japan by AIST robotics and came to the Museum of Science and Industry in 2008. I am autonomous and can behave with emotions such as surprise and happiness. I love being here at MSI and especially during an important time of the year, Member Open House.

Member Open House is an opportunity that gives you access to some of our most beloved exhibits, as well as brings you behind the scenes to see spaces normally off-limits to guests, including some of our hidden treasures. This year, I will be leading a tour of some of our most iconic exhibits, including the U-505 submarine, the 1923 Milburn electric car, the Apollo lunar lander trainer, Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle and much more. Join me on this exciting journey!

Here I am standing next to one of the world’s fastest bikes called the Cervelo inside the Art of the Bicycle exhibit.

Enjoyed by both weekend warriors and serious triathletes alike, engineers tested this bike in wind tunnels very similar to what racecar professionals used to test their cars. The yellow framed “bicycle” you see behind me is called a McMillan and was the invention of a Scottish blacksmith in 1839, whose revolutionary contribution was adding pedals to the bicycle. There is also a copy of one of the earliest known bikes called a Draisine (c. 1818), named after Baron Carl von Draise that is made out of wood and iron and has a noticeably larger front wheel. Can you imagine yourself trying to ride that one in your neighborhood?! 

It’s summertime and the perfect time for a ride on my bike. Since I live in a small house, I enjoy riding my foldable bicycle to MSI. I love walking through the Art of the Bicycle exhibit where there are dozens of examples of the coolest bicycles. This exhibit can be enjoyed by anyone from an avid cyclist to someone merrily running errands with a basket and bell. Don’t forget to check out the wall of bike seats and saddles... are those the same thing?! You bet they are! 

Another one of my favorite exhibits at MSI is the beloved Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle.

I’m here in one of my favorite rooms, the Library. I feel very much at home in this room because it’s decorated to look like my home in the sea. Built in Hollywood, CA, the Fairy Castle was the creation and brainchild of famed silent movie star, Colleen Moore (1902-1988). Inspired to collaborate with the most talented and innovative set designers, craftsmen and artisans of the early 20th century, Colleen toured the castle all over the country bringing joy and happiness to children during the Great Depression.

Inside the Castle are Colleen’s lifelong collection of 1,500 miniature objects, some of which are made out of rare wood, ivory, gold, silver and diamonds. These irreplaceable pieces were hand selected by Colleen and often during her later years, she was known to climb inside a room and play with her tiny treasures. Just like Colleen, I love to cozy up inside the castle, especially the Library where you can find my “twin”, another seal made out of bronze who holds the world on his shoulders, dozens of real miniature books (such as Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels), games and exquisite miniature objects. Sometimes, I just pop in to play a quick game of checkers with one of my fairy friends!

It might look like I’m on the surface of the moon (I really wish it was), but I’m actually in Henry Crown Space Center next to the Apollo Lunar Lander trainer.

While there were several full-scale lunar lander trainers made like this one, this one in particular is special because it was the only one used for training by all the astronauts who walked on the moon, from Apollo 11 to Apollo 17. I’ve even been inside and there’s a full-scale control panel that helped the astronauts figure out which buttons to press and levers to pull. 

There hasn’t been a human on the moon since 1972, but one day, humans will travel back to the moon and perhaps even set up a lunar colony! Wouldn’t that be exciting? NASA is planning to go back to the moon with something called Project Artemis, but there are also private companies and other countries that are exploring options for future space travel. By the way, did you know that the moon is approximately 238,900 miles away from the earth? That might seem like a huge distance, but with future space travel technology, we’ll be able to travel to the moon even faster than ever before. 

I like swimming in the ocean to get from one place to another, but taking a train is a great way of traveling over land.

When you’re here, don’t forget to visit The Great Train Story that presents 2,200 miles of scenery and stories from Chicago to Seattle along 1,400 feet of winding track. Follow the winding railroad journey where you pass through the Midwest, the Plains States, the Rockies, the Cascades and into the Pacific Northwest. The more than 30 trains on the track are involved in industries as diverse as grain commodities, raw materials for manufacturing, consumer goods for import and export, lumber and tourism.

To design and build the layout buildings, hundreds of photographs were taken of downtown Chicago as reference, so that buildings could be recreated with exact detail. More than 190 buildings were custom-made for this exhibit, including recreations of the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) and the Space Needle. There are also a few hidden “surprises” in this exhibit if you look close enough. On your next visit, see if you can find a superhero at the top of one of the Chicago buildings.

One of my favorite artifacts in the Transportation Court is the Milburn automobile, a rare example of “green technology” manufactured in the United States by the Milburn Wagon Company in 1923.

Using only batteries to power it, this Milburn was owned and donated to the Museum by famed University of Chicago football coach, Amos Alonzo Stagg after his victorious career in the 1930s. Since there were no smelly emissions or loud engine noises, Stagg would frequently have his wife ‘drive’ alongside his football players and shout out ‘plays’ and maneuvers.

Fully charged, the Milburn Electric could last up to 75 miles on a single charge, reaching a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour. It’s also really unique in that it doesn’t have a steering wheel like other cars. It has a set of knobs and levers that activate the wheels and undercarriage to drive where you want to go. This vehicle was advertised to women in particular because you didn’t have to get out and crank the start of the engine like gasoline powered cars. However, it became obsolete when car manufacturers realized it was cheaper to use gasoline to fuel and power cars. Did you know that this Milburn still works? I hope I can get a ride to the next exhibit!

It isn’t every day that you get to step into a tornado, but here in Science Storms, you can experience that whenever you want.

Also find out other fascinating things about nature such as what causes lightning, what is a tsunami, and how does an avalanche occur. Nature is all around us and we learn by observing and thinking about what it is that we see. When I come here, I can learn all sorts of interesting information about what happens in the world and with the weather, and I have so much fun doing it too because I get to push buttons and operate levers with all the cool interactives throughout the exhibit. I also learn some history too when I look into the artifact cases and see all the amazing tools and instruments that people used in the past to help them understand and interpret the world around them.

I have so much fun when I enter this giant column of whirling fog—it behaves in ways similar to a tornado. Did you know that a tornado is a massive spiraling air vortex? Some people who study tornadoes are called “storm chasers” because they chase the tornadoes hoping to answer the question: what makes a tornado form during a thunderstorm? Tracking variations in humidity, air pressure, and winds, their goal is to be at the center of the action when a tornado strikes. But they have to be careful because while most tornadoes have wind speeds less than 100 miles per hour, extreme tornadoes can reach wind speeds of over 300 miles per hour! Did you know that there are over 1,000 tornadoes in the United States every year? Wow—that’s a lot!

There’s nothing I find more exciting than watching people’s reactions when they turn a corner and see the U-505 submarine for the first time.

It also happens to be one of my favorite exhibits because it reminds me of my home in the sea. In fact, as you can see, the U-505 has “fins” and propellers that help steer it through the water in much the same way as I swim through water—these anatomical similarities between machine and animal are known as ‘biomimicry’. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cool technology of this WWII-era submarine. 

The U-505 submarine was captured off the coast of West Africa on June 4, 1944 by Task Force 22.3 led by Captain Dan Gallery of the USS Guadalcanal. It was then secretly towed across the Atlantic to the Bahamas and then spent the next ten years in New England. Captain Gallery was a Chicago native and wanted to see this submarine preserved for future generations. In 1954, the U-505 was sailed through the Great Lakes, past the city of Chicago and parked on the beach next to the Museum for a few months. Finally, in September 1954, it was hauled over Lake Shore Drive and brought next to the museum where it became a permanent exhibit. However, I’m so glad MSI created an indoor exhibit space for the submarine in 2004—Chicago weather can be harsh! 

Here I am in You! The Experience learning about the human heart and taking my own heart rate.

As a therapeutic robot, my number one job is to help people relax and reduce stress. I’m a wonderful tool used by mental health professionals and am programmed to respond to human touch and sounds. For example, when someone is upset, I “talk” to them in my sweet high-pitched voice and wiggle my head and tail to let them know I’m listening. 

Stress is part of life, especially right now in the world and circumstances in which we live. When people are stressed, it affects their whole body. Specifically, it directly affects the heart and lungs. Stress breathing is shallow and makes the heart work harder and the lungs less efficient releasing oxygen into the rest of the body. But when people are calm and stress free, they breathe deeper and decrease the extra work on the heart and lungs thereby promoting a more stabilized body. I’m so glad I can help people feel better! Did you know that I have even been certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the world's most therapeutic robot? 

Hello from the Chick Hatchery! The Museum hatches roughly 7,000 chicks per year.

I’m drawn to their light yellow color because when I was born, I had a light gold “coat” that was as soft as fur, but only for the first few days of my life before it turned white. Some of the cool facts I learned visiting the Chicks was that they don’t need food or water for the first 36 hours after they hatch because they fill up on all the nutrients inside the egg.

The Museum has had the Chick Hatchery for decades. In fact, it's one of the oldest and most iconic exhibits here at MSI. Could you imagine how many chicks have been hatched over the last 80 years?! I don’t have fingers, so you’ll have to do the counting. What I can say is that I feel so relaxed and happy as I watch them slowly pick away at their shells, knowing just how to crack the shell as they emerge from their eggs.