The Robot Zoo

Robot_Zoo_750x190_A2Visitors explored the biomechanics of complex animal robots to discover how real animals work in The Robot Zoo.

The Robot Zoo revealed the magic of nature as a master engineer. Eight robot animals and more than a dozen hands-on activities illustrated fascinating real-life characteristics, such as how a chameleon changes colors, a giant squid propels itself and a fly walks on the ceiling.

The larger-than-life-size animated robots included a chameleon, a rhinoceros, a giant squid with 18-foot tentacles and a platypus. Also featured were a house fly with a 10-foot wingspread, a grasshopper, a bat and a giraffe whose head and neck alone stretch 9 feet tall.

Machinery in the robot animals simulates the body parts of their real-life counterparts. In the robot animals, muscles become pistons, intestines become filtering pipes and brains become computers.

Other sensory activities included“Swat the Fly,” a test of the visitor’s reaction time (one-twelfth as fast as a house fly’s), and “Sticky Feet,” where visitors experienced what it’s like to be a fly on the wall. Triggering the “Tongue Gun” demonstrated how a real chameleon shoots out its long, sticky-tipped tongue to reel in a meal.

Animation in the robots imitated real-life behaviors. The robot chameleon rocked back and forth as it turned its head, looks around and fired its tongue at its insect prey. The front legs of the platypus swam in breaststroke style while the tail moved up and down. The tentacles of the giant squid gripped a struggling fish, while the squid’s beak-like mouth opened to reveal a spinning food grinder.

“The Grand Rapids Public Museum’s Robot Zoo exhibit lets users control and see inside the robotic animals, giving rise to one of the most hands-on exhibits for families I’ve seen at the GRPM. The exhibits are simple enough for little ones to operate, but engaging enough to keep even adults attentive and learning.” –



Support for The Robot Zoo was provided by:

Title Sponsor

Steve and Amy Van Andel


David & Carol Van Andel Family Foundation


Cascade Engineering
Lacks Enterprises, Inc.


Ada Hospital for Animals
Jim & Barb Haveman
Berends Hendricks Stuit
Kennari Consulting
David & Amy Leonard
Adventure Credit Union 
Switchback Gear Exchange
Toyota of Grand Rapids

Media Sponsor:

WOOD Radio Vector