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Robotic lagahoos and folklore transformers

Monday, August 3, 2015
Science and Society

Transformers or shape-shifting robots have been established in science fiction. They have proven to be so popular that there is a movie series on the topic and at least one animation television series. The transformer enterprise includes toys and other paraphernalia associated with the movie industry. In other words, a financially profitable enterprise.

But right here in T&T, shape-shifters have been central to our folklore, which we have not really exploited. These shape-shifters include the Lagahoo, La Diablesse etc. The Niherst Science City will change this by including an outdoor robotic park that will feature robotic lagahoos and other folklore creatures. Yes, high technology will converge with traditional folklore to provide an attraction that will not only entertain but will also have strong elements of discovery and learning.

Shape-shifting robots have been demonstrated since 2008. In 2012, MIT researchers created a robotic device that can take on almost any shape imaginable. In 2015, scientists at China’s Tsinghua University discovered a liquid alloy that shape-shifts. Shape-shifting robots are set to take off.

Shape-shifting has always been in the psyche of mankind from time immemorial and the folklore of most, if not all, cultures have shape-shifters. A lagahoo (Ligahoo or the French loup garou) are shape-shifters like the Germanic werewolf. This fascination with shape-shifting is naturally exploited by film makers. The popularity of vampire and werewolf movies is a testament to this. The modern day robotic transformers represent a natural metamorphosis of the ancient realm of jumbees and mythical beings to the futuristic world of science fiction.

The Niherst Science City presents a golden opportunity to nurture and develop the innovative and entrepreneurial talent of the country by merging West Indian culture with technology. The design of shape-shifters or transformers like lagahoos and its ilk, requires significant multidisciplinary expertise. These include mechatronics, AI (artificial intelligence), materials and folklore. 

The intent is to develop these robots using home grown and local expertise from academia and carnival exponents. To do this would require the adaptation of existing and emerging technologies as well as developing new ones. The R&D effort required to design, fabricate, operate and maintain such devices will result in high tech clusters which can form the basis for several spinoff enterprises. Further, as robots will be an integral part of the future, we will need robotic engineers amongst us.

Science and Discovery Centres, in both the USA and India, have expressed a keen interest in this outdoor robotic park as it is quite novel. It is expected that joint ventures in design and manufacture of such and similar devices will be the genesis of a home-grown high tech industry. 

Students at the local universities have always and do continue to complain that examples, particularly in engineering and technology, are foreign based. The involvement of locals in this nascent R&D-based enterprise will have a strong win-win effect, resulting in an upward technopreneurial spiral. 

Niherst has a culture of working harmoniously with the academic and other institutions in the country. This is a rarity in a country infamous for its inter- and intra-institutional silos and the resulting wasteful duplication. The aim is therefore to develop inter-institutional clusters which can really impact positively on the diversification effort while uplifting of the technological and technopreneurial expertise of the nation.

The economic benefits of the outdoor robotic park will be further enhanced by this progression of science popularisation to science commercialisation. 

The average citizen may not immediately grasp the tremendous benefits, in terms of jobs and revenue that science and technology bring, as the investment requires a fairly long term investment. This must change so that investment in science and technology is also seen as an economic necessity.


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