Robot invasion sweeps Ann Arbor, Michigan

Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and robots of all sizes and shapes. Today’s coffee hour is inspired by the Liberty Street Robot & Supply Repair in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

A favorite mug from Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair in Ann Arbor.

Sometimes I think I should have been a social roboticist. Alright, I admit that I only heard that term about three months ago when I came across an article about Heather Knight on CNN.com. Since then, I have been mad with jealousy that I never pursued that route.

Below is a video of Heather presenting “Data” at a Ted Talk. Data is one of the social robots she programs and learns from. In the video below, Data tells silly jokes and gauges the audience’s response.

I do have my own robot, though. Her name is Rosie, or at least that’s what I call her. You may recall that “The Jetsons” had a robot named Rosie.

Rosie the Robot, a toy version. (Photo by t()by.)

My Rosie is not quite as multi-functional as the robot on “The Jetsons” but I love her no less for it. She is a Roomba, the kind of robot whose purpose in life is to suck up life’s dirt while I go about doing other things, like writing this article.

You might think I am odd to name my robot and give her social characteristics, but when you cohabitate with a robot, you tend to pick up on their little idiosyncrasies. For example, Rosie loves going underneath furniture. She’s very good at it too, sliding beneath wardrobes and armoires–and getting stuck because her little nose (sensor) is too tall to get her out.

She also loves climbing things. Rosie has two wheels that remind me of the all-terrain wheels on the Mars Rover. Whenever she comes to something, such as the base of a floor lamp or the air tube under my bed which pumps air into my Sleep Number bed, she sees it as a challenge to climb it, and puts her full-purpose into it until she gets both wheels up off the ground, dangling. Moments later, when she has realized she can go no further, she calls out “Error! Move Roomba to a new location then press CLEAN to restart.”

Rosie and I have come to understand one another, though. Because of her penchant for climbing on things, I now set up a “virtual wall” at the end of the bed so she can’t climb up onto the Sleep Number air tube. When I prepare a room for her to work in, I scoop up wires (she loves to munch on the small ones) or block off certain entry points under armoires where she has gotten stuck before. Now that we understand one another, I can go about my business without checking on her so often. Kind of reminds me of when I was first training my puppy.

But why is a travel writer blogging about robots, you ask? It has everything to do with setting the stage for the place I discovered last summer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. As someone who finds robots utterly fascinating, imagine my delight when I came across the Liberty Street Robot Repair & Supply Shop in downtown Ann Arbor.

Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair shop.

When I first encountered it, I squealed and giggled like a little girl. Adult restraint kept me from clapping my hands and jumping up and down. I did, however, press my nose to the glass to see what was inside. It was like something out of a future envisioned in the 1950s. Robots, robot parts, and “robot swag”, as they called it, lined the shelves. I longed to go inside and explore! Sadly, though, the store was closed. I had to wait until the next day to go inside.

Robot stuff everywhere!

They were closed, but I loved their door sign.

When I did, I found a delightful shop celebrating all things robot. There were robot brains and robot souls. You could buy robot tears and anamorphic equalizers to make your bot more human. They had ultra-flex suspension coils, joint lubricants, and, of course, tons of loose screws.

Better Bot's Positronic Brain.

Hand-Crank Robot Souls. The fine print reads, "Studies show that robots with souls are 54% less likely to rise up against humanity than their soulless counterparts."

Robot tears.

Sound-Activated Anamorphic Equalizers. "Now with test button!"

Ultra-Flex Suspension Coils.

Joint Lubricant.

Loose Screws.

If building a full robot is out of the question, have no fear! They have robot ducks! And erasers in the shape of a robot! Maybe you would like some robot art made out of old scrap metal and Raytheon vacuum tubes? They’ve got it all!

Robot Duck.

"Robo-Swag" advertised among robots from days gone by.

Raytheon tube robot art.

The best part about the whole thing, though, is that the store is just a front for 826Michigan, a nonprofit dedicated to “supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.” As a writer and robot lover, I had returned to the mother ship.

So, the next time you’re in Ann Arbor, go down to Liberty Street and check out the robot store. Not only will you feed the part of you that wishes you had a robot butler, but if you buy something from them or donate to them, you’ll be supporting a great organization that inspires and empowers kids to write. After all, if the kids aren’t getting inspired to create, who’s gonna design our robot butlers?

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Need a place to stay in Ann Arbor?

Bellanina, a day spa in A2, has at least two vacation rentals which both offer fantastic locations within walking distance to everything. We have stayed in the vacation rental just across the street from Kerrytown Market and Shops and loved walking over to Sweetwaters every morning for coffee. Because we had a kitchenette, we also took advantage of having a fridge to store perishables found at Sparrows Meat & Produce, also located within the Kerrytown building. We’re looking forward to our next visit to Ann Arbor when we will stay at the other one.

Our favorite eats

We walked all over downtown Ann Arbor and enjoyed quite a few restaurants during our two weeks there. Our favorites, though, were Logan, “New American” cuisine, and Grange Kitchen & Bar, locally sourced, farm-to-table meals.

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