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The science behind the robotic dinosaurs of Jurassic Park The Ride.

You're traveling down a gentle river surrounded by lush, green plants. Suddenly, a huge dinosaur rises out of the water the knocks your boat off course. As you plunge through the turbulent rapids, you notice a hungry Tyrannosaurus rex in hot pursuit!

The people at Universal Studios Hollywood hope you're terrified. So do the 10 engineers who designed the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park--The Ride. They worked for five years to make the dings in the "ride" look frighteningly real.

Of course, the dings are not real. They're robots--computer-controlled, electronic machines programmed to move like living being. How do you make a machine move like a living being? Give it a "brain," "muscles," and a "nervous system"--the same things that make it possible for living creatures to move smoothly--says Alan Levy, a senior engineer at Universal.


For starters, Levy and the other engineers who worked on the Jurassic Park ride installed a computer "brain" in each of 14 dinosaur robots. (Two other small dino robots share one computer.) These computer brains control the dino robots' "muscles"--just like your brain controls your muscles.

The big difference: The dino robot muscles are made of hydraulic cylinders-fluid-filled cylinders with pistons that move when the fluid pressure in the cylinder increases (see The Robots: An Inside View). These pistons extend and bend the dinos' body parts. Pressure sensors around the cylinders and pistons detect how much fluid pressure builds up inside each cylinder and how far each piston moves. If too much fluid were to enter a cylinder, the sensors would detect the problem and warn the computer by sending an electronic signal through the dino's wires, or "nerves." The computer would then send back instructions to slow the fluid flow and tone down the pressure.

This kind of feedback between nerves, brain, and muscles keeps you moving smoothly, too. But you're probably a lot more agile than the Jurassic Park dino robots. That's because your brain communicates with your nervous system several hundreds of times each second to coordinate your body's movement.

Sensors in the Jurassic Park dings are not as sophisticated. They communicate with the computer "brain" 100 times each second. But the brain responds only about 30 times each second to make adjustments. Still, that's fast enough for the T. rex to lunge realistically and frighten a boatful of thrill-seekers.

To get a close-up view of how the dino robots' muscles and moving parts work, take a look inside the 9-meter (30-foot) neck of the Ultrasaurus robot (see diagram, right). You'D find a chain of hydraulic cylinders linked to each other end-to-end, like the chain of vertebrae bones stacked inside your neck.

When oil flows into each hydraulic cylinder, the increased pressure pushes the piston at the other end. These pistons rotate "joints" that together lift or lower the Ultrasaurus' head and neck.


With all these high-tech computers, hydraulic cylinders, and pressure sensors, you'd think the dings would be as coordinated as Olympic gymnasts, right? Well not quite!

Just before the ride opened last summer, one Dilophosaurus developed the "shakes." The problem: Water from the ride leaked into the robot and disrupted the electrical signals running through its "nervous system." Remember: Water and electricity don't mix!

To fix the leaky robot, says Levy, "you have to open it up, dry it out, and then reseal it."

Engineers at Jurassic Park try to keep these problems to a minimum by making sure all the electrical wiring cases on the dings are watertight. They also seal the dino skins by brushing on a layer of silicone--a type of plastic especially resistant to water. (You might use a similar silicone product to waterproof your winter boots.)


Engineers keep tabs on these kinds of problems--and the dinosaurs' everyday performances --with a master "show" computer. This computer, located in a control room at the center of the ride, coordinates all the dings' movements, as well as the ride's sound effects and lighting.

A few hours before the ride opens each day, engineers start up this "mastermind. " The computer sends instructions for each dino's motions to the "brain" computers.

Another computer operates all the boats in the ride. It is linked to the show computer to keep track of the location of riders' boats within the park.

When everything runs smoothly, each time a boatful of guests enters the Jurassic Park laboratory, the lights flicker, the music swells, and a T. rex comes in for the kill . . . and thrill!
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Hollywood, CA amusement park ride; includes instructions for a children's science experiment
Author:Chang, Maria L.
Publication:Science World
Date:Oct 18, 1996
Previous Article:Life on Mars: the search continues.
Next Article:What gives you goose bumps?

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