Robots dazzle spectators at annual Stanford block party, job fair

Inventors, researchers and toymakers showed off a variety of robots that do everything from dance to the King of Pop to help doctors perform more precise surgical procedures.

Steve Fyffe

Robot manufacturers, amateur inventors and enthusiasts flocked to Stanford's third annual Robot Block Party to celebrate National Robotics Week.

They whizzed and they whirled. Some even flopped and fizzled. But all of the machines at this year's Robot Block Party managed to dazzle visitors who came out to the event.

The third annual showcase held last week at Stanford's Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Lab brought together dozens of robots and robotic technology from throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

There were playful robots including one that danced to Michael Jackson's Thriller. It thrilled the dozens of children who gathered to watch the spectacle.

There also were autonomous vehicles and drones, robots used in film and television, and medical robots designed to make surgical procedures more precise.

Inventors brought homemade machines, such as one that tosses basketballs into a hoop and another that hovered a few inches above the ground while circling the area via remote control.

Organizations also showed off robots that kids can make using Lego bricks and a smartphone, and advertised summer camps for children interested in engineering.

Steve Fyffe Robot performs Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'

A wide variety of machines entertained the crowd, including this humanoid robot, which danced an automated choreography to Michael Jackson's 'Thriller.'

Ryan Calo, the director of privacy and robotics at Stanford's Center for Internet and Society, said the event has always been popular among the younger set.

"Robots are fun," he said. "But one of the reasons we do the event, frankly, is because robots are such a good way to get kids interested in science, technology, engineering and math. And those are very much needed skills in the contemporary economy."

The center, which is based at Stanford Law School, sponsored the event as part of National Robotics Week. There are more than 150 similar events around the country designed to raise awareness about robotics, Calo said.

This year, Stanford paired the block party with a job fair. Many of the companies accepted resumes from interested inventors and provided information to job seekers.

"The sense this year is that the robotics industry is really taking off and as a result it has hiring needs," Calo said. "In years past there hasn't been too much talk about what these companies need to scale up because there were still building out."

Calo expected about 1,500 spectators by the end of the daylong event.