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Back to the Future 

A stair-climbing humanoid robot, a power-assist suit, and a mind-control device, at NextFest

Wednesday, May 12 2004
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When we pondered the new millennium in the antediluvian 20th century, we thought the future would be a technological dream-world, with robotic dogs that would live forever, gourmet meals that could be whipped up at the push of a button, and a closet full of Judy Jetson-inspired dresses.

This weekend, NextFest brings this Space Age optimism to life, with hands-on exhibits showcasing the latest cutting-edge contraptions from inventors around the world. "This event is a natural extension of [NextFest sponsor Wired] magazine, in which we explore how technology changes our future," says Publisher Drew Schutte in a recent phone interview. "We are bringing all the new technologies under one roof and making them accessible to everybody."

Though flying cars, tourist spaceships, and moon rocks thrill us to bits, the forward-thinking organizers also want to expose such innovative displays to the most important part of our future -- kids. So on Friday the interactive exhibition throws open its doors to more than 3,000 Bay Area students for free.

The weekend's most popular attraction for overgrown children such as ourselves is sure to be the demonstrations of Asimo, the world's most advanced robot. The 4-foot-tall, 115-pound humanoid is so mobile it can walk up and down stairs and open and close doors. "It looks so real that I find myself thinking that it's a person inside a costume," Schutte reports.

This mini-World's Fair provides plenty of opportunities to play around with high-tech gadgets such as the power-assist suit, which lets the wearer lift twice his weight, and the Brainball, a device that helps you control a ball with the power of your mind. Attendees can also check out replicas of NASA's Mars Rover and an unmanned deep-sea submarine.

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Jane Tunks

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