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CVCC to bring science center's robot dinosaurs back to life

CVCC to bring science center's robot dinosaurs back to life

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A large yellow forklift reached into a box truck Wednesday morning and pulled out an unusual item — a full-scale dinosaur replica.

The tail of the rubbery triceratops wiggled as it was lowered to ground outside the Workforce Solutions Center at Catawba Valley Community College and wheeled inside. The mechanical dinosaur model is one of seven that will make the trip from the Catawba Science Center to CVCC to be repaired and refurbished to their former glory — able to move and make sounds. The goal is for the replicas to be an exhibit once again at the science center.

Four CVCC engineering students are taking on the project as their capstone class over the next year led by their instructor Andy Owens.

The project is a partnership between CVCC and the science center, said Tracy Hall, the director of the science center. She worked previously at CVCC and is familiar with capstone projects. She also knew the community wanted to see the dinosaur exhibit return. When CVCC asked if she had any projects where they could help, she knew just the one.

“We get lots of requests (for the dinosaurs),” Hall said. “We get questions all the time, ‘When are they coming back?’”

The model dinosaurs have been out of commission for about five years. Now, she can finally say they’re coming back in the spring of 2021.

The model dinosaurs were always a hit at the science center, but even when the center first got the mechanical, rubber-coated machines they had issues, Exhibit Technician Christopher Holmes said. They are late 1980s, early 1990s era machines that were hand-me-downs from a traveling exhibit, so they weren’t in perfect working order, he said.

Some are designed to move their heads, tails, blink their eyes and even breathe. But many of those parts didn’t work. Over time, those problems worsened. Eventually, the dinosaur replicas were put into storage.

Wednesday, two were pulled out to be the first to get a full refurbishment from the engineering students, Owens said.

Starting next semester, the students and Owens will tackle the project. Owens always aims to do capstone projects that add to the community, but his students are especially excited about this one, he said. Hall said the experience will be one to remember.

“Working on electronics and mechanics is cool, but working on electronics in a dinosaur — that’s really cool,” Hall said.

They don’t know exactly which parts are broken or what computer system they’ll use to control the mechanical dinosaurs — that’s all part of the process.

The insides are where they’ll be focused, but the first task is peeling off the rubber skin to get to that, Owens said.

The first model dinosaur will likely be the toughest to fix, but once they figure out how it works, Owens is hoping the rest will be easier. There’s no cost estimate for the repairs yet, Hall said.

Once the mechanics are back in working order, Hall wants to get art students involved to refinish the rubber skin, she said. If the dinosaur replicas are done in time, Hall plans to have them in an exhibit in early 2021, she said.


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