A press release by Carnegie Mellon University's Media Relations department on April 30th, 2003, announced the school's establishment of "The Robot Hall of Fame" to be located in the School of Computer Science on Carnegie Mellon's campus. Based upon the school's leadership in robotics research and development, Carnegie Mellon hopes to honor those robots that have demonstrated real skill and performed important functions, along with robots that entertain and those that have achieved "worldwide fame" in the realm of fiction ("Carnegie").
The University's President Jared Cohon reflected on the establishment of the Hall of Fame as an important recognition of the school's technical prowess and its relation to the city of Pittsburgh :
Not only will (The Robot Hall of Fame) add value to what we do as an educational institution, but it will also give the university another opportunity to give something back to Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. By creating a Hall of Fame to showcase the most important accomplishments in the field of robotics, we can educate a broad array of area residents and visitors about the excitement and importance of this field (ibid.).
The Hall of Fame and Museum hopes to induct robots from the deeply scientific, such as Dante II (the walking robot that explored the inside of a volcano) and NASA's Sojourner (which explored Mars in 1997), to the fictive, like Star Wars' R2D2 and Johnny 5 from Short Circuit. With a distinguished panel of judges, including legendary futurist and author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke, the Robot Hall of Fame hopes to be make Pittsburgh, already considered the 'Detroit of robotics,' its Cooperstown as well (Spice, globetechnology.com).
The rise of this new hall of fame begs a simple question: when did we feel the need to single out and honor the achievements of robots, not to mention the hundreds of other entities, to the extent of building them a hall of fame? We're all familiar with Cooperstown's National Baseball Hall of Fame and perhaps the Basketball Hall of Fame and Football Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts and Canton, Ohio, respectively, but there are many more out there. Firefighting, swimming, astronauts, burlesque dancing, Texas aviation and badminton are but a few of the areas and occupations that have built a hall of fame to honor the greats of their field, and more of these shrines to greatness are built every year.
These various communities of leisure and work each embody an individual "microculture;" a loose grouping of people collected around a distinctive association or organization. People belong to microcultures of leisure or work willingly, whether it's the occupation they've chosen or the sport in which they wanted to participate. The collected experience of all those involved develops these niche cultures into communities of shared values and common identity. As a distinct community, people take pride in the success of their fellow participants. Recognition of achievement both consolidates pride and builds a more cohesive community. As more microcultures emerged towards the end of the twentieth century, these multifarious groups found they needed to honor their heroes or those that have remarkable success. As we shall see, an American tradition developed that welcomed the creation of halls of fame in honoring achievement within a microculture.
The explosion of halls of fame in the latter half of the twentieth century was a reaction to the pluralistic society that emerged from the post-WWII homogenization of American culture. These halls of fame provide their visitors an idealized collective memory personified by the nostalgic greatness of the heroes they honor. In creating a distinct past, these institutions develop greater pride in their microculture and enhance its public notoriety in order to assure themselves of a successful and viable future.
Far from comprehensive, this interactive map displays the locations of over 60 halls of fame in the United States. Hover over the dot to reveal the name of the hall of fame and its location; click it to go to its homepage.