The wizzes from Minneapolis’ Dunwoody College of Technology have enlisted the help of FANUC the industrial robot to engage fairgoers in an inventive, if inherently divisive, new way this year.
“When we go to the State Fair, we always want to do something different,” said E.J. Daigle, Dunwoody’s resident expert in industrial robotic arm technology. “We don’t want to be just another college with papers on it like every other college at the State Fair… Except for St. Thomas, who has those purple bags everybody walks around with, right?”
Daigle and Dunwoody’s executive director of marketing, Jennifer McNeil, put their heads together and came up with this maniacal fair-food sorting hat of sorts, which students and faculty built and programmed to pop out swag that boasts their candidate of choice for battered dog-on-a-stick.
At its most basic, people walk up and depress a button on the outside of FANUC's cage-like enclosure that tells the robot's spindly arms to fetch either a corn dog or Pronto Pup button from a student-crafted, 3D-printed tray. A little magnetic box is activated, that magnet selects the correct button for you, and the robot’s arms deposit the flair into a chute, where it slides into a glowing audience’s outstretched palm.
“We wanted a way to showcase some of the cool technology that students learn on and use and do in the real world in a way that would relate to the State Fair,” said McNeil, citing this argument-settling, denim jacket-decorating robot as a fun way of introducing just one of the college’s hands-on technologies to a wider audience. (In past years, Dunwoody has done similarly wild installations, including rigging up a six-by-six-foot HVAC-powered “Coolest Spot at the Fair” that felt like December.)
“People are fanatical about [corn dogs and Pronto Pups]. They get stupid about it, where they’ll only eat corn dogs or they’ll only eat Pronto Pups,” Daigle laughed.
“So, the robot is neutral in all of this?”
“Yes, all it knows is how many times the buttons have been depressed.”
When Daigle and McNeil were asked if, since participating is much like voting, they felt like they were adding an air of divisiveness to our current climate, their answers were at once measured and inflammatory:
"We feel like this is an age-old debate," replied McNeil, cooly. "We’re curious to see what the results are."
Daigle, on the other hand, went all in. "I mean, people are pretty fanatical about corn dogs and pronto pups… Yeah, we’re pouring gas on the fire. Absolutely."
Dunwoody has ordered 10,000 buttons for the robot to distribute to fairgoers. In the process, that creates a pretty decent sample size for tallying and crunching corn dog vs. Pronto Pup votes.
“We’re going to try to do daily updates of what the numbers end up being, and then we’re going to put it on our Facebook page and Twitter too,” McNeil promised.
Does this mean that by the end of the 2019 Minnesota State Fair we might (maybe, finally) settle this debate once and for all? Stay tuned.
To get your button from the robot (and cast a vote), head to the Dunwoody College of Technology table inside the Education Building… Rumor has it there’s a Double Bacon Corn Dog stand about fifty paces outside the main entrance.