Day 5
11 May 2005

Please note that text in red indicates comments and changes to the original 2005 text that I made in June 2008. Enjoy!

The sun rose on Wednesday morning, casting a bright and cheery light on Augsburg that was very much appreciated by all of us--for the first couple of days in Augsburg, the weather had been rather disappointing. After a brief breakfast at the Hotel Garni Georgsrast, we all jumped on some of the local mass transportation (read: the Augsburg tram system) and headed out to see Kuka Roboter (I'm not sure why it's "Roboter" and not "Robotics" or "Robotic Manufacturer". Ah, well. UPDATE: As I found out in German 1 at Pitt, there are about a dozen ways to pluralize a noun in German. In this case, "Roboter" is simply the plural of "Robot" in German. Leave it to me to make a simple thing difficult! ), the second company we were to visit on our whirlwind tour of the Augsburg area.

It was a beautiful day to learn about robots. :)

Despite my demonstrated lack of interest in robotics (in high school, my older brother Justin had formed a robotics club--I was never very enthusiastic while I was a member (I was only about 13 years old, so you should cut me a break) and during my second semester at Pitt, when my best friend, Mike (the twin brother of the girl named Melissa who went on our trip to Germany), joined the robotics club at Pitt, I only attended one meeting (and only because it was the most convenient thing to do) I don't even remember that!), I was actually quite fascinated by the Kuka robots we saw. Our guide, a sturdy-looking German fellow who was some sort of manager in the manufacturing plant, was extremely knowledgeable and spoke English almost without flaw. Inside the first building we were taken to, there was an exhibit built out of Lego bricks that showed one of Kuka's most special robots--it was a sort of amusement park ride that could twist you all around and spin you every which-way! It looked really exciting and even though I'm told they had one of these on-site, none of us were ever offered an opportunity to ride on it. Alas. In the same display case, there was a scene (also built from Lego bricks) that depicted part of one of my favorite television shows, Futurama. Two of the main characters, Lila (who has purple hair and one eye) and Fry (orange hair and looks like a normal human) seemed to be waiting for a turn on the robot arm. Also, their trusty-yet-irascible robot sidekick, Bender, was shown. I made sure to try to get some good pictures. :)

This is a rather confusing shot of a lego model and photo of the amusement park ride that was fashioned out of a Kuka robot arm. Apparently, they have one of these rides on the premesis, but I don't know where--we weren't able to ride it.

While inside the plant, we were able to see how the robots (when I say robot, I suppose that I truly mean "robot arm" because that's what they really were) were created, from start to finish. Kuka robots, when produced using "default" settings, are always painted orange. In fact, our guide called this color "Kuka orange." To me, it reminded me of the orange color that covered my father's chainsaw as I was growing up. Trying to discuss the color here is rather pointless--take a look to the right. :) But I digress. It's possible to get them painted any color that you want (for little additional cost, if any), so I wonder why more companies who buy the robots don't do this. Hmm. Also, some researchers at Pitt have Kuka robots. :)

True to life, this is what the Kuka robots looked like. I apologize for the poor quality of this image. However, I hope that you have at least an idea of what I'm talking about. Check below for more Kuka robots. :)

Kuka Roboter is the leading robotics company in Europe and is ranked third in the world. From what I saw, all of the robots were practically dripping with quality--if I had a need, I'd be on the phone with Kuka right now. I was extremely impressed. Each of their robots can be configured to perform any automated task from laser welding and part stacking to laser-guided precision checking and simple hammering for twenty four hours per day without flaw. Kuka also makes surgical robots, which is really neat. Whenever we were told this, I imagined a very small, delicate robot (something that could easily fit inside a cube with a side-length of one meter) that was able to precisely cut and score human tissue. Needless to say, I was surprised to find that a Kuka surgical robot is the same size as a Kuka industrial robot! This surgical robot was huge! It was pretty crazy. In order to keep patients comfortable, Kuka made sure to paint this robot a clean, clinical white. A wise decision, to be sure.

Here's our host (a man by the name of Udo, if you read his name tag) in front of a white Kuka surgical robot. Notice how it is most emphatically not small.

After we left Kuka, we were rushed back to the Hotel Garni (which translates to "hotel without restaurant", interestingly enough. Uh, don't put too much stock in this "translation".) in order to prepare for our trip to Munich. All of us changed our clothes so that we could participate in Mike's Bike Tours, a bicycle tour program that is run in Munich, Paris, and Amsterdam. Our tour guide for our trip was named Alex, not Mike, though I didn't find this out until much later--I called him "Mike" at least once!.

Our tour guide Alex. He was quite knowledgable about Munichian lore, let me tell you. He's someone I wouldn't mind seeing again if I were to make my way back to Munich. I failed to do this upon my return to Munich in July 2005, FYI.

The bike tour itself was actually quite pleasurable; I've always loved to ride bicycles, and, according to Alex, Munich has something like 800 km of bicycle paths, though we were only going to be using three or four km worth ourselves. Each of us chose a bicycle that was hopefully already adjusted for our height (they were all basically the same, though some of them, like mine, did not have bells on them (bells that served the same purpose as horns do in cars, I'd say)) and we took off, gliding down the roads of Munich! Alex was an excellent guide--none of us got lost or had a hard time following him. Alex was also from South Africa, so he had a peculiar British-esque accent.

We're on a bike tour, so it's natural to have a whole gaggle of bicycles! Peter is on the far left and Rebecca is in the foreground, sort of.

Along the way of the tour, one of the most interesting things that we got to see was a plaza near where the King of Bavaria used to live. At this plaza, there were two copper-wrought lions that sat outside the building where the king's chambers were. There was a story attached to these lions--let me see if I can get it straight. I think it goes a little something like this:

One of the fearsome copper lions! Look at all of that lovely copper oxide! :D

Once upon a time, long ago, in a town in Bavaria, there lived a king (could have just been a baron or something--I don't remember! Let's stick with King.). Although this king had spent enough money to construct a beautiful church (or cathedral, depending on how you see things) in order to celebrate the birth of one of his children, the king truly didn't have any religious bones in his body! One day, a student from the local university (I'm not sure if they call this one "the Uni" or not, so I will choose not to), noting the fact that the King wasn't a very moral man, decided to call him on it by ordering a student sit-in. The King, exceptionally displeased, placed a price on the student's head--something like the equivalent of $50,000! In order to defeat the King's nefarious plans, however, the lone student convinced two thousand of his peers from the University to come with him to see the king. Because of all the students, the King could not simply make the student "disappear"--there were too many witnesses, now! Feeling empowered by the extreme amount of support shown for his actions, the student decided to seek an audience with the King by himself. Steeling himself for what was sure to be an. . . interesting interview, the student prepared to walk through the doors of the palace, and, in doing so, touched the small head of the lion on the one statue outside.

The assembled students, waiting to take on the King. No? Okay, so it's actually a shot of Laura taking a picture. Heh!

During the audience, the King, seeing no other way to save face, told the student that the student was right; the King agreed! The King decided to award the bounty placed on the Student's head to the student! Overjoyed, the student ran out of the palace and proceeded to touch the other lion's head on the other statue, starting a tradition that is still alive and well today--it is customary to touch these lions' heads for good luck each time you pass, if you are able.

Here I am, hoping for good luck (which might be used to make sure this photo is decent. Hrm.)!

On our tour, we saw a lot of other things, but none of them deserve much of a mention here except for the Angel of Peace. The Angel of Peace in Munich faces the same statue in Berlin--they represent unity across the nation of Germany. Each of them was created to commemorate the same 25-year period of Germanic peace, though I don't know when that exactly was. Hmm. It could have been after WW II or maybe some later time. Thinking back now, it's kind of hard to remember.

Angel of Peace. Click for a bigger shot.

After out tour was over, we were able to walk to the Hofbruhaus, a 400-year old local brewery/restaurant to get dinner. One of the strange (or, I suppose, endearing, if you're into that sort of thing) things about the Hofbruhaus is that they only serve beer in one size: 1-liter steins! Deciding to finally partake in some of the Bavarian culture myself (and, truth be told, at Peter's urging), I ordered one of these famed beers with my meal, a bit of fried fish and potato salad. Of course, because we were in Bavaria, the beer came first to our table. My, was one liter of beer heavy! Not only that, but I quickly found out that I don't have much of a taste for beer--I did not like drinking it. I was determined to finish my beer, though, so I waited patiently for my meal to come so that I could drink responsibly. You see, I wanted to get some food in my stomach so as to reduce any potential effects that the beer might have on a first-time drinker like me. The fish that I ordered tasted pretty good, as did the potato salad. After I finished my meal, I tried to finish my beer, but it took me quite a lot of time to finish it. However, eventually I did down the whole 1-liter mug. I was very pleased with myself. I guess you could say that I viewed this entire event as sort of Bavarian "coming of age" for me--Maybe I'm being a little over the top here. If so, who cares? :) You're here because you want to be, not because I've forced you to be--something most authors of English literature (not that this is literature, mind you) cannot say, especially those who write "Classics."

Here I am, about to start my 1-liter journey. Man, was it a long one. . .

Nothing else notable really happened on Wednesday, except for these other great things!

At Kuka, they had an interesting way of organizing projects. If you can see, there are clusters of hexagonal pictures. Each worker who is clustered around a particular project is working on that project. If a manager needs speak with the workers about a particular project, all that he has to do is go look at this board to gain instant knowledge of who is doing what. Seemed neat.

Note that you can see the elusive Herr Fock in the back of the left side of this photo!

Man, this robot was so kick-face! I really wanted to attach some sort of gun (paintball or otherwise) onto this baby and let 'er rip! Imagine how cool that would be! Like something straight out of Command & Conquer. . .

As promised, here's a snapshot of Fry and Leela from Futurama. Cool.

Bender, also as promised. I probably have enough Legos to build this. Bender is quite a character.

For those of you "in the know," you might like these magazines that I saw in the Munich train station that were about Linux, an alternative operating system (usually used as a substitute for Microsoft Windows). But why are there three of them?! I had no idea Linux was that popular. Wow.

Shameless plug: Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) has been released! It's easy, fast, fun, and free! Try it today!

One of Munich's four ancient gates. The architecture in Munich was just stunning, over and over again.

While I was on Mike's Bike Tour, we stopped in a Bier garden, where I got a pretzel to eat. . . Mmm. . Bavarian pretzels! I think I explain more about how wonderful these are in a later entry.

Another thing that we saw on MBT was this place to Surf in the middle of Munich! It was really cool, seeing the surfers. :) This guy wiped out, though.

This is a simple shot of a bunch of us at dinner. Left to right: Adam, Elena (German), Nina, and Peter.

My food at the Hofbruhaus. It was good, though the fish had some bones. :)

Onward, to Day 6!

E-mail me!