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Rex and effects

ASHLAND — With courage she probably wouldn't have possessed had she been alive during the Cretaceous Period, 6-year-old Clarity Carder locked eyes with the tyrannosaurus rex standing mere yards away.

The creature tilted its head, sizing up the pint-sized observer with experimental sniffs of the air and narrowed eyes. Then the roars came, welling up in its belly and barking past the rows of sharp teeth. But Clarity didn't run away screaming, she just continued to watch the show.

"He's pretty cool," Clarity said with a grin. "It's fun that he looks at you and stuff."

Being observed while observing is a key component of the Prehistoric Predators exhibit, which opens Saturday, Feb. 15, at ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum in Ashland. The event will feature three robotic dinosaurs, built by the Texas-based KumoTek Robotics company, all hooked into Xbox Kinect motion-tracking systems that allow the cyborg meat-eaters to follow movement and eventually sniff and roar at patrons.

"Those movements actually trigger those dinosaur behaviors," said Masahiro Ishida, a KumoTek employee. "So the dinosaur will react differently to each person."

In addition to the T-rex, the exhibit will feature two saurornithelestes, cousin of the predatory velociraptor popularized by the "Jurassic Park" films. When no movement is caught by the Kinect sensors, the dinosaurs will just appear to be scanning the area. When someone comes into view, the creatures' focus and behavior changes.

"First, the dinosaur will look at it and then see what the people are doing," Ishida said. "Then, it starts sniffing or maybe a little low growl. And once he gets more aggressive and more aggressive, he's going to do more big movements."

Attendees will also be able to see what the T-Rex "sees" on a nearby monitor.

ScienceWorks Executive Director Chip Lindsey said he hopes that observing the faux giant lizards will get observers — especially the younger, more imaginative ones — interested in learning more about the real thing.

"A very large creature is paying intense attention to you. It's a very visceral thing. I mean, you feel a little afraid that this giant thing could step over the rail and get you," Lindsey said. "This exhibit can really get you excited about science and about learning about what happened in the past."

Some of the robots' movements and sounds are science-based, with a dash of creativity thrown in.

"You have to be a little bit speculative in some of those behaviors," said Leonard Eisenberg, a geologist and member of ScienceWorks Science Advisory Board. "We don't know if the dinosaurs actually roared. Because they are the close cousins of the modern birds, they may have tweeted or whistled like a bird does."

Lindsey said the exhibit is personal for him. Growing up, he was inspired by paleontologist and explorer Roy Chapman Andrews.

"There's something about dinosaurs that every kid in the world can automatically identify with, be excited about, want to know more about," Lindsey said. "For me, that shaped my life. So to bring this exhibit here is sort of closing the circle for me. It's a chance to give all the kids in the Rogue Valley a chance to be just as excited as I was many, many years ago about science and what science can be like."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com.

Clarity Carder, 6, left, and Dahlia Cardillo, 5, try to get a dinosaur's attention Tuesday at ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum. The Prehistoric Predators exhibit will open on Feb. 15. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore