By Rebecca Parr
Staff Writer, Bay Area News Group
HAYWARD -- A robot zoo, a helium-filled drone that looks like a giant eyeball and a bionic suit that lets paraplegics walk -- just a few of the scientific wonders on display throughout the Bay Area during a 10-day festival that includes events this weekend at Cal State East Bay.
"We want to get as many people as possible excited about science and technology," said Kishore Hari, coordinator of the Bay Area Science Festival. "Let's have fun while we're doing it. There's nothing more Bay Area than having fun."
The main events are the free Discovery Days festivals at Cal State's Hayward campus and the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa on Saturday and one at AT&T Park in San Francisco on Nov. 2.
"We turn a big area into an outdoor science museum," Hari said. "Thousands of people come to those events, thousands of people who may not be going to science museums."
Discovery Days at Cal State will have more than 50 activities, including a chemistry magic show, interactive activities, experiments and demonstrations.
Tens of thousands are expected at the AT&T Park extravaganza, the festival's grand finale. "When you think of AT&T Park, science is not a word that comes to mind," Hari said.
A robot zoo will corral all types of robots, some created by professionals, some from school robotics teams and even ones built by amateur enthusiasts. The drone, called the Project Skye Spherical Blimp, from Switzerland, will hover above, taking pictures and images. Kids will be allowed to program the drone, which resembles a 10-foot-wide eyeball.
Several more drones will make appearances during the festival. "Don't think military drones, think mini-helicopters," Hari said.
One of the more unusual demonstrations is a bionic suit that allows paraplegics to stand and walk. In 2011, a paralyzed University of California undergraduate wore one of the suits to walk across the stage at his graduation.
The suits also are being developed for other uses, including allowing firefighters to carry additional weight, Hari said.
"There are some amazing things happening in the world of science," he said.
The festival encompasses more than 40 venues, including some that are a bit less traditional.
"For Nerd Nite at Sea, we're taking over an aircraft carrier," Hari said. More than 1,000 people have signed up for the adult-only evening aboard the USS Hornet in Alameda. The ship will be packed with marine-themed demonstrations, activities, lectures -- and beer.
The Hornet recovered Apollo 11 and its crew after the spacecraft splashed down in the ocean after the first walk on the moon in 1969. Apollo 9 astronaut Russell "Rusty" Schweickart will be on board, talking about asteroid impacts.
Most festival activities are free, but there is a charge for some, including those for ages 21 and over.
At the adult-only BarBot in San Francisco on Friday, robots will mix and serve cocktails and beer. "It's an eclectic collection of robots," Hari said. "People built these as hobbies. It's an incredible amount of fun."
Also on Friday, Sinful Science at Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland will feature beer, wine, chocolate and coffee.
The festival has expanded to Contra Costa County this year, its third. The Lindsay Wildlife Museum is hosting three programs -- Not-so-Scary Animals for Halloween (Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday), Hands-on Sun Science (Sunday) and a Mini Monday, Animals of the Night for scientists ages 2-5 and their parents (Monday).
Boo at the Zoo in Oakland on Sunday will have science stations, along with a costume parade and a scavenger hunt.
On Halloween in San Jose, "Star Wars" fans can dress up as their favorite character and meet Stormtroopers and R2-D2 at Jedi Nights at the Tech Museum, where a "Star Wars" exhibit just opened.
"We hear a lot of leaders talk about how important science is," Hari said. "Let's celebrate it."