ROBOTS

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by CBBC

What is a robot?
A robot is an automatic machine that does the work of a human.

The word robot was first used in a 1920 Czech play
called RUR (Rossum's Universal Robots) in which
mechanical slaves rebel against their human masters.

The playwright, Karel Capek, borrowed the word robot from
the Slavic word robota, meaning a forced labourer.

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Robots in films
I, Robot, starring Will Smith, went to
the top of the US box office in 2004.
The film, inspired by author Isaac Asimov,
involves a detective in 2035 who suspects
a robot has committed murder - despite
assurances it is impossible for them to hurt humans.

In The Matrix trilogy (1999 to 2003),
a machine enslaves humanity, using people
as batteries to power its mainframe.

Steven Spielberg's AI: Artificial Intelligence
(2002) is the story of sensitive robots being
abused by brutal, selfish human masters.

In The Terminator (1984), a computer network
nukes the human race in order to achieve supremacy.
This network then manufactures intelligent
robots called Terminators which are programmed
to annihilate any human survivors.

George Lucas made robots mans' best friends in
Star Wars (1977) with C-3PO and R2-D2.

HAL, the supercomputer that rebels against
its human handlers in the film 2001:
A Space Odyssey
(1968), is a cheeky
reference to the computer firm IBM.
The letters H, A and L, precede I, B and M in the alphabet.

 

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Award winning robots
Robots from both science and science fiction have
been honoured for their contribution to robotic history.

Honda's Asimo bot, Shakey the Robot, Astroboy,
C3PO and Robby the Robot will officially take their
place in the hall of fame at the Carnegie Mellon
University in the USA on October 11, 2004.

Asimo was chosen as a truly revolutionary
example of how human-like robots can be.
It has been around the world showing off
its dancing, running and stair-climbing skills.

Shakey, who was born in 1969, was way ahead
of its time and set a standard for many years.

Star Wars chatterbox C3PO will be
reunited with his old buddy R2D2,
who earned his place in the hall of fame in 2003.
The dustbin-shaped droid, R2D2,
was voted the world's favourite robot in
a poll carried out by Amazon in July 2004.

Another film star, Forbidden Planet's
Robby, was chosen for its personality.

Japan's cult cartoon figure, Astroboy, is a
metallic version of Pinocchio - a robot with a soul.

 

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Robot gadgets and toys
Sony's Aibo robot dog behaves like a
puppy when it is first activated.
But it "learns" new behaviour as it
spends more time with its human owner.

The RoboCup football championship features
robots playing the beautiful game with different
leagues for different robot types.
A special ball is used which contains
sensors that "talk to" sensors in the robot.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
in the USA, scientists have designed a robot called
Kismet that can have realistic conversations with
people. Kismet is capable of seven different facial
expressions and can vary the tone of its voice.
It also adjusts its gaze and the angle of its
head to look at the person it is speaking to.

A robotic head built by a Scottish company
can judge how pretty a woman is.
It works by examining faces to determine
how feminine or masculine they are.
It doesn't work on men because their attractiveness
is not based as much on looks, supposedly.

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What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?
It is research into building machines that
solve problems and reason like humans.

AI is being used to create better, faster
and more challenging computer games.
It is often present in the opponents you
play against or other team members.

But can machines behave like people?

In June 2002, a robot called Gaak acted just
like a human when it made a dash for freedom
from an exhibit at the Magna science centre
in Rotherham. Gaak crept along a barrier
until it found a gap and squeezed through.
Having left the building, it reached the
M1 motorway before it was rumbled.

One of the most difficult challenges faced
by scientists is creating a machine with feelings
and the knowledge that it exists - like a person.

Since the early 1990s, researchers have
concentrated on developing robots which have
insect intelligence, rather than human intelligence,
which is still very sophisticated.

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The world's most powerful computer
When it is completed in late 2004, the world's
most powerful computer will be ASCI Purple.

It is expected to carry out 100
trillion operations per second.

A spokesman for IBM, who are building
the computer, said ASCI Purple would
be nearly as powerful as the human brain.

But some scientists believe our brains
can carry out around 10,000 trillion
operations per second.

A supercomputer, which can process over
200 trillion operations per second, is expected
to be built within the next two years.

It is being built to replace ASCI White -
formerly the world's most powerful computer -
which occupies a space the size of two
basketball courts at the Lawrence
Livermore National Laboratory in California.


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Robots then and now
Possibly the earliest ancestor of today's robot
is the clepsydra, or water clock, which
measured time using a flow of water.

Ctesibius of Alexandria, a Greek physicist
and inventor, is reputed to have constructed
such a clock about 250 BC.

Today, robots in factories do a lot of
the physical labour people used to do.

In car factories, for example, one-armed
robots lift, weld, and spray-paint cars.
They mimic the movement of a human
arm and hand.

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Robots in the future
Over the next ten years, breakthroughs in
nanotechnology may help us build better
and smaller machines.

A nanometre is just one-millionth of a millimetre
in length and nanotechnology involves studying
and working with materials on an ultra-small scale.

Using nanotechnology, scientists have created
a tiny walking nanobot, using only the building
blocks of life: DNA.

The microscopic walker, which is only 10
nanometres long, uses its legs to move
along a footpath.

Nanotechnology could also lead to a range
of materials with new qualities such as
stay-clean glass and magnetic liquids.

There may also be breakthroughs from
scientists trying to implant computer
programs into living creatures - known
as wetware.

This technology could help people with
false arms or legs to move them
just by thinking about it.

 

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Robots in space
The Hubble space telescope's life may
be prolonged by robots.

It is too dangerous for astronauts to carry out
repairs on the telescope so NASA propose
to send a robot to do it instead.

If the go-ahead is given,
the mission could take place in 2007.

The main aim of the mission will be to
install a "de-orbiting module" which will
allow the telescope to be brought to
Earth in a controlled crash.

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