Mighty Robots: Mechanical Marvels that Fascinate and Frighten

Overview

Plug into Mighty Robots and discover how these sci-fi sentinels have fascinated us for centuries...and inspired fact from fiction. From Dr. Frankenstein's life-from-lightning creature to Hollywood's latest rampaging robot, see how imagined androids reflect our fears of the mechanized.

Move on to check out the history of real-life robots, starting with 18th-century automatons and leading to those now at work around us, from outer-space probes launched by NASA to inner-space ...

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Overview

Plug into Mighty Robots and discover how these sci-fi sentinels have fascinated us for centuries...and inspired fact from fiction. From Dr. Frankenstein's life-from-lightning creature to Hollywood's latest rampaging robot, see how imagined androids reflect our fears of the mechanized.

Move on to check out the history of real-life robots, starting with 18th-century automatons and leading to those now at work around us, from outer-space probes launched by NASA to inner-space 'bots used by surgeons. Packed with facts, surprising stories, and robots galore, this book is your guide to where the droids are...and even where they're going. The future has arrived.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist - Carolyn Phelan
Jones presents a great deal of information in a well-organized, accessible manner, enhanced by the appropriately techno look of the book's pages.
CM Magazine - Lori Walker
Not only covers robot history and achievements (both practical and fantastic), but it weaves in the philosophical issues that give these near humans the power to fascinate and frighten... will be enjoyed by teens and adults alike.
Science News
Explores how robots have become ingrained on human imagination and how scientists have developed ever-more-advanced machines to perform the tasks that people are unable or unwilling to handle.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781550379297
  • Publisher: Annick Press, Limited
  • Publication date: 9/3/2005
  • Pages: 144
  • Age range: 11 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 7.25 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 0.37 (d)

Meet the Author

David Jones has written books, magazine articles, radio plays, and even scripts for interactive shows at NASA's Space Center in Houston. He lives in Vancouver.

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Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from Chapter 1

In Our Own Image

What do you see when you hear the word robot? A mechanical arm in a darkened factory, welding a car body in a veil of sparks? Or maybe you picture a tractor rolling over a sand dune on Mars, pausing to collect a scoop of rust-colored dirt. Or a tiny submarine drifting through the corridors of a sunken ship.

All of these machines are real robots. And yet it's far more likely that you envisioned something in the form of a man, perhaps clanking out of the dark with glowing eyes, reaching for you with metal claws. The robots we have seen in movies and read about in stories live in our imaginations. They are what we think of when we hear the word robot. For a century now, we've had a recurring dream of a mechanical man -- a servant to obey our every command. Such a machine would free us of all our dull labors. While it's taking out the garbage or walking the dog, we could go to the beach or see a movie.

But for every dream, there is a nightmare. Robots also frighten us. The metal bodies that make them powerful servants give them the strength to crush us. We ask, "Will a machine created in our image look favorably upon us, its creator?" Since we began imagining robots, our answer has almost always been no.

Although we may one day succeed in building a machine in our own image, we probably won't be able to predict what it will do. Like people, such a machine will act independently -- maybe even against our wishes. Perhaps that is why robots both fascinate and frighten us.

What Exactly Is a Robot?

While the idea of the robot began ax a machine in the form of a human being, few real robots look anything like us. They toil away in factories, the depths of the ocean, or outer space, far from human eyes. We send them to places where people cannot, or would rather not, go

Most robots are machines that replace human effort, built to do something that otherwise a person would have to do. Some robots are toys, but most are labor-saving devices.

A dishwasher is a labor-saving device. Does that make it a robot? No. A dishwasher is an automatic machine; it does the same thing over and over. So is a conveyor belt in an auto factory. All it does is move forward, carrying a product or a part to the next worker. But a robot welder can be reprogrammed to move to any position within its reach before welding two parts together, depending on what it is making.

There is a second kind of robot that does only what people tell it -- usually using a joystick or other form of remote control. It's called a telerobot. While a telerobot might surprise a stranger, its actions are entirely predictable to its operator. It has no capacity for independent behavior. For this reason, some people don't consider telerobots to be true robots.

And yet telerobots are the most successful robots of all. We send them into places that are too dangerous, small, or unpleasant for people. There are telerobots that put out fires, explore sunken ships, or peer across the universe and back through time. In fact, almost all the robots working outside of factories are telerobots. Because they have proven so useful, telerobots are included in this book.

True robots change their behavior by sensing the world around them, then acting on this information. They may be able to hear a human voice and move towards it, or recognize one object in a bin full of different things and pick it up. But such robots are rare. Only now are they starting to make their way into our homes.

Today almost all robots are at least partly controlled by computers. So does that make your home computer a robot? Not really.
Your computer can't move. Whether a robot looks like a human being or not, or is controlled by a joystick or a software program, all or part of its body moves.

The dream of roboticists (scientists who build and study robots) has long been to make a machine capable of doing what a person can. Such a machine would have to be intelligent.

But what do we mean by "intelligent"? There are many definitions of the word. One that would be applicable to robots is "having the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one's environment." Another one is "having the ability to deal with new or trying situations"

Alan Turing is considered no be the father of the branch of study known as artificial intelligence, or AI. Turing was part of the team of scientists who built Enigma, a machine that allowed the Allies to decipher coded messages sent by the Germans during World War II. Most historians acknowledge that without Enigma. the Allies would never have won the war

Shortly after the war, Turing gave the first public lecture on artificial intelligence. "What we want," he said, "is a machine that can learn from experience." He added that such a machine would have the ability to alter ins own instructions

The History of the Robot

Many have called Mary' Shelley's novel Frankenstein the worlds first stork of science fiction. In the story, written in 1816, Victor Frankenstein sews together a manlike creature using various body parts taken from dead people. He brings his creature to life with an electric charge furnished by a bolt of lightning. Shortly after he succeeds in bringing his brainchild no life, Frankenstein gives it a series of lessons to help it function in the world.

Although he was assembling organs and limbs rather than wires and motors.
Frankenstein's goal was very much the same as that stated by Alan Turing over a century' later: to create an artificial being able to learn from experience. So. had he been a real person, would Frankenstein have qualified as the worlds first roboticist?

Maybe But to trace the origins of the robot we have to go back way before the good doctor began robbing the local graveyards. People have been trying to create machines in the forms of animals and people for thousands of years

Automatons

Much of the technology used in early robots was developed in toy's called automatons. These toys were often very delicate and expensive, and so they were usually owned by adults and not children. Most of them were figures in the shapes of people or animals. They could he powered by springs, weights, or hand-turned cranks.

Hero of Alexandria, a mathematician and inventor who lived around 62 CE, drew up simple plans for figures that played musical instruments, birds that chirped, or hunters who shot arrows at dragons. No one knows if he ever actually constructed any of these automatons; if he did, only the plans survived. Most of the automatons seem beyond the technology of Hero's time, but they are some of the earliest known designs to make use of hydraulics and pneumatics -- the techniques of powering machines by forcing liquids or air through pipes and hoses

Today, the movements of the animatronic figures you see in theme parks like Disneyland are still powered mainly by hydraulic or pneumatic devices. Pneumatic (air-driven) mechanisms have largely replaced hydraulic (oil- or water-driven) machines because pneumatics are much faster and lighter, if not as powerful or smooth as hydraulics. Also, if an air hose leaks a little during a show, it doesn't matter too much. If a hydraulic arm full of oil leaks the results can be quite memorable. Crowds visiting the Hall of Presidents exhibit at Disneyland will probably never forget seeing Abe Lincoln -- apparently too patriotic to excuse himself from the proceedings for even a moment -- wet his pants.

In the 1600s, the Japanese built puppets called Karakuri. The most common was a doll that served tea. When a cup was set on a tray the doll carried, the doll shuffled forward. When the cup was removed, is triggered a switch that caused the doll to turn and walk back the way it came. (Actually, the doll rolled on wheels, but a pair of wooden feet dangling beneath the hem of its dress made it appear

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Table of Contents

1 In Our Own Image 2
2 Where Are All the Robots? 27
3 Robot Explorers 43
4 Fighting Robots 59
5 Working Robots 76
6 Robots at Play 92
7 The Future 106
Index 123
Photo Credits 126
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