Alan Winfield is Professor of Electronic Engineering and Director of the Science Communication Unit at the University of the West of England, Bristol. He conducts research in swarm robotics in the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and is especially interested in robots as working models of life, evolution, intelligence, and culture. Alan is passionate about communicating science and technology. He holds an EPSRC Senior Media Fellowship with the theme Intelligent Robots in Science and Society, and blogs about robots, open science and related topics at http://alanwinfield.blogspot.com/
Robotics: A Very Short Introductionby Alan Winfield
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Robotics is a key technology in the modern world. Robots are a well-established part of manufacturing and warehouse automation, assembling cars or washing machines, and, for example, moving goods to and from storage racks for Internet mail order. More recently robots have taken their first steps into homes and hospitals, and seen spectacular success in planetary exploration. Yet, despite these successes, robots have failed to live up to the predictions of the 1950s and 60s, when it was widely thought - by scientists and engineers as well as the public - that by turn of the 21st century we would have intelligent robots as butlers, companions, or co-workers. This Very Short Introduction explains how it is that robotics can be both a success story and a disappointment, how robots can be both ordinary and remarkable, and looks at their important developments in science and their applications to everyday life. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
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Robots are very fascinating entities, and they have always been one of the foremost subjects of science fiction. The very name robot originated in science fiction writing, although one could argue that the notion of autonomous mechanical artifacts has a very long tradition that predates science fiction. The golden age of robots in science fiction was probably a few decades ago. Unfortunately as the developments in robotics have lagged well behind of what the sci-fi writers had made us to expect, the interest in robots has somewhat cooled off. However, the first low-scale commercial robots are finally making their mark, and the robotic parts are well within the reach of most casual hobbyists and enthusiasts. Furthermore, as first fully autonomous cars are starting to roll on the highways, it is quite possible that the age of widespread everyday use of robots is finally upon us. “Robotics: A Very Short Introduction” is a great little book about robots and robotics. The author is a bona fide authority in the field, and his enthusiasm for robotics clearly shows. Unlike some other similar books, this one really does go into the nitty-gritty aspects of robots – what are robots, how can they be classified, how are they designed and built, what is the state of art of robots right now, and what can we reasonably expect to see in the upcoming years and decades. This, however, is not a how-to book on robots, and if you are looking to actually build your own first robot you may want to look elsewhere. There are a couple of issues that I wish were covered in more detail: the ethics of robots, and the legal aspect of having robots in our society. The author mentions briefly some ethical problems that will arise with a widespread use of robots, namely safety and the ethical treatment of robots themselves. However, I think that a bigger ethical issue will be the changing relationships that humans will have to their environment – and to each other. Would there be anything wrong if a substantial number of humans start preferring companionship of robots to that of each other? The legal issues are even more pressing. In fact, right now legal conundrums are the single biggest obstacle to the wider adoption of fully autonomous cars. Of course, both the ethics and legal challenges of robotics could fill a book of their own, but at least a few pages dedicated to these concerns – if not a whole chapter – should have been included in here as well. Despite the omissions that I mentioned above, this short introduction is a great read and fully deserves a high rating. Anyone who has any interest in robotics as a field would definitely enjoy reading it.