Robots: A Brief History
- The programmable automaton was first conceived by Leonardo da Vinci over 500 years ago, along with other proposed inventions such as a helicopter, submarine and a tank!
- Da Vinci is also renowned for his precise depictions of human anatomy in his paintings and drawings. Perhaps it was a combination of these passions that led da Vinci to create a design for the first automaton.
- In the 1920s, a Czechoslovakian named Karl Capek scripted a play called Rossum's Universal Robots. It is believed that the world's first robot character played a part in the performance. Capek's play was about robots controlling humans, and the rise of technology dehumanizing man. Capek was adamant that robots could never experience feelings and emotions in the way humans do.
- John Searle, the Mills Professor of Mind and Language at the University of California, Berkeley, argues that it would be impossible for a machine to ever understand the meaning of words as humans do, even though a robot could recognize and analyze the structure and order of symbols.
- The Oxford English Dictionary defines "Robot" as: 1. a. One of the mechanical men and women in Capek's play; hence, a machine (sometimes resembling a human being in appearance) designed to function in place of a living agent, esp. one which carries out a variety of tasks automatically or with a minimum of external impulse.
- The word 'robotics' was first used in a short story called Runaround, published in 1942, by the science fiction author Isaac Asimov. Other stories by Asimov, such as I, Robot and Bicentennial Man, have recently been adapted for the screen. Both films pose profound questions about the fundamentals of being human.
- Aside from the human likeness of robots in films such as Star Wars and Bladerunner - more appropriately called androids - the first commercial robots were designed with functionality paramount rather than visual appeal.
- Most robots can be found in manufacturing and industry as part of assembly lines for cars and other mass-produced products.
- Robots are currently being used in space missions to survey and analyze the surface of planets like Mars. These robots, or rovers, must be able to handle any terrain. This is achieved by having rovers that are low to the ground and have four to six independently functioning wheels. Often the expected terrain will be known in advance, and the rover can be programmed accordingly. Future models may include 'bug' like robots that have legs rather than wheels.
- Da Vinci's strong grasp of anatomy and physiology is sill respected today, and NASA's robotics engineers are currently using da Vinci's anatomical drawings as a 'blueprint' for robotic astronauts called 'anthrobots'. The anthrobots will be performing complex, dexterous tasks in space that would normally be conducted by a human, which means that their structure would naturally be similar to that of a human. It seems that since da Vinci, robots have come full circle.
Robots: In the News
Knitting in nanometers. ABC:
Sci/Tech Space travel enters the 15th Century. BBC:
Rat-bots act like real rodents. ABC:
Intelligent robot copies itself. ABC:
Smart buggy drives itself. ABC:
Tiny flying Web server set to swarm. ABC:
Doctor Who: CNN:
Mars rover freed from sand dune
Dancing robot is strictly ballroom
Japan drums up robot support
Blade Runner (1982)
Bicentennial Man (1999)
I, Robot (2004)
NASA: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
MIT Humanoid Robotics Group
The MIT A.I. Laboratory
Field and Space Robotics Laboratory
Robotics Research Group
John Searle: Chinese Room Argument. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy