“Technology is a gift of God. After the gift of life it is perhaps the greatest of God’s gifts. It is the mother of civilizations, of arts and of sciences.”
- Freeman Dyson, physicist
“The Age of Robots is already here.”
- David Lane, university professor
"Robots are like a mirror in which we see ourselves"
Mark Rowlands, professor of philosophy
“You might not know this, but one of my responsibilities as commander in chief is to keep an eye on robots.”
- Barack Obama
“Robots are becoming so smart, they can even slice vegetables.”
- Jeremy Clarkson
Welcome! This site is dedicated to ROBOTICS which is one of five areas in which technological progress in the 21st century is destined to revolutionize our lives:
- Genetic engineering
- Nanotechnology (high tech surfaces and microscopic machines)
- Artificial intelligence
- Ubiquitous computing (computers in everything)
I've become aware that robots and computers are going to replace a very large number of workers in developed countries over the next few decades. Futurologists are beginning to talk of a 'world without work'. The highly automated world of the future will probably be a world of abundance, but it may be that revolutionary change in the way of society works will be necessary in order to ensure that everyone, including the billions of unemployed, will be able to thrive in this world where humans will be free to do whatever they want (except get satisfaction from working). Be sure to read the page 'Will robots take our jobs?' for a fuller discussion of this vitally important issue.
This site addresses important philosophical questions about robots and technology but it is also intended to help those who are teaching robotics, or who are contemplating doing so. There are many reasons to teach robotics, some of which are discussed HERE. Of course teaching robotics is more expensive than teaching computing, so what are the main reasons to study robotics in addition to computing? I'd say that robots are more engaging than computers in the way that they interact with the real world. This interaction is actually rather unpredictable and this unpredictability is another big difference with the behavior of computers. Watch this example of some very expensive, state-of-the-art robots not behaving as intended in the DARPA Robotics Challenge 2015:
OK, that probably made you laugh, but the message is very serious: writing programs for a robot is probably more challenging and more interesting than programming a computer because the robot will never move exactly how you tell it to. In particular, sensors each have their own characteristics that it's impossible to know in detail.
Another reason to want to develop robots is that doing so teaches us a lot about ourselves.
Two important ideas about robotics:
- In order for robots to be highly useful they must be able to function in the human world and must therefore be rather like us (i.e. 'humanoid'): able to walk, climb stairs, recognise the things they see etc.
- Many of the things that we humans find very easy to do (walking, climbing stairs, recognising the things we see...) are extremely difficult for robots.
Clearly, when we look at the above two observations, we have a big problem...
The last few words of a Discovery Channel video about robots provide food for thought:
The rise of machines could be just around the corner and this may be a source of hope, not fear, because the robots running our lives are unlikely to be the metal and silicon creations of science fiction. They’ll be part of us. The future of robots is us, and ‘us’ will be the robots. The combination of person and robotic technology is going to be far better than any pure robot that we can build. Our new robo-beings, a combination of man and machine, of flesh and technology, not homo-sapiens but robo-sapiens, united in structure, brain, heart and soul…
So, the video suggests that in the future stand-alone robots won't be as important as the robotic technology that will be integrated into humans, becoming part of us and enhancing us? Do you agree? I do...
And finally, here is one of several videos that were made by my students at European School Brussels 3 as part of a project on the theme of 'machines'. There is a clear connection between ICT, machines and robots:
Machines + ICT = Robots!
The students learned how to program our Lego EV3 robots and in the videos they demonstrate and explain their programs. I congratulate these students for doing a great job!
This site is one of several run by me, Nigel Ward, teacher of computer science, Integrated Science and Physics.
This site has a special emphasis on the Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot which is the basis of the robotics classes I teach. Since you're visiting this site, it's likely that you have an EV3 robot. You've probably had fun programming it with Lego's standard icon-based software, but unfortunately that probably won't help you get a job. Knowing how to program in Python, possibly the most popular programming language in the world, certainly could help you get a job, and if you already know some Python you can deepen those Python skills AND have fun with the EV3 by programming the EV3 with Python. I've just published a course on Udemy.com that can help you get started. Interested? check out this video:
In addition to my new Udemy course on EV3 Python, I also have a website with more limited information about EV3 Python: ev3python.com. EV3dev Python (or simply EV3 Python) is an extended version of Python, the most-taught and probably the most popular textual programming language in the world. Python is popular in education and in the workplace because it is modern, concise, easy-to-read and powerful. Using EV3 Python you will have access to many extra functions not available in the standard software, such as being able to make your EV3 turn text into speech! Before you can use EV3 Python you have to prepare an SD card which you will plug into the EV3 brick's SD slot. This card contains EV3 Python and also the operating system that EV3 Python needs to run on, called EV3dev. Preparing the card is as simple as downloading a file and flashing (copying) it onto the card with a program called 'Etcher', which is free. When you run EV3 Python it runs from the card so the normal Lego EV3 firmware is not modified and as soon as you remove the card the EV3 reverts to its normal behavior. You should learn standard Python quite well before beginning to use EV3 Python to control your EV3 Robot. There are many good free courses on the internet to help you learn Python. A knowledge of Python should be very valuable to you in your career, especially if you expect your career to involve a lot of coding (and more and more careers need coding skills!). EV3 Python works on a number of different platforms including Windows, MacOS and Linux. You can even run EV3 Python on a Raspberry Pi and use the Raspberry Pi in place of the EV3 brick (you will need to buy a BrickPi or PiStorms interface if you want to do this).
My main teaching site is at nward.com and I have a site called TechnoFiles.eu which is focused mainly on technology other than robotics.
LEGO® the LEGO logo, MINDSTORMS, the Minifigure, and the Brick and Knob configurations are trademarks of the LEGO Group of companies which does not sponsor, authorize, or endorse this site.