Introduction

“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:
  • Robotics
  • Genetic engineering
  • Nanotechnology (high tech surfaces and microscopic machines)
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Ubiquitous computing (computers in everything)
This site has a special emphasis on the Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot which is the basis of the robotics classes I teach. This site is not an official Lego site.

I've become aware in 2015 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 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 behaviour 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. It turns out that many of the things that humans find easy (such as walking or recognising things we see) are very difficult for robots to do (that's to say: very difficult for humans to program robots to do!). 

Two important ideas about robotics:
  • Many of the things that we humans find very easy to do (walking, recognising the things we see...) are extremely difficult for robots.
  • 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, recognise the things they see etc.
Clearly, when we look at the above two observations, we have a big problem...

Here's another great video, this time a 45 minute Discovery video from 2003:


The last few words of the above video 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 the 2014 Topöi Project. The theme was 'machines' which suited us very well as 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. You can find more videos HERE.

This site is one of several run by me, Nigel Ward, teacher until recently of ICT, Integrated Science and Physics at European School Brussels 3.

I have recently become very interested in a new programming language called EV3 Basic which allows the EV3 robot to be easily programmed using a textual interface. This is better preparation for a career in computing or robotics than working with Lego's standard icon-based interface, because professional programmers always use textual programming interfaces. I have made a site about EV3 Basic called EV3Basic.com and this is in fact the official tutorials site for the new language. My main teaching site is at nward.com and I have a site called Techno Files which is focused mainly on technology other than robotics. 

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