“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)
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.
This site was upgraded from a 'Google Classic Site' to a 'Google New Site' in June 2018, which should make it work even better on mobile devices as well as computers. If you're using a mobile device, use the pull-down menu top left to move through the more-than-100 pages here.
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 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...
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.
This site is one of several run by me, Nigel Ward, teacher until recently of computer science, Integrated Science and Physics at European School Brussels 3.
This site focuses on the standard Lego EV3 programming system which is icon-based and quite unlike the textual programming systems that professional coders use. If you are expecting to use coding in your career or if you think textual coding skills could help you get a job (you should be thinking 'Yes!' and 'Yes'!) then you should know that quite a number of textual programming languages can be used to program the EV3. Two stand out as being of particular interest, and they are both free:
- EV3 Basic is probably the easiest textual programming language to use with the EV3 because it is based on the Basic language that was designed specially for beginners and it uses the unmodified EV3 brick (no need to prepare an SD card with an alternate operating system). EV3 Basic is an extended version of Microsoft Small Basic (designed specially for beginners and released in 2008) and you should learn Small Basic in some depth before beginning to use EV3 Basic to control your EV3 Robot. A weakness of EV3 Basic is that the Basic language has been around for so long that it lacks some of the features of more modern languages such as Python. Another weakness is that EV3 Basic works only on Windows computers. I have made a site about EV3 Basic called EV3Basic.com which has become the official tutorials site for EV3 Basic.
- EV3 Python is an extended version of Python, the most-taught 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). I have made a site about EV3 Python called EV3Python.com.
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