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More Robot Questions

November 13, 2012

The second Year 4 class have now written their Robot questions and the best ones are below.

  1. Can robots climb mountains? (Ben)
  2. Can robots sense warm-blooded or cold-blooded animals? (Fred)
  3. Are robots more clever than people? (Mackenzie)
  4. Can robots grow? (Charlie)
  5. Can robots play rugby? (Callum)
  6. Can robots do comedy? (Toby)
  7. How heavy a weight can a robot lift? (Isaac)
  8. Can a robot have a conversation with a human? (Izzy)
  9. Can a robot put clothes on itself? (Rosie)
  10. Can robots kill people with their bare hands? (Daisy)
  11. Can robots play different instruments without a lesson or practice? (Matilda)
  12. How do robots communicate with each other? (Noah)
2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 13, 2012 4:04 pm

    Hi, I’m Dr.Oates at The University of Nottingham. I work with robots of all different shapes and sizes and thought I’d try to answer some of your questions. Firstly I’d like to congratulate you all on these excellent questions! You’ve obviously thought about them a lot.

    1) Robots find ground like mountains extremely difficult to cross. The loose stones and steep slopes of a mountain are difficult to climb on even for something as clever as a human! A scientist in Japan, called Dr. Sankai, created an “exoskeleton” robot, which is a type of robot that a human can wear like a suit of armour. The robot makes the wearer much stronger by combining the robot’s strength with their own. One of those robots managed to climb a mountain in France, with the human helping them by picking the route.

    2) Some robots can tell the difference between warm- and cold-blooded animals. Thermal imaging cameras are a special type of camera that can show how warm objects in the picture are. A warm-blooded animal would show up as being bright in those pictures because they would be warmer than the air around them. A cold-blooded animal would be more difficult to see because they would look a similar colour to the background. Some robots have thermal cameras instead of normal cameras for their eyes, which means they see the world very differently to us.

    3) That question is a very difficult one to answer. It depends on what you think “clever” is! For example, a robot can do maths a lot faster than a human, but there are lots of things that a human can do that a robot struggles with, like walking in a crowded street or knowing how people are feeling. Lots of research goes into making robots cleverer but they still struggle when you put them in to the real world.

    4) Robots don’t naturally grow, because the material we make them out of like plastic and metal, doesn’t grow naturally. But there are robots that can adapt when you change their body, so you could make their legs longer and they would still be able to move around.

    5) Robots aren’t very good at sport. There are robots that play football against other robots and even robots that play rugby against each other, but they usually play with much smaller balls than humans and wouldn’t be very good against a human team. Even if we made the robots bigger, it would be difficult to make them powerful enough to play, without them accidentally hurting the humans on the other team.

    6) Some software programs have been written to let robots make puns – jokes based on the double meanings of words. But they’re not very funny! It’s very difficult to put into words what makes something funny – we either laugh at it or we don’t. That makes it very hard to explain to a robot how to be funny. Stand-up comedians are usually very good at judging an audience and slightly changing their act to suit the crowd. That ability to react to other people is also very difficult for robots.

    7) Robots come in all shapes and sizes. If you put a computer and sensors in a crane you could argue that the crane was now a robot, and the strongest crane in the world can lift more than 11000 tonnes, so you could make a robot that could lift that much! The smallest robots in the world are so small you can’t see them without a microscope, and at their thickest point, are about the width of a human hair. Those robots can’t lift very much at all and actually struggle to move their own weight!

    8) There are software packages that try to hold conversations with humans. In the 1940s a scientist called Alan Turing suggested that you could say a robot was intelligent if it could talk to a human and trick that human into thinking they were talking to another human! Lots of people have tried to pass the “Turing Test” but at the moment they typically chat by typing into a computer. There are plenty of robots that speak, although their voices don’t sound exactly like human voices. Making a robot understand what you’re saying without typing it in is tricky, but computers are getting better at it all the time, for example, some phones can recognise things you say to them.

    9) Robots don’t usually need to wear clothes because they don’t get cold or sun-burned. There are robots that are designed to wear clothes, in fact some clothes companies use robots that change their shape from Small->XXL so clothes can be tried on by the robot before they get sent to the customer! But those robots don’t dress themselves. There are also robots that help dress humans who are unable to dress themselves.

    10) There are robots that can kill people and there have been cases where people have been killed by robots just using their arms. In those cases the human has moved too close to a very powerful robot and the robot has accidentally collided with them and caused them harm. Robots are very good at following orders so as long as they aren’t told to harm someone, they never will unless by accident.

    11) That’s a very good question! Robots can “practice” skills by using “simulations” – a bit like playing a computer game, but they can play them so fast that they can practice millions of times in a very short space of time before attempting the actual task. Often though, the simulations aren’t real enough for the robot to get it right straight away so they still get things wrong when they try to use their skill in the real world! Playing a musical instrument usually requires a lot of very precise control over your hands and fingers, which robots can do, but it also requires being able to feel the how the instrument is reacting to you, which is very hard for a robot. In addition, instruments like trumpets need to have air moved through them to work, and robots don’t have lungs! As a result the few robots that can play instruments are specially designed for a specific instrument and can only play that. That said – once one robot can play an instrument, an identical robot can then play that instrument immediately, because they can share knowledge between them.

    12) Robots can use lots of different ways to communicate. Some use Bluetooth and Wifi, like a computer where they communicate using radio waves. That means that many robots can connect to the internet and send messages to each other like that too. Others use flashing lights to send messages. A lot of robots that use flashing lights, use special light that humans can’t see, which can make it difficult to tell when they’re communicating. Robots can send what they are sensing directly to another robot, so they can share information about what is happening in the world. Lots of robots can also send orders to one another, so they can accomplish tasks as a team that a single robot couldn’t do. As I mentioned in the last question, robots can also share information about how to perform skills, so if one robot solves a problem, it can immediately tell others how to do it too!

    I hope this answers some of your questions. Good luck!

    Bob Oates

  2. Carl Simmons permalink
    November 15, 2012 4:01 pm

    1. If you’re thinking about “proper” climbing up clifffaces then this prototype looks like a contender for the future – at the moment the position of the handholds has to be programmed before the robot sets off, but in future it’ll be able to “see” using a camera. It’s going to need a very long lead!

    2. Yes – using an infra red camera to look at the animal the computer (robot’s brain) can work out whether the animal is the same temperature as its surroundings (cold blooded) or warmer (warm blooded).

    3. Robot’s are dumb, but can think fast. We are getting better at programming to do some quite complex things like having a conversation – try this for an example What do you think? Are you talking to a human or a computer/robot?

    4. Not really in the same way that you do – but lots of little robots can swarm together to make something bigger and more useful.

    5. There have been quite a few robots designed to kick a rugby ball over a goal . The nearest thing to a rugby match would be this crazy American Football match –

    6. Because robots cannot mimic the emotion in human speech and react to a human audience at the moment they are probably less funny than these robot jokes:-

    Why was the robot angry?
    Because someone kept pushing his buttons!

    What is a robot’s favorite type of music?
    Heavy metal!

    (My favourites)
    How many robots does it take to screw in a light bulb?
    Three — one to hold the bulb, and two to turn the ladder!

    What do you get when you cross a robot and a tractor?
    A trans-farmer!

    7. Using tools like hydraulics, cranes and levers a robot is capable of lifting huge weights – but then so is a human – the difference is it’s easy to see where a human ends and a machine begins – robots are usually built into the tools they use. In future humans might have robot parts built into their bodies to repair injuries or enhance their abilities to become cyborgs. Here’s some impressive lifting robots –

    8. See Q3

    9. This will probably be important for Androids – robots that look like humans, but at the moment they cannot dress themselves.

    10. Just like any machine robots can be dangerous. One problem with robots is they only have limited sensors so they might not know how hard they are gripping an object or know if they have bumped into someone – so robot designers have to build in sensors and write computer programs to deal with these situations if they are going to be in dangerous situations where a human might be involved.

    11. In theory there’s no reason why say a piano playing robot couldn’t listen to a melody, record it and then try to match the notes it has heard to the notes it hears when pressing random keys. It could repeat this until it had learned the melody. This 19 fingered robot plays pre-programmed tunes I think

    12. Using binary electrical signals sent either along wires or through a radio signal. They could translate other ways of communicating like scanning barcodes or even making noises at each other – but these too would be converted into binary signals before being processed.

    Enjoy your robot discussions!
    Carl Simmons
    Computer Science Subject Coordinator
    Edge Hill University

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