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Even more robot questions

November 15, 2012
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The last year 4 class have been thinking about robots and would like to know answers to the questions below:

1. Can robots work together to complete a task? (Toby T)
2. Can robots sing? (Libby)
3. Can robots play football? (Toby B)
4. Can robots act? (Jasmine)
5. Can robots box? (Archie)
6. Can robots shoot a gun? (Ollie)
7. Can robots see like we do? (Julian)
8. Can robots write like we do? (Amelia)
9. How far can robots go without running out of battery? (Rory)
10. How fast can the fastest robot run? (Will)
11. Can robots tell the time? (Jemima)
12. Can robots fly a plane on their own without crashing? (Thomas)

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2012 12:18 pm

    1-8 – Yes
    9 – Some have been to Mars and back!
    10 – Yes, but not as fast as you 😉
    11 – Yes
    12 – Yes

  2. Carl Simmons permalink
    November 15, 2012 1:06 pm

    1. Great question Toby T – robots can and do work together in fact lots of little robots which can work as a swarm can be really powerful – see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SkvpEfAPXn4 or here you can see robots working to pull a small child across a floor (she doesn’t look too happy!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJOubyiITsE – this could be used for search and rescue. If you’ve ever watched ants working together to lift some heavy food you can see how powerful lots of mini-beasts can be. In fact ants are very close to robots, they are all very close copies of each other and seem to follow quite simple rules – these simple rules result in a really interesting thing call “Emergent behaviour” which means when they work together the behaviour of the whole system (all the ants together) is really complex and surprising.

    2. They can Libby – but they cheat! It’s much easier to put a voice synthesiser chip inside a robot body to produce sounds electronically rather than building lungs and vocal cords like you and I have – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfxkhzGqZIs

    3. Probably not as well as you Toby T – they can play robotfootball with a light ball and a pitch which is very smooth and carefully measured and markings. If you put them in a windy muddy field I think they would mostly fall over. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14105078

    4. Fab question Jasmine – see what you think of this http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-11732995 . Good enough to get on Eastenders? Saying lines and making movements is only one part of acting – but a big part is reacting to other actors, audiences and situations – robots aren’t good at dealing with this because it’s hard for their programmers to anticipate all situations.

    5. Maybe we should ask the question “Should robots box?” Archie. Robots boxing with humans would be rather an unfair fight I think! Robots boxing other robots sounds like quite an expensive activity. There have been some attempts to make remote controlled robot boxers – see what you think http://news.discovery.com/tech/life-sized-boxing-robots-120619.html (was it worth it?)

    6. Hey Ollie – same question for you as Archie – “Should robots shoot guns?” Making a robot that can find a target and fire bullets is relatively simple, but robots are only as good as the programmer who wrote them – telling a robot the difference between a friend and an enemy is very tricky – even humans get this wrong sometimes. When programs fail on your computer at home you might get an error message on screen – if a robot gunslinger’s program fail it could end up spraying bullets in all directions. This has happened in real life and people have died – http://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/9-killed-in-army-horror-1.374838#.UKTknIZJdUE So even if they can I really hope they don’t.

    7. Julian – Robots use cameras which work in a similar way to our eyes and they process information in a similar way to our brains – looking for edges of things, working out depth and colour and things like that. Robots have some advantages over us in that they can see in different parts of the spectrum like infra red and they could also have zoom lenses attached to their “eyes” (but so can we – they’re called binoculars). Robots are not as good at coping with all kinds of conditions e.g. working at night and in bright sunlight and dealing with complicated backgrounds – so they would get really confused in a forest for example.

    8. Well Amelia it depends what you mean by “write” if you mean “type” or “handwrite” some text you are given – like copying off the board then yes there are robots that can do that http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njar0ZKSN9w . But if you mean think up a story and write it down then robots are pretty bad at that.

    9. Hi Rory – it depends on all sorts of things – how big and heavy is the robot, what kind of ground is it travelling over (is it bumpy or steep) and how big is the robot’s battery? These robots were made to walk a marathon (26 miles) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-12571374 I’m really impressed with the way they get up when they fall over.

    10. The fastest robot with legs can run at 28.3mph – still faster than Usain Bolt! see http://www.mobilemag.com/2012/09/06/creepy-robot-cheetah-is-the-fastest-robot-on-land-video/ I’m sure there must be robots on wheels that can go faster than this.

    11. Great question Jemima – in fact all robots rely on a little clock within their brains (chips) to tell them when to do things – the difference is that they tell time in millionths of a second whereas we can’t deal with anything less than about a 10th of a second.

    12. Thomas – you’ve made me think about something in a different way 🙂 In fact every modern aeroplane could be thought of as a big flying robot. The last time you went on a plane it’s likely that most of the time the human pilot wasn’t steering – it was the autopilot computer which controls the rudder, thrust, flaps and so on just like it was a humungous robot! There are also some amazing smaller robot planes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYs215TgI7c

    Carl Simmons
    Computer Science Subject Co-ordinator
    Edge Hill University

  3. November 15, 2012 2:25 pm

    1-8 Yes you can build a robot to do almost anything
    9 The voyager space probe was launched 35 years ago to study the edge of our solar system and is still going
    10 The world record for a running robot is 18mph
    11 Yes
    12 Yes, they are called drones. They are trying to decide if businesses should be allowed to fly them over the UK

  4. Dr Simon Johnson permalink
    November 15, 2012 10:46 pm

    1.Can robots work together to complete a task? (Toby T)
    Well Toby, cooperation is an important idea in robots. It can make very simple robots appear to have very complicated behaviour. There is a type of robot called an Ant which is designed with very behaviour but also designed to work with others to achieve a task. It is a clever idea and works well for some tasks.
    2. Can robots sing? (Libby)
    I have not come across this Libby, but it would be possible. The robot would have to create a voice like sound or use what is called a sampled voice – a recording of a part of someone singing. This would be quite possible. What the robot would not be able to do is put it’s own feeling into the singing and that is what makes the best singers really good. A really interesting challenge.
    3. Can robots play football? (Toby B)
    Toby, this is quite a popular pass-time for robot engineers because making robots cooperate in a game of football has a lot of tricky challenges. Each robot has to be able to see a ball, guide the ball, avoid the opposition and even decide when to pass or shoot. There are football playing robots and there is are competitions all the time to see who can build the best robot football team.
    4. Can robots act? (Jasmine)
    I don’t think this will be possible for a long time I’m afraid jasmine, as the robot would need to be creative and that is difficult to program.
    5. Can robots box? (Archie)
    This is possible and pretty dangerous too! I don’t think I would like to box against one Archie 🙂
    6. Can robots shoot a gun? (Ollie)
    Well Ollie, some weapons are “autonomous” which means that they can decide what to do and can act on their own. This is very much like a robot (although they would not look like most people’s ideas of a robot) and (sadly in my opinion) would have the same effect as a robot firing a gun.
    7. Can robots see like we do? (Julian)
    Julian, robots mostly use an electronic sensor which is the same as that used in a digital camera. This means that robots can see in the same way as us. The really tricky part of this though is interpreting what the robot sees. How does it tell the difference between a cat and a carrot? They can see in 3D if they have two “eyes” and can use the images to spot objects and navigate around things. They can also see in ways that we do not, such as thermal imaging to sense differences in temperature.
    8. Can robots write like we do? (Amelia)
    A robot could be programmed to copy your writing Amelia – it might even be neater than you!
    9. How far can robots go without running out of battery? (Rory)
    Good question Rory but the answer is that it depends how big the battery is! There is an idea called “energy scavenging” in which robots gather energy from their surroundings (e.g. thermal energy or light) and therefore can go on forever, a bit like us really except we gather energy from food.
    10. How fast can the fastest robot run? (Will)
    Making robots that walk on two legs is very tricky but there are some very good robots that can do this. Running is even more tricky but there are some robots that can run as fast as you Will.
    11. Can robots tell the time? (Jemima)
    Yes, Jemima, this is quite simple for a robot. Most robots would keep track of time in some way and it would be simple to get them to tell you the time – just like a digital watch really.
    12. Can robots fly a plane on their own without crashing? (Thomas)
    Yes, Thomas, they can and they do! Well, it depends what you mean by a robot I guess 🙂 Many planes use computers to control the flying but I don’t think that any sit in the pilot’s seat and fly it in that way.

    Can I ask you all a question back? What _is_ a robot?
    If you look around you will find that they come in lots of different shapes and sizes and they really are all around us already. I would really like to hear your answers.

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