Robotics: Top 10 Questions

February 2015

Thanks to Josh Johnston, visualization research scientist, Boise State University; and Dean Klein, vice president of advanced memory solutions, Micron for the answers.

1: Who invented the first robot?

The term robot was first used in a Czech play called R.U.R. in 1921. The robot was an automated humanoid that was a slave. The root of the word is robotnic, which is a Czech word meaning slave. (From Taylee at Galileo Stem Academy in Eagle)

2: How many different kinds of robots are there?

There are many different kinds of robots. In the first robotics program there are 10,000 teams worldwide that will build a robot to solve a challenge and out of those 10,000 robots, none will be alike. We think of robots in terms of what environment they operate in. We have manufacturing robots like the ones that build cars. Then we have robots that go outdoors. Those robots are divided into areas like ones that fly, ones that are on the ground, ones that are on the surface of the water, ones that go under water, and ones that go into space. Within each of these environments, there are many different types of robots that all do different things. (From Caden at Galileo Stem Academy in Eagle)

3: Do robots have feelings?

Robots don’t have feelings the way that people have feelings. They are usually controlled by a computer brain using software programming that tells them how to respond. As we have developed more advanced robots, we are trying to teach robots to learn so they can be better as they do their tasks over and over again. A robot may be programmed to have a sense of urgency if something needs to happen quickly. Another robot may be programmed to feel satisfaction if it has performed its job properly. These robots do not actually feel these emotions the way people or animals do. (From Mia at Dalton Gardens Elementary School in Dalton)

4: How long does it take to build a robot?

To make a simple robot, like the rumba vacuum cleaner, it is probably mass produced in under an hour. More complicated robots take a longer period of time. In the first robotics program, the teams are given six weeks to build their robot, and then the robot is sent off to a competition that is a couple of weeks later. So, it depends on how complex the robot is for how long it takes to build. (From McKayla at Hawthorne Elementary School in Boise)

5: How do you make the system that controls the robot?

Most robots are computer controlled. Different types of robots will have different types of computers, depending on the complexity of the task. A popular hobbyist robot control, called the arduino, has just a few chips in it. It is very simple, very inexpensive, and would be the low end of robot control systems. (From Thomas at Owyhee Harbor Elementary School in Boise)

6: Is a robot always run by a computer?

Robots weren’t always done with computers, but today most are even if the computer is a simple computer. So, what does it take to be a robot? We normally describe robots as having three major parts: a part that senses, a part that plans, and a part that acts. In history, we have had mechanical robots. How we use the word today, robots are controlled by computers, and they have the computers inside of them. (From Atalya at Galileo Stem Academy in Eagle)

7: How fast is the fastest robot?

The Boston Dynamics Wildcat robot claims the title of the fastest robot at about 20 or 30 miles per hour. However, the space borne robots, like Voyager, have achieved speeds in excess of 40,000 miles per hour. (From Ella at Galileo Stem Academy in Eagle)

8: How do robots see?

Robots use many different methods to see. They use lasers, radar, ultrasonic systems, infrared, and they can also use vision just like people do. A stereo vision camera head uses two cameras, one on each side. They work like our eyes do. This allows for two different perspectives on the world to tell how far away objects are. A robot uses this stereovision system to build a full 3-D model of what they are working with to see obstacles and avoid them or to see objects that they want to reach out and grab. (From Maximo at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise)

9: In the robotics field, do you think that you would be making robots to help us with anything on a daily basis?

Robots are impacting our daily lives now. Most of the things we buy have been touched by a robot at some point. Robots are used to help with the manufacturing of items. They are used to sort and move vegetables. They are also used in the workplace to handle more dangerous or difficult situations that only people used to do. Robots impact our lives daily even though we don’t see it directly. (From Lauren at Galileo Stem Academy in Eagle)

10: What is the most complex robot ever made?

There are a lot of complicated robots. Space borne robots can be the most complex. Swarm robots, although simple individually, work collectively on tasks. These interactions can be the most complex. With swarm robots, hundreds of robots may be working together to accomplish a task. (From Jimena at Galileo Stem Academy in Eagle)

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