Tag Archives: robots

Money-saving drones?

Robot drones, similar to the ones used in war zones in the Middle East, could  be used for crime fighting in the UK.

At least that’s what the police is calling for, as they launch the National Police Air Service today. Senior officer Alex Marshall thinks they are much cheaper than helicopters, can stay up longer and do things that you couldnt have people doing in the air!  “But is it acceptable to the citizens of Britain to have them in the air? The public needs to find it acceptable and it needs to be within the law.”

Police use remote-controlled drones to control anti-social behaviour

Police use remote-controlled drones to control anti-social behaviour

Indeed. This is an important debate; if we are happy to have military robots fighting our wars abroad, does that mean we want them to police our cities here? What are the benefits to us as citizens, and what is at stake? Will it make us safer, or just save a few (million) quid on the costs of running police air support? And of course, what about the humans behind the remote controlled robots- are they more likely to put people in danger because they are are detached from the ‘action’, are they to be held responsible if their robot accidentally hurts someone?

Lesson idea- to get your students talking about these questions, start them off playing the Robo-lobster game in Futurecade, & in small groups, have them discuss the questions they are shown in their results screen. Use our teacher notes for a little background science and further stimulus questions. Then why not hold a marketplace debate that includes different angles, eg the police force, regular citizens, civil rights activists and an aerospace engineering company. Finish up with a human barometer to guage your students’ personal feelings about seeing unmanned security drones in our skies, and get them to explain where they stand!

If you try this out, why not tell us about it? We’d love to hear from you :)

Busy ‘bots

SO! It’s half-term. Many of you are busy taking a well-deserved rest (STOP WORKING!) and some of you might even be thinking of visiting the museum.

If you do, make sure you head to the Antenna gallery, on the ground floor, to check out Robots to the Rescue, a live event featuring an incredible robot that will do incredible things, and meet the University of Warwick engineers who’ve developed it.

The future of seach and rescue?

The future of seach and rescue?

 This hardy little ‘bot is designed to navigate rough terrain and hunt for signs of life - searching  dangerous disaster zones such as collapsed buildings, making it easier and safer for rescuers to find their way to survivors.

They are only here until tomorrow so make haste!

If you can’t make it to see them, Futurecade’s Robo-Lobster game might make you feel better. Control your mine-seeking robots to keep the harbour safe from attack! The game is based around the idea of robots doing dangerous jobs so humans don’t have to, just like University of Warwick’s rescue robot will do one day.

So will robots just keep improving our lives? What kind of tasks are you happy for robots to take on?

Coming LIVE! from Antenna

Have you ever visited the Antenna gallery at the Science Museum? It’s an ever-changing exhibition of science news and cutting edge research, where you can find out what’s bubbling and what’s buzzing, see some incredible objects (a dress made of thousands of paper cranes folded from the London Metro newspaper- how’s that for throwaway fashion?) and share your views on our interactive kiosks.

Antenna also has a website which is great for an instant peek into whats happening right NOW in the science and tech world- a lot of teachers even get their students to use it for info gathering before a discussion.

But anyway! The exciting news is that Antenna has 3 live events happening on gallery this month!

2-4 August: Space Robots

Time: 10.00–13.00 and 14.00–16.00

Come and see the robots that could be bound for the surface of distant planets. Are they the future of space exploration? Scientists from Rutherford Appleton Laboratory who developed the robots will be there to answer all your questions.

 16-18 August: Cockroach Robot

Time: 10.00–13.00 and 14.00–16.00

How do insects move so quickly? Come and check out a super-speedy six-legged robot from the Royal Veterinary College. Find out how its cockroach-inspired legs help it move from the engineers who designed it.

Cockroaches get fitted with tiny accelerometer 'backpacks' Cyber-roach – fitted with an accelerometer backpack

23-25 August: Demon unmanned aerial vehicle

Time: 10.00–13.00 and 14.00–16.00

It’s the world’s first flapless aircraft – the Demon UAV, which uses compressed air to manoeuvre. Could this be the stealth plane of the future? Join engineers from Cranfield University and BAE Systems to find out how the Demon works.

Demon unmanned aerial vehicle

Demon UAV - first flapless flight

 So come check out this month’s ‘bots, and chat with the scientists who devised them!

Friendly robots

A few weeks ago I posted about Robolobster, a mine-seeking robot modelled after a lobster for underwater bomb disposal. Now I come across another fantastic piece of robotic technology, that one day could be out there doing dangerous jobs so us humans don’t have to: a small spherical drone which can navigate the underground pipes of a nuclear reactor and inspect them for leaks. Right now the only direct method of inspecting those same pipes for leaks is digging them up and having a look. But these little underwater patrollers are designed to withstand the reactor’s radioactive environment and, equipped with a camera, can send images back in real time.

A spherical robot equipped with a camera may navigate underground pipes of a nuclear reactor by propelling itself with an internal network of valves and pumps.

A pipe-navigating robot for nuclear reactors

The extra-cool thing is how these little robots swim! Though they appear completely smooth and spherical, their propulsion system harnesses the force of the water rushing through the pipes themselves. The scientists developing these used 3D printers to construct a fine network of sensitive valves over the ‘skin’ of the spheres, so if they want the robot to change direction, they give the command to shut off certain valves, and the flow of water through the open ones makes a jet stream that sends the robot scampering (hopefully in the intended direction).

It’s easy to see how this robot, like Robolobster, could be beneficial to our lives; they do jobs that directly save human lives, and save humans money.  But if robots do all these dangerous jobs, will we become detached from real danger and not take it as seriously? Are there any robotic technologies that worry you? And how do we draw the line between beneficial and problematic?

Introducing… Robolobster!

Not entirely new, Robolobster has actually been in the works for some years. Is this not just the coolest/weirdest sounding technology ever? It’s a mechanical lobster that scurries along ocean floors, seeking out and detonating buried bombs.

Robolobster the mine-detecting robot

Robolobster, the mine-detecting robot

Scientists developing an underwater mine-detecting robot realised that nature had already done all the work in ‘designing’ a creature that can move easily along the seabed despite buffeting waves- the lobster! All those legs mean that it can propel itself forward even if they aren’t all touching the ground. That strong heavy tail and stabilising claws help it stay upright as the water moves around it. Thank you, evolution!

The bigger picture:

YES!!! We can learn lessons from the natural world and adapt them to robotics and solving human problems. We can save human (and animal) lives by making robots do the dangerous/ugly jobs. And from military robots we may develop technology that helps us live healthier, safer lives every day- maybe one day things like seeing eye robots for blind people.

BUT OH NO!!!! With more and more robots being used for traditionally human tasks (but without human reasoning or sympathy), are we in trouble? Will we need new laws governing these interactions? Would we want unmanned robots to be armed (Robocop-style)? If robots are being used more and more in warfare, does it mean that we are more likely to engage in conflict, because we can fight harder, putting less human soldiers at risk?

Lots of questions worth exploring, as autonomous robots are heavily researched by the military and may one day be much more commonplace even in our lives.