The materials here are intended to support and supplement the teaching specific materials on Robotics that we are developing as a part of our Disruptive Technologies project.
Robotics is an immensely wide field of study. At its core is the D&T ‘bread-and-butter’ stuff of designing, constructing and programming robots. But considering the wider implications of robotics in society can quickly take you deep into related fields including biomimicry, artificial intelligence, ethics, neuroscience, law, sociology, philosophy and economics. For some, robotics raises existential issues and these are often explored through dystopian science fiction. Others see robots as the path to a range of utopian futures.
What we have tried to do here is collect together media relating to these wider aspects of robotics that we have found helpful in our thinking and that we hope will help teachers gain a broader perspective when teaching about robotics. We’ve collected them as follows:
Each section may include books, websites, films, online videos, short stories or anything else that we feel might be helpful. We will be adding links to a selection of science fiction resources separately, in due course
If you have recommendations for resources that should appear here, please do let us know.
Robotics: A Very Short Introduction by Alan Winfield, published 2012 by OUP, is one of a very large collection of Very Short Introductions. This is a really good place to start; it’s short, clearly written and introduces key areas of robotics, starting with what robots are and what they are currently capable of and going on to explore a range of topics including how biology, including the human form, has inspired robots, robot swarms, evolutionary robotics and finishing with some thoughts about the future of robotics.
Alan Winfield’s Web Log is the website of the author of Robotics: A Very Short Introduction (see above). As well as providing extra resources to support the book, the site has a useful Robotics Q&A and the author blogs periodically about aspects of robotics.
Drone by Adam Rothstein, published 2015 by Bloomsbury, is part of a different collection of books under the title of Object Lessons. Only a few years ago ‘drone’ usually meant a military robotic aircraft, but recent technological developments have made drones affordable to hobbyists. The resulting growth in drone numbers is causing headaches for regulatory authorities as they invade commercial airspace and threaten both privacy and security. This book provides an excellent, very readable and concise introduction to drones with a historical overview, a brief exploration of the hardware and software that drives drone development and examinations of some of the social implications of the widespread adoption of drones.
Robot Futures by Allah Reza Nourbakhsh, published 2013 by MIT.This is an excellent exploration of future robotic scenarios. The author is a robotics professor at MIT, so certainly knows his stuff, but this is very much not an academic book. Rather, each of the six highly engaging chapters starts with a brief but compelling fictional future scenario which the author then uses as a base for exploring an aspect of future human/robot interactions.
robotfuturesbook is a companion blog for the book Robot Futures by Allah Nourbakhsh (see above). The main focus of the blog is to pick up news stories that relate to the themes of the book and expertly unpick them. Often very entertaining and always illuminating.
Roamer Research; we haven’t included links to the many companies selling ‘educational’ robots and including this link isn’t intended to especially endorse Roamers as robots for schools, but we do think that the collection of research and other papers gathered here, relating to the use of robotics in schools, may be useful to some.
Lego Foundation; again, including this link isn’t intended to especially endorse Lego as a supplier of robots for schools, but the reports produced by the Foundation often provide an interesting perspective on the relationship between learning and engagement with robotics.
Robohub is a robotics online community that “that brings together experts in robotics research, start-ups, business, and education from across the globe“. As well as providing news updates, there are well-informed opinion pieces, a podcast and a learning area with tutorials, lectures and other advice for learners.
Influences on robot design
How to Catch a Robot Rat by Agnes Guillot, Jean-arcady Meyer and Susan Emanuel, published 2010 by MIT. A really thoughtful exploration of the ways in which nature has inspired technological developments with a particular focus on robotics. The book also describes various ways in which humans are hybridising nature and technology and explores some of the ways in which the attempt to copy biology in technology has led to a better understanding of the biology.
Robot Takeover; 100 iconic robots of myth, popular culture & real life by Ana Matronic, published 2015 by Cassel. This is an altogether lighter affair, but one that all who have even the slightest fascination for robots will find irresistible. The section headings give some idea of the grand sweep: Servants, sidekicks and saviours; Murderous malfunctions & fascist machines; Artificial hearts; Iron men and killer babes; The human machine; Early prototypes; and The future is now. Ana Matronic, also a vocalist with the pop group Scissor Sisters, provides a tour de force of images plus commentary with undisguised ‘fan girl’ glee.
The Personal; how robots and humans shape each other
Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us by Rodney Brooks, published 2003 by Vintage. Though relatively old, this is a seminal book by one of the leading roboticists. The nub of the book is the idea that: “…humankind has embarked on an irreversible journey of technological manipulation of our bodies.” and that this journey will continue as we increasingly merge robots into ourselves. Provocative and clearly written.
Digital People: From Bionic Humans to Androids by Sidney Berkowitz published 2005 by National Academies Press. This is a rich and accessible account of ‘artificial’ people starting historically with the long literature in this area and the many attempts that have been made to build imitation humans. Building on this history the book explores the current state of the art of merging technology with people and examines the barriers to progress, finishing with some speculations about what the future might hold.
I, Cyborg by Kevin Warwick, published in 2004 by the University of Illinois, is an account of the (self-proclaimed) world’s first cyborg. Warwick is a professor of cybernetics at the University of Reading and this is a biographical account of his life. The focus is on how he came to have electronics embedded into his arm providing connections to the nerves to his hand with external contacts that allowed him both to control external devices by simply thinking about it and also to allow external signals to control some movement of his hand. Like Rodney Brooks (see above), he believes that the future of robotics is a merging of flesh and machine in a cybernetic organism – or cyborg.
Our Robots, Ourselves; Robotics and the myths of autonomy by David A. Mindell, published 2015 by Viking. In this deep, but very readable, book Mindell sets out to unpick three ‘mythologies of twentieth-century robotics; first the myth of linear progress that assumes there is a direct path from human involvement to full autonomy, second the myth of replacement that suggests that robots simply take over jobs from humans, third the myth of full autonomy that robots can ever operate entirely on their own. Through case studies focussed on underwater exploration, commercial flight, the use of drones in warfare and space exploration he carefully examines these myths, arguing that “…autonomy is human action removed in time.” and that “The challenges of robotics in the twenty-first century are those of situating machines within human and social situations.They are challenges of relationship.“. This is a useful antidote to some of the rather swivel-eyed ideas that occasionally emanate from techno-utopians.
Automaton is a blog from IEEE’s Spectrum magazine, featuring news, articles, and videos including robots, humanoids, drones, automation and artificial intelligence.
The Social; the impact of robots on society
Mika Model is a short story from sci-fi author Paolo Bacigalupi about humanoid robots. Accompanying it is When a Robot Kills, Is It Murder or Product Liability?, a response to the story by Ryan Calo a law professor at the University of Washington and ‘an expert on robotics law’. If you enjoy Bacigalupi’s writing, then you’ll probably enjoy his novel, The Windup Girl.
Robot Ethics and the Future of Human-Robot Interaction – a talk by MIT’s Kate Darling. This is a very accessible introduction to the topic.
Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-robot Relationships by David Levy, published in 2008 by Gerald Duckworth. Clearly this edges into tricky territory for those working with young people. As robots get more and more life-like and can be programmed to simulate highly sophisticated behaviour, Levy makes a convincing case that humans will inevitably develop sexual and loving relationships with robots. He acknowledges the difficulty that the robots themselves will not actually ‘feel’ anything and that any loving feelings a human has towards a robot partner will not be reciprocated but notes that the robot will be able to behave in a loving way; as though he/she does have these feelings. Levy goes so far as to suggest that marriage with robots will be legalised in some countries by the middle of this century. If so, then it surely won’t be long before it will necessary to discuss the implications of this with young people. Read this book and you’ll know what the issues are.
Principles of robotics from the The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) provides five ethical rules for designers, builders and users of robots and also suggests seven messages designed to encourage responsible innovation within the robotics research and industrial community. These principles are couched in everyday language and could easily be used as the basis for introducing pupils to ideas of ethics and robotics.
Robot Ethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Robotics by Patrick Lin, Keith Abney and George A. Bekey (Eds), published in 2014 by MIT. This edited collection of essays is a very useful companion to the previous book. The remit of this book is much wider than sex, though it includes the topic alongside things such as designing human safety into robot systems, the use of military robots, legal issues, robots in positions of care and whether robots should be granted rights.
Our Work Here is Done: Visions of a Robot Economy edited by Stian Westlake, published in 2014 by NESTA is a collection of thought-provoking pieces grouped under four headings: The economics of a robot future; Technological possibilities; Robots of the Past and of the Future; Robots and Justice. Some of the pieces are pessimistic, seeing a dystopian future in which human endeavour is almost completely marginalised. Others are more optimistic arguing that there will be much to do that only humans can do. All pieces give food for thought in their attempts to foresee the implications of ever more sophisticated robots in the workplace of a global, consumer driven capitalist society. John Turney , science writer, and contributor to the Nesta publication sums it up well: ”If we abolish work, we abolish exploitation, but also the reward of exercising skill and ingenuity to contribute to the human community. … can we dispense with one without sacrificing the other?”
The Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of Mass Unemployment by Martin Ford, published 2015 by Oneworld. This is an extensive work, some 300 pages, charting the rise of automation, the difference between the current and previous automation ‘waves’ and the likely impact on white-collar jobs, higher education, health care and manufacturing as robots have increased physical and intellectual capacities. Following a brief and slightly sceptical discussion of super-intelligence and the singularity, the author considers what might be done to counteract the technology-driven trend to greater inequality and rising unemployment. Here he challenges the prevailing economic paradigm of people being paid to work as the major source of their income suggesting amongst other things a basic income guarantee whatever a person’s employment status. The children of the young people we are teaching in secondary schools now will almost certainly find themselves in a highly scarce employment environment. Hence Martin’s book is one that all design & technology teachers should read.
Rise of the robots is sparking an investment boom; a Financial Times article from 3-5-16. on “one of the hottest new markets in tech”. “An army of robots is on the move. In warehouses, hospitals and retail stores, and on city streets, industrial parks and the footpaths of college campuses, the first representatives of this new invading force are starting to become apparent.”
The Robot Report collects news stories and has particular focus on business and industry news but also reports on things like competitions and events as well as applications of robotics.
Growing up with Lucy: How to Build an Android in Twenty Easy Steps by Steve Grand published in 2004 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. This is the story of one robot builder’s three-year project to build an intelligent android. But it’s also much more than that, as the author explores both technical and philosophical aspects of both the hardware and software required to achieve his aim.
21st Century Robot: The Dr. Simon Egerton Stories by Brian David Johnson,published in 2014 by MakerMedia. This is a rather interesting mix of series of linked science fiction tales about a robot interwoven with a description of the development of an actual robot designed to be a human companion. The aim of the book is to inspire you to build your own robot while exploring what the consequences of robot ownership might be. One end result of this endeavour is the 21st Century Robot website where you can download a version of the book, and will (dates tbc…) be able to buy the robot kit, personalise your robot through 3D printing, and get support for programming your robot.
Robot Builder’s Bonanza, 4th Edition by Gordon McComb, published 2011 by McGraw-Hill. There are many books published to help you build your own robot (see for example this collection from Maker media), many focussed on specific technologies. But this is good and comprehensive guide to the wide range of things that you need to include when building a robot, from electronics to microcontroller programming and from building you own platform to using Lego. One advantage for UK schools is that PICAXE is amongst the supported microcontrollers. There is a supporting website at Robotics Universe.
Hizook is a robotics news website, this one with a focus on technical news.