The I, Robot book, movie and 3D virtual reality web site all feed our creative imagination about fictional robot technology. Fantasy robots have so long been a staple of Hollywood movies and science fiction that facts about their classroom study, real integration in the economy and impact on current culture are easily overlooked. At the hands-on level this involves programming languages, sensors and a wide range of possible motors, gears and other machine parts. The prior activity with programming a web turtle in the Logo programming language and designing circuits with the Circuit Sense material gives a tiny flavor of the possibilities of robotics. A robot is a practical example of the applications of science and math, making it another element of engineering activity. The concept of robots has also played an interesting role in literature and the humanities.
The idea of Frankenstein, a design gone crazy and dangerous, is a long standing element of modern literature. What is a robot? Much has been written in both fiction and non-fiction concerning the concept of robots for most age levels. Defining a robot is an elusive task, but clearly the capacity to carry out automated functions in the absence of the direction of a human being is one part of a robot. Others would include environmental awareness, communication capacity and mobility as important features of a definition of a robot. Within the social studies sphere of activity, there are many ways that this topic is integrated. For example, robots and robotics also play a role in both expanding job opportunities and in the reduction of job opportunities which in turn has a major impact on the quality of life in a community. What aspects of what you do could be replaced by real robot technology, not science fiction technology? Is that good or bad for you? As the capacity for robot automation grows, what opportunities does this provide for human capacity?
The United Nations produces an annual World Robotics Survey. The 2004 survey noted that over a half million industrial robots are already in use: Japan, 300,000; Western Europe, 250,000 and the United States, 112,000, though the growth in U.S, purchasing is highest at 28%. (See Google image search for industrial robots.) These robots are most often used on assembly lines.
What is more striking is not only the number of domestic, service and entertainment robots but the sharp upward turn of their increase, at 19% in 2002 and 18% in 2003. Over two-thirds of the 607,000 automated robots in use at the end of 2003 were purchased in that year. Over 93% were robot lawnmowers. Some 37,000 vacuum cleaning robots have been sold and window-washing and pool-cleaning units are preparing to expand their markets. About 692,000 robot toys such as Sony's canine AIBO have been bought. Some 21,000 service robots handle waste, milk cows and assist surgeons. (See Google image search for milker robots). With sales increases approaching 18% this year, their numbers are expected to continue their growth.
As mentioned elsewhere in this chapter, the engineering strand of our culture is largely absent from public school curriculum disabling many from making effective decisions about engineering careers. This significant curriculum void needs to better addressed in educational policy and curriculum. Further curriculum resources K-12 for pulling this new area together are also found below. Math and science knowledge and skills are fundamental to work in this area.
Asimov, Isaac (1950). I, Robot, Garden City, N. Y., Doubleday (fiction). This author has published many short stories and books for a wide range of readers that are now also on the reading lists of graduate programs conceptualizing robotics design.
Branwyn, Gareth (2003). Absolute Beginner's Guide to Building Robots. Que. http://www.streettech.com/robotbook/
(2004). World Robotics 2004 - Statistics, Market Analysis, Forecasts, Case
Studies and Profitability of Robot Investment. UNECU.
firstname.lastname@example.org ISBN 92-1-101084-5.