The word robot was coined in 1921 by a writer named Karel Capek for a play entitled "R.U.R." or "Rossum's Universal Robots." It is based on the Czech word "robotnik" which means worker. Robots are indeed workers in our modern world. They are used for accomplishing tasks which excessive cost, need for extreme precision, repetition of motion, harsh environments or danger prevent human beings from performing. Why do we need robots and why is it a subject worth studying?
Look around your home and garage--many things we use everyday were assembled by robotic machinery. Robots aren't only toys, nor are they only the stuff of science fiction stories and movies. They are a real and exciting part of our culture.
In this issue's Unit Study, be prepared to learn some robot terminology, glean some interesting facts about the science, write a report on the subject, take a field trip to see a robot in action, visit websites, read some literature, as well as become introduced to some great robot building books, and work on a robot building project.
Robots have, through history, spawned some ridiculous fears and gained a bad reputation. Did you know that in the 1950s, some persons accused Albert Einstein of being a communist, saying he had built a threatening mind-control robot which he planned to use to take over the world? Movies and science fiction stories have helped to perpetrate the sensational fantasy that a robot, which had no emotions or morals, could turn on humans and destroy civilization. This is an interesting phenomenon in itself. The student may want to write a story, essay or poem showing this fear and why it is not plausible.

Robots and literature
Robotic textbooks:

  • The Ultimate Robot Book By Robert Malone (Published 2004 Dorling Kindsersley of London) I like this book because of the broad scope. It does have wonderful color pictures and an easy to follow text. It has a chapter on robots in movies, art and literature that some will consider too graphic or offensive. Its chapter on living with robots is good. Chapters on robot construction kits and on robot collectibles and toys are fun and interesting. One section covers artists and sculptures who used robots in their artwork. (Lawrence Northey, Christian Ristow, Clayton Bailey, Karl Egenberger, and Eric Joyner and Micheal Whelan) In my opinion this book's advantages outweigh the few questionable pictures, but it should be used with close parental supervision.
  • The Robot Book By Robert Malone (from Push Pin Press) is an earlier book by the same writer and may be more acceptable.
  • The Great Robot Book by Wanda and Texe Marrs, published by Julian Messner in 1985 is an older yet fact-filled book about robots. 
  • Junkbots, Bugbots & Bots on Wheels by Dave Hrynkiw and Mark Tilden. (Published by 2002 McGraw Hill) Tilden is considered one of the foremost experts on building robots.
  • The Personal Robot Book by Texe Marrs has tips for building robots.

Robots and the Bible
What important doctrine does the Bible teach that shows us that God does not treat humans like puppets or robots?
Read the following scriptures. Proverbs 8:12, Isaiah 2:7, Ecclesiastes 106:29 &39
The following are a few ideas for essay writing.

  1. God created man a living soul. How does that differentiate man from the robots built by man?
  2. Man may become proud of his inventions and so bring calamity and hardship on himself. In what way can you imagine that this could happen? 
  3. What structure did men attempt to build that caused God to have to divide them?
  4. Does this prove that God is against progress?

The uses of robots:
Robots are used in manufacturing, research, security, space explorations, and the medical industry.

  1. Manufacturing: There are robots that can do work in factories assembling and producing. The benefits are that these robots can work 24/7, and they do not get tired, injured or bored doing a repetitive job. In auto manufacturing robots weld, paint and mount wheels, among other jobs. Do some research on the automobile industry and how robots are used.
  2. Security: Milibots are tiny robots that carry out surveillance, take sensor readings and record photographs. They can detect obstacles, emit lasers, beacons, and sonar, follow walls and find openings, shoot darts, take photos, pick up fallen articles or dangerous ones, sort objects and store them. Security robots can scan for movement and heat in a building and then take video footage and photos to prevent theft, fires, and intrusion. Robots can be used to perform dangerous jobs such as defusing and disposing of bombs or other lethal or hazard materials, exploring caves and volcanoes, or acting as body guards.
  3. Convenience and Safety: Domestic robots can mow lawns, vacuum, sweep, mop and wax floors, or act as a butler, escorting people around inside a building.
    They can refuel vehicles, identify persons by their voice or their faces, retrieve objects, clean, make phone calls, and access the internet.
    Check out this competition wherein students build firefighting robots Click Here.
    Printing press robot machines print newspapers and bind books. A window washing robot was invented to clean skyscraper windows. 
  4. Research: Space probes and space robots can explore and take photos to send to earth, move across the surface of a distant planet, and probe space to gather and transmit information from space craft and satellites. The Autosub is a robotic submarine that can dive to 1,640 feet.
  5. Medicine: Yale University developed a robotic surgical unit called The DaVinci Microsystem with which a surgeon can perform surgery remotely via a computer with micro tools worked by robotic arms wielding tiny tools. This robot can operate in spaces which are inaccessible to the surgeon's hands and tools.
    Also used in medicine are robotic hands that can act as a missing hand. These bionic parts can help a disabled person function better.
    Students at LeTourneau University, a Christian technical and engineering school, used their knowledge of robotics to design prosthetic legs for children in foreign countries who could not otherwise be mobile.
  6. What other uses of robots can you think of? Find photos and cut out magazine pictures of robots or make some drawings of useful robots.

Robo-Vo-Cab:
Robots that are shaped like people are called humanoid robots. What is the difference in a humanoid and an android?
Define the following terms:  bionics, pneumatic, cam, CAD, BEAM. Automation, microchip, pneumatic, Bot, Artificial Intelligence, Servo, nano, bit, prototype, actuator, comparator, sensor, automaton, CPU, memory stick, digital, cyborg, robotics. module, simulation, solar arrays, tinplate, microprocessor, drone, drive.

The construction of Robots
A student may want to attempt to build a robot. This is not as daunting a task as may be first thought. Using a kit, a child can build a non-human robot, as well as many other types of robots. A website with directions and information for building robots is www.robotics.com. There are many books and websites with directions and information about home building of robots from expensive kits, to Erector, Lego and Cybots construction sets, to building a robot from scratch. A project can cost as little as $20, or as much as $1000 or more.

Robots in art and literature
Robots have long drawn the fascination of people. In science fiction stories there is a wide selection of characters based on robots. How do these stories help or hinder the formation of a Christian world view? Are they worth reading and studying about? Write a short essay about how you came to this conclusion, what your opinions are based on, and how a Christian should react and respond to the cultural science fiction arts.

A field trip
The best field trip for this unit study would be to a factory where robots are used everyday. It may take some research to find such a factory in your area. The number one user of robots is the auto industry; however, most factories have a closed door policy because of the chance of a student being injured. You may be able to take a virtual field trip on the internet or call small manufacturers in your area and ask for a personal (not a school group) tour.

I hope that you enjoy this study and learn about the wonderful world of robotics. To see how much you have already learned try to answer this robot question:
How many robots does it take to wash the supper dishes? (Answer: It takes two-- one to wash and one to sweep up the pieces.)

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Elece Hollis is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom. She and her husband Ron of 30 years have 7 children and are in their sixteenth year of homeschooling. They live east of Okmulgee, Oklahoma and south of Tulsa on a 40 acre pecan farm.

This article was originally published in the Jul/Aug '06 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, and to request a FREE sample copy, visit http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com