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Robots Have Feelings, Too

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TEACHING GUIDES


Natural Born Robots:
"Robots Have Feelings, Too"


It's not enough just to be an intelligent robot. Even the most sophisticated robotic inventions have a long way to go before they acquire human-like emotions and understanding. Meet some of the creations made by today's robot engineers, who want to make robots less like machines and more like us. Their interactive robots may represent the future of social machines.

Curriculum Links
National Science Education Standards
Activity: Build a Robot Arm
Think About It!




CURRICULUM LINKS


BIOLOGY/
LIFE SCIENCE

brain, nervous system

COMPUTER SCIENCE

AI, programming

PHYSICAL SCIENCE

simple machines

PSYCHOLOGY

emotions

TECHNOLOGY
robotics

(Please visit the Subject-Area Search feature on this website for related Frontiers shows and activities!)




NATIONAL SCIENCE EDUCATION STANDARDS

SCIENCE AS INQUIRY / LIFE SCIENCE
5-8: Structure and Function in Living Systems; Reproduction and Heredity; Regulation and Behavior; Diversity and Adaptations of Organisms
9-12: Biological Evolution; Behavior of Organisms
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
5-8, 9-12: Abilities of Technological Design; Understandings About Science and Technology
SCIENCE IN PERSONAL & SOCIAL PERSPECTIVES
5-8: Science and Technology in Society
9-12: Science and Technology in Local, National and Global Challenges
HISTORY & NATURE OF SCIENCE
5-8: Science as a Human Endeavor; Nature of Science
9-12: Science as a Human Endeavor; Nature of Scientific Knowledge




ACTIVITY: BUILD A ROBOT ARM

Illah Nourbakhsh, of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, is learning that his autonomous robot Sage gets more respect when it behaves like a human -- that is, when it exhibits emotions. Creating a robot that has feelings is a very complicated process. Before a robot designer can begin to think about how the robot functions, he or she must decide on the robot's form -- what it will look like.

In this activity, you'll work on robotic form by building a simple device that simulates a human arm lifting a mass.

MATERIALS

  1. 15 cm Flexinol 150 micro wire (also called muscle wire, memory wire or nitinol)*

  2. 2 Flexinol wire connectors

  3. 20-22 gauge stranded hook-up wire (speaker or phone wires work fine)

  4. small plastic sandwich bag

  5. 2 AA batteries

  6. 1 battery holder

  7. 2 tacks

  8. 1 brass paper fastener

  9. paper clip

  10. 10-20 pennies

* Sources of Flexinol:
Dynalloy Inc.: 714-436-1206 or http://www.dynalloy.com/
Mondo-tronics Inc.: 415-491-4600, http://www.mondo.com/ or http://www.robotbooks.com/.


NOTE: As always, use care when working with wires and batteries. Do not connect positive and negative ends of wires together. Use wrapped or insulated (coated) wire.


robot arm



PROCEDURE

  1. Put together the bones: Drill a hole in one end of each craft stick. Place the arms of the paper fastener through the two holes and bend them back to make the elbow joint, which should move easily.

  2. Put together the muscle: Bend each end of the Flexinol wire to form a loop and attach connectors by crimping it to hold the wire in place. Make sure the connector is tight enough to hold the wire loop in place. The loops will serve as attachment sites of the muscle to the bone.

  3. Attach muscle to bones: Use tacks to attach the loops in the muscle to the bones. Your muscle should be long enough to hold the bones at a right angle when the wire is taut.

  4. Secure and attach mass to arm: Secure the upper part of the arm by clamping it to a structure so that the upper arm hangs perpendicular to the ground. Put enough pennies into a plastic bag to keep the wire taut and hang the bag from the arm.

  5. Cause the muscle to "contract": Touch the positive wire from the battery holder to the connector at one end of your muscle and the negative wire to the other end.

  6. Test the strength of your arm: Observe what happens when current passes through the Flexinol wire. Remove the current from the Flexinol and allow it to recover. Add pennies to the plastic bag to see how much mass your robotic arm can lift.





EXTENSIONS
  • Flexinol is a shape memory alloy made of nickel and titanium that shortens in length when electrically powered. Flexinol (nitinol) changes shape when heated but returns to its original shape when cooled. The Mars Pathfinder mission used Flexinol, as do robot engineers. For design assistance in building robots with Flexinol, see any of the sources for Flexinol listed under MATERIALS (above).

  • Building robots at home is easy. See http://www.robotbooks.com/ to help you get started.





THINK ABOUT IT!

  • Discussions of people vs. the machine and ideas of consciousness have been argued for centuries. Will future robots be conscious? If the human brain can be copied and downloaded into a machine, will it be "alive"? What is life? What is intelligence? What is consciousness? These and other issues are being discussed by scientists working in artificial intelligence.

  • At the end of this segment, listen to the conversation between Rodney Brooks and Alan Alda. Brooks refers to "vitalism," a metaphysical concept that life cannot be explained by physical and chemical forces alone. Vitalists do not think AI is possible. You'll find the complete transcript of this conversation on the Frontiers website. What do you think about the possibilities of artificial intelligence?






 

Scientific American Frontiers
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