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Natural Born Robots Guide & Resources

Scientific American Frontiers viewers were first introduced to the robot Cog six years ago. In that time, this humanoid robot has undergone many changes -- including learning how to use a Slinky! In this episode of Scientific American Frontiers, you'll revisit Cog and meet other robots -- like Kismet (right), a robot designed for social interaction with humans -- plus learn about scientists' attempts to pattern robots after biology and to make them more human.

Here are the topics and running times of stories on this show and a brief description of related activities you'll find in this online teaching guide:

  • Roboroach (running time 7:16): Robot engineers are building robots based on nature's designs. One of the most successful -- the roach -- has a 300-million-year head start. ACTIVITIES: Build entries for a whimsical Robot Zoo.

  • Swim Like a Fish (running time 8:46): Champion swimmers like the ocean-going bluefin tuna inspire speedy, maneuverable and potentially efficient robotic designs. ACTIVITIES: Mini-research activities in anatomy, convergent evolution, vortices, Gray's paradox.

  • Body Builders (running time 11:29): The latest version of the robot Cog shows off drumming and Slinky skills. Cog's inspiration for learning is a human child. ACTIVITIES: Make a low-tech model of a human arm.

  • Robots Have Feelings, Too (running time 10:55): Will robots of the future have feelings? Robot engineers want to make robots less like machines and more like us, complete with emotions and social interaction skills. ACTIVITIES: Build a simple robotic arm.

  • Go, Team! (running time 14:20): Robots can be team players, as evidenced by the soccer-playing robots at RoboCup 99 -- the World Cup championship games for robot soccer. ACTIVITIES: Brainstorm a knowledge web; create a Robot Wall of Fame.

  • Viewer Challenge -- After you watch Natural Born Robots, test your viewing skills with ten questions about the show!


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.