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Swim Like a Fish

Body Builders

Robots Have Feelings, Too

Go, Team!

Viewer Challenge
in the classroom

Natural Born Robots:
"Go, Team!"

Soccer, the world's most popular sport, is now being played by robots, even robotic dogs! If making an individual walking, talking and thinking robot is complicated, imagine the factors involved in building a team of robotic soccer players. But that's just what engineers from around the world are doing. Tune in for the highlights from this year's championship games.

Curriculum Links
National Science Education Standards
Activity 1: Robot Knowledge Web
Activity 2: Robot Wall of Fame
Think About It!





AI, programming


simple machines


group interactions



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


5-8: Regulation and Behavior; Diversity and Adaptations of Organisms
9-12: Interdependence of Organisms; Behavior of Organisms
5-8: Structure and Function in Living Systems; Regulation and Behavior; Diversity and Adaptations of Organisms
9-12: Molecular Basis of Heredity; Biological Evolution; Behavior of Organisms
5-8, 9-12: Abilities of Technological Design; Understandings About Science and Technology
5-8: Personal Health; Science and Technology in Society
9-12: Personal and Community Health; Science and Technology in Local, National and Global Challenges
5-8: Science as a Human Endeavor; Nature of Science; History of Science
9-12: Science as a Human Endeavor; Nature of Scientific Knowledge; Historical Perspectives


Imagine you have a job at a science museum. Your assignment: put together a new exhibit, a timeline covering the history of robots and robotics. The exhibit will be called the "Robot Wall of Fame." As preparation for creating your exhibit, start by making a knowledge web of what you know about robots past and present.

Meet with other students to brainstorm and share what you know through a knowledge web. Begin by writing the word "robots" in the middle of a chalkboard or large piece of paper. As you discuss what you know about robots, add those items and connect them to the word "robots" or to the subordinate concepts. Keep building your web throughout your discussion. Feel free to take it in many different directions.

As part of the knowledge web, link robots you know about with descriptions of their significance. For example, you might include Robby the Robot from the movie Forbidden Planet, the robot that helped Will Robinson in the movie and classic TV show Lost in Space, and C-3PO, who helped Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. Include robots used in manufacturing, and commercial entertainment robots. Include any robot, real or fictional, in your knowledge web.

Watch Natural Born Robots to find out about other robots, from those modeled on insects to those that walk, talk and think like people. Don't forget the soccer-playing robots -- seen in highlights from the RoboCup 99 soccer tournament in this episode of Frontiers. Add robots and related technological developments from this episode of Frontiers to your knowledge web, then use it as the basis for your Robot Wall of Fame exhibit.


Now it's time to create your Robot Wall of Fame -- an exhibit that illustrates the history of robots and robotic technology. You can work as a class, dividing the project as appropriate. Each team or group of students could work on one section of the exhibit, for example. Set aside a hallway or wall of your classroom as the space for setting up the exhibit. (If you cannot utilize an entire wall, obtain several meters of blank newsprint and draw your robot timeline on it. This timeline could become a mural or temporary display in your classroom or a main hallway of your school.)

  • Before you start on the actual exhibit, draw a blueprint on paper. Start the walk at 1920, the year the word robot first appeared, and divide the remainder of the walk into 10-year increments up to the present or beyond, as you wish.

  • Compile information from your knowledge web as a starting point. Organize the items chronologically. Once you see how much information you have, then you will know what additional research you'll need to fill in the gaps not covered on your timeline. Use the Internet and other resources to research potential entries for the exhibit.

  • Select representative robots and advancements in robotics to be featured at designated points along the wall. The size and nature of the exhibit will depend on space and creativity. Exhibits may be simple, two-dimensional photos or drawings, or more elaborate models like the Mars Sojourner or models of the robots seen on this episode. Include data about each entry -- the date of the robot or technology, inventor (if known), its significance.

  • Here are some suggestions of topics to research as part of the exhibit:

Include advances in various robotic technologies -- medicine, search and rescue, bomb or land mine detonation and interplanetary exploration, among others. Some robots are life-size or giant (macro) machines, while others employ nano- and micro-technology.

Include references to different robots at work, from the factory floor to the depths of the ocean to the surface of Mars to the operating room.

Include the work of cyber-engineers like Rodney Brooks, seen in this episode, and others working in AI. Inventor Ray Kurzweil predicts that around 2020, the human brain will be replicated and scanned into another entity. Neural implants in use today may be a forecast of the future.

Once the Robot Wall of Fame is complete, open it to tours by other students in your school. Bring in models of robots or robotic creations made at home, as part of the exhibit. Alternatively, create a virtual exhibit on your school's website.


  • Extend the Robot Wall of Fame beyond the present by predicting advances in robot technology. Some issues to consider: Will robots become more autonomous, able to think for themselves, as many predict? Some scientists theorize that the next century will see an evolution of silicon-based machines, when robots surpass humans in terms of intelligence. A Japanese engineer is building a "robokitty" that will be able to think for itself. AI experts are developing a computer technology that will read lips. If successful, the system will finally catch up with HAL of the movie 2001.

  • In what ways might robots in the future be superior or inferior to humans or other animals? AI experts argue that robots built of neural networks that evolve on their own will become more "human" and surpass people in terms of thinking speed and memory. Think of IBM's Deep Blue, the computer that defeated chess champion Garry Kasparov, who said he sensed an "alien intelligence."

  • Write a science fiction story about robots set in a world 100 or 1,000 years in the future.

  • Investigate some of the many systems engineers must put together to create an autonomous robot, including vision, cognitive skills, walking, grasping, learning, neural networks and, for groups, knowledge-based collaboration webs.

  • What other kinds of group efforts are being made in robotics? For example, Ullanta is a theatre troupe in which all the actors are autonomous robots. Ullanta robots also play soccer at RoboCup.

  • After watching this episode, brainstorm the kinds of robots you would like to see invented. How about a robot that acts as a baseball umpire? Or one that cleans your room? Or applies to college or subs for you in sports?


Here are some ideas and questions to consider as you create your robot exhibit:

  • In 1920, writer Karel Capek first coined the word "robot" in the play R.U.R (Rossum's Universal Robots). Capek's robots were automated machines that eventually took over and defeated their human creators. How does this early definition of "robot" compare with ideas people have about robots today?

  • How have robots in fiction changed over time? Find examples in science fiction by Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. LeGuin, Mary Doria Russell, William Gibson, Douglas Adams and others.

  • Are robots in fiction and movies always portrayed as being helpful to humankind?

  • Are events or trends in society reflected in the design of robots (fictional or real)?

  • How are robots portrayed in movies today? How do concepts of robots in classic movies of the 1940s and '50s (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, Lost in Space) compare with robots featured in recent movies?


California middle school student Adam Currie won his state's History Day competition with his website on the history of robotics, which features great graphics and information about robot history.

NASA's Cool Robot of the Week:

Books: The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence by Ray Kurzweil; Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind by Hans Moravec; The Turing Option by Harry Harrison and Marvin Minsky.


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
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