Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
SAF Archives  search ask the scientists in the classroom cool science
past teaching guides
interactive activities
cool careers in science
in the classroom

"Robots Alive!" Guide & Resources

Robots that walk, talk and think for themselves are the featured subject in the season finale of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS.

This episode also includes a test ride in a van that drives itself and competitions with very intelligent robot contestants. Host Alan Alda meets with inventors of these autonomous robots to find out more about their works in progress and what we might expect to see in the near future.

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:

  • Big Picture -- The evolution of thinking machines in a PDF format.

  • Mazes and Squiggles (running time: 14:41) -- Autonomous robots compete to see which ones can navigate a maze and clean up a tennis court. Activities: Define and write an algorithm; Take the robot challenge.

  • Look, No Hands! (running time: 8:52) -- A van that drives itself is taking shape at Carnegie Mellon University. Activity: Build a pizza-cutting robot.

  • Toddler's First Steps (running time: 6:23) -- Teaching a robot to walk on two legs is not as easy as it sounds, but a project at the University of New Hampshire is doing just that. Activity: Find the center of gravity.

  • Almost Human (running time: 11:12) -- Building a robot that will match humans is the dream of robotics guru Rodney Brooks. Activity: Design a robot.

  • RoboFlyers (running time: 11:44) -- College students build and race flying robots at the Aerial Robotics Competition. Activities: What goes up must come down. Helicopter aviation.

  • Viewer Challenge -- After you watch "Robots Alive!," 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.