Robot revolution begins

The word “robot” was first used in 1921 in a stage play, but the first really useful robot wasn’t invented until 1927. Televox, built by American engineer Roy Wensley, had a cardboard body and head.

It could turn lights on and off, open windows, close doors on command and much more. But Televox was very primitive compared to today’s robots. It couldn’t roll around — it could only move its arms a little.

A robot is an intelligent machine that can perform jobs on its own or with guidance. It’s usually guided by computer and electronic programming. Greek and Chinese engineers began trying to build robots more than 2200 years ago. They constructed mechanical birds and figures powered by steam or air pressure.

Around 1820, Japanese inventor Tanaka Hisashige built incredibly complex mechanical toys that could do tasks, such as serving tea. But Televox could do much more than any of these machines.

RIPPLES Since Televox, robots have relieved people of many repetitive, dangerous tasks, such as assembly-line work, sorting and heavy lifting. As well, robots can go places humans can’t — to Mars, into a volcano or deep down in the ocean. Bomb disposal squads use robots instead of endangering human beings. Robots can also help people with physical disabilities. As the world’s population gets older, there will be more and more uses for robots.

Science fiction stories sometimes tell of robots running amok, destroying everyone and everything in their paths. That led science fiction writer Isaac Asimov to come up with his three laws for robots:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

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