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Robots in Perspective

If you think robots belong to space movies, think again. Right now, all over the world, robots are on the move. Putting chocolates into boxes, walking into live volcanoes, driving trains and defusing bombs are their common tasks. Today's robots are doing more and more things humans can't do or don't want to do.

The idea of creating an intelligent machine is very old. Homer described gold girls, mechanical helpers built by Hephaestus, the Greek god of smiths. In 1495, Leonardo da Vinci designed a mechanical man. But only the invention of transistors and integrated circuits in the 1950s and 1960s made real robots possible. Compact, reliable electronics and computers added brains to already existing machines. In 1959, researchers demonstrated the possibility of robotic manufacturing ashtrays.

The Czech word 'robota', meaning hard work, was first used by the writer Karel Čapek in the story where robots are invented to help people by performing simple tasks, but being used to fight wars, they turn on their human masters and take over the world.

There's no precise definition of a robot. It is normally defined as a programmable machine imitating an intelligent creature. Getting information from its surroundings and doing something physical (moving or manipulating objects) qualify a machine as a robot.

Name a boring or dangerous job. Somewhere, a robot is probably doing it. Robots are ideal for doing jobs that require repetitive, precise and fast movements. Robots are good at doing the same thing without asking for a safe working environment, salary, breaks, food and sleep, without getting bored or tired, without making mistakes. Factories are so highly automated that most human workers carry out only supervising and maintaining the robots.

People keep finding new uses for robots – making and packing drugs and foods, soldering tiny wires to semiconductor chips, inserting integrated circuits onto printed circuit boards used in electronics, working in radioactive ‘hot zones’, exploring space.

All work and no play make anyone dull – even a robot. Soccer-playing robots gather each year at RoboCup, an international event collecting over 100 teams from 35 countries. Robotic players use radio signals to coordinate their actions with their teammates. Teams are placed in divisions based on size, ranging from the size of a pizza box. By 2050, the organizers of RoboCup count on developing a team of fully autonomous humanoid robots that can beat the human world champion team in soccer.


1. The first real robots

a) were built by Hephaestus in ancient Greece.

b) were designed by Leonardo da Vinci in 1495.

c) were invented by the Czech writer Karel Čapek to help him by performing simple tasks.

d) were made possible after the invention of transistors and integrated circuits in the 1950s and 1960s.

2. A machine may be called a robot if it

a) can imitate intelligent creatures.

b) can get information from its surroundings and manipulate objects.

c) is built with compact, reliable electronics.

d) is capable of repetitive, precise and fast movements.

3. Robots make and pack drugs and foods, insert integrated circuits onto printed circuit boards used in electronics, walk in live volcanoes, defuse bombs, explore space because

a) they are on the move.

b) they took over the world.

c) they can do dangerous or monotonous things.

d) they are intelligent.

4. Most human workers in the modern highly automated factories

a) are good at doing the same thing.

b) ask for safer working environment.

c) get bored and tired very quickly.

d) only maintain and supervise the robots.

5. The divisions in RoboCup are based on

a) their size.

b) the way their actions are coordinated.

c) the countries where they were made.

d) whether they can beat humans.


8.5 Find in the text phrasal verbs that mean the following:

1. to be developing or progressing quickly

2. to suddenly attack someone, using physical violence or unpleasant words

3. to take control of sth

4. to be able to do sth well

5. to do a particular piece of work, research etc

6. to plan or expect that sth will happen


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