BACKGROUND: Trinity College hosted the 13th annual Fire-Fighting Home Robot Contest in April in Hartford, Conn. The goal of the contest is to encourage inventors of all ages and skill levels to develop computer controlled fire-fighting robots that can find and extinguish a candle in a model house, in the most efficient and reliable way. Ultimately, such competitions may help further advance robotics technology.
HOW ROBOTS WORK: Robots are made of roughly the same components as human beings: a body structure with moveable joints; a muscle system outfitted with motors and actuators to move that body structure; a sensory system to collect information from the surrounding environment; a power source to activate the body; and a computer "brain" system to process sensory information and tell the muscles what to do. Robots are manmade machines intended to replicate human and animal behavior. Roboticists can combine these basic elements with other technological innovations to create some very complex robotic systems.
ABOUT A.I.: Robots and computer networks are always evolving intelligent consciousness in popular science fiction. But while modern scientists have made great strides in building computers that can mimic logical thought, they still haven't cracked the code of human emotion and consciousness. There are two prevailing schools of thought on artificial intelligence. Proponents of "strong AI" consider that all human thought can be broken down into a set of mathematical operations. They expect that they will one day be able to replicate the human mind and create a robot capable of both thinking and feeling, with a sense of self -- the stuff of classic science fiction. Think of the robot Number Five from the 80s movie Short Circuit, who suddenly realized, frightened, that he could be "disassembled" by the scientists who made him. "Weak AI" proponents expect that human thought and emotion can only be simulated by computers. A computer might seem intelligent, but it is not aware of what it is doing, with no sense of self or consciousness.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.