In the grip of a robotic craze

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 June, 2007, 12:00am

A secondary student from Hong Kong was catapulted to instant stardom in 2004 when an asteroid was named after him. He received the honour after his ingenious robotic invention won him a top award at an international science competition.

Ever since the youngster's achievement, the city has been caught up in a robotic frenzy. Eager to follow in the footsteps of the teen inventor, scores of local students are using circuit boards and other engineering tools to create their own robots.

Robots are one of the most creative technological inventions of the past century. They have revolutionised our way of life.

Equipped with dexterous limbs and hi-tech sensory systems, androids are playing an increasingly important role in our day-to-day activities.

Robots carry out dangerous tasks like defusing explosives and collecting geographical data inside simmering volcanoes.

Manufacturing plants also use robotic arms, sparing workers the drudgery of repetitive tasks and possible industrial accidents.

Robotic precision leaves no room for human error, thus enhancing the efficiency and productivity of the manufacturing sector.

Robots are also a boon to housewives. Chores like mowing the lawn and vacuum cleaning are completed without any complaints by their robotic helpers.

Robots are involved in non-invasive surgery, too. Using endoscopes and scalpels, robots carry out complex operations on patients.

Mimicking the hand movements of surgeons, the mechanical arms make incisions with much greater dexterity and accuracy. This can reduce human error and medical accidents.

On the military front, robotic soldiers are dispatched to battlefields to carry out reconnaissance work.

Unlike human soldiers, robots can go without sleep or food and guard a rugged terrain or combat zone round the clock.

With soaring casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States is expanding its fleet of robotic soldiers to counter sectarian violence in war-torn regions.

While only 150 robots were sent to war zones in the Middle East in 2004, today there are more than 5,000.

Equipped with revolving cameras and hi-tech weapons, they can easily navigate booby-trapped fields.

Humans are so attracted to their robotic friends that a brand-new science has been spawned. It is aimed at injecting the machines with our feelings and intelligence.

Artificial Intelligence - the ability of machines to carry out tasks which humans perform using their intelligence - has gained momentum over the past decade.

Equipped with a complex network of sensory systems, robots can now read the facial expressions of their masters and analyse the tone of their speech to give a matching reply.

With an array of human emotions embedded in their brains, robots can be useful companions to their masters.

Robotic companions have become increasingly popular in countries like South Korea and Japan, where the population is ageing fast.

More and more elderly people in South Korea have developed a bond with their household robots.

With the country being in the vanguard of the technological revolution, it is estimated that every Korean household will have at least one robot by 2020.

For all the convenience and excitement they bring, robots are not without their critics. An excessive reliance on machines has long been blamed for an increasingly lazy population.

With their robotic helpers at hand, owners can laze on the sofa and get the androids to do their work. From answering the door and picking up the morning paper to pouring a cup of coffee, everything can be done with a few commands or the press of a button. With the simplest menial tasks being taken up by robots, the number of ailments resulting from inactivity is certain to increase.

The frightening scenario of robots overpowering their creators has been immortalised in science-fiction movies, such as I, Robot and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

While humans can unplug the wayward robots today, we cannot rule out the possibility of them developing such advanced intelligence that they may turn the tables on us in future.

Think about

1. Do you want a robot? What would you want it to do for you?

2. Is robotics taught at your school? Share what you have learned about robots with your classmates.

3. Can robotic cats and dogs replace real pets?

4. Do you think robots might one day control humans?

Word Power

1. ingenious

2. drudgery

3. dexterity

4. rugged

5. spawned

6. menial

a. unskilled; tedious

b. boring, monotonous work

c. clever; imaginative

d. uneven; rocky

e. produced

f. skilful in using one's hands

Fill in the blanks with the words you have learned.

1. ________ workers like cleaners and plumbers are poorly paid.

2. Juggling several balls with one hand, the clown showed great _________.

3. The four-wheel vehicle can easily navigate ________ slopes in the wild.

4. The excessive wealth of the 21st century has ________ a materialistic generation.

5. His ____________ idea helped solve our problems.

6. I hate the endless ________ of homework. If only I had a robot which would help me complete all my exercises.

Language Focus

The use of 'hence'

'Hence' is an adverb which is used to state the result of a certain action.

Here is an example from the passage.

Robotic precision leaves no room for human error, hence enhancing the efficiency and productivity of the manufacturing sector.

Rewrite the following sentences as shown in the example.

Example: I rammed into a wall and broke my ankle.

Answers: I rammed into a wall, hence breaking my ankle.

1. I have found a part-time job which would reduce the financial burden on my family.


2. Power plants burn coal to generate electricity and add to the problem of global warming.


3. There are many new application forms. The procedure for applying for a licence has been complicated.



Word Power: 1. c, 2. b, 3. f, 4. d, 5. e, 6. a; Fill in the blanks: 1. Menial, 2. dexterity, 3. rugged, 4. spawned, 5. ingenious, 6. drudgery; Language Focus: 1. I have found a part-time job, hence reducing the financial burden on my family. 2. Power plants burn coal to generate electricity, hence adding to the problem of global warming. 3. There are many new application forms, hence complicating the procedure for applying for a licence.