Night of the Robots: Computer Museum, Culture Night Galway


As part of national Culture Night on September 19th, a selection of vintage and modern robots will be on show from 7pm-8.30pm at the Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland  located in the Insight Centre for Data Analytics at NUI Galway.
According to Brendan Smith, curator of the museum, “Robots, which can be defined as programmable electro-mechanical machines capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically and oftentimes autonomously, have been part of popular science fiction since the early 1920s when the term ‘Robots’ was first coined by writer Karel Čapek  from the Czech word for ‘serf’. 
 These devices have been used since the 1970s to perform repetitive and heavy duty tasks in manufacturing industry particularly in vehicle assembly. We will have on display a large robotic arm controlled by a Galway-made DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) computer that was used in the British aeronautics industry during this period. 


Volunteers such as Alanna Kelly, John Lonican and Darren Tighe will also demonstrate at the museum the workings of low-cost easily assembled robots that can be programmed and operated by children from small computers.  We are honoured to have present Diarmuid Keaney who as a young boy in 1985 made his own and probably Galway’s first computer controlled robot. He will show us the original Commodore Vic 20 home computer and BASIC language programme that he used to operate the device.
There will also be an exhibition of rare science fiction comics and literature on the themes of robots dating from the 1920s onwards.  
 
But pride of place will go to a delightful machine called HERO 1, a R2-D2 lookalike from Star Wars, which took part in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade of Galway city in 1984! Manufactured by the American Heathkit company, it was the world’s first mass-produced affordable robot capable of interacting with the environment.  Its built-in programmable sensors allowed it to detect light, sound, motion, and obstructions. It had a computerized voice, could sing, could move and pick up objects. Frank McCurry and Tom Frawley then staff members of the local Regional Technical College (RTC) now known as GMIT, entered HERO into the March 17th parade. It had been used in the Galway college as a device to teach students about robotics and represented what many thought at the time would be the dawn of the new Age of the Robot.”

Thanks to current advances in sensor technologies, a new generation of robots could physically look like humans, display intelligence in their responses and gestures to their surrounding environment and take on the role of companions to people.  This is already happening. ASIMO from the Japanese corporation Honda is able to recognise and respond to individual sounds, faces and moving objects; to interact with people and to give a handshake or courtesy to a person that he is facing towards.

Killer Robots

However there are genuine concerns over the technology of automation that allows an electronic device to work by itself with little or no direct human control particularly in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems known as killer robots. Though not yet in existence fears expressed by many at such possibilities has led to the United Nations recently discussing the issue of banning outright research into such weaponry.
I for one am in favour of a complete ban of development of such weaponry.

1 comment:

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