News Detective: Dancing with Robots

Sarah checks out a robot competition.
I think I was 10 when I built my first and only robot. His name was Tinker, and he was made entirely of Tinkertoy parts. My dad had helped me rig up a motor and a rubber band that allowed him to roll around on hard floors.
Tinker wasn’t actually a robot. Although he could move, he had no real intelligence. He didn’t have a computer, and I couldn’t program him to move forward, turn, or stop. He simply rolled every time I plugged in the 9-volt battery.
But I’ve always been fascinated by people who can program robots. Today, you can even buy a robot that cleans floors. Scientists and engineers have figured out how to program robot cars to travel across hundreds of miles of desert with no drivers and no remote controls.
Some scientists are designing robots that are so small that they can be seen only under magnification. And robots such as the rovers Spirit and Opportunity are doing research on Mars, where no human has ever been.
As I watched the students competing in RoboCup Junior, I was impressed by their hard work. Whenever a robot didn’t do exactly what was planned, I realized how difficult it is to build and program a robot.
Although the students at RoboCup didn’t always know exactly how to solve their robot problems, they continued to tinker with their robots and their programs. Watching them, I know the sort of persistence and hard work that will spawn the next generation of robot explorers.—Sarah Webb

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