Robots are not just toys or fiction

9th July 2004 at 01:00

Callendar House, Falkirk

until September 5

tel 01324 503770

How do you say robot backwards? Answer: robot backwards. That is just one of the daft jokes served up by Pi, the talking robot, a star of the Robot exhibition that has already been attracting record attendances at Callendar House in Falkirk this summer.

The exhibition, created by Falkirk Council in partnership with Heriot-Watt University, is aimed at families and schools, particularly concentrating on the 5-14 curriculum areas of environmental studies and understanding technology.

Robot is probably the noisiest and most colourful and interactive show that has ever been staged at Callendar House. The temporary exhibition room has been filled with all manner of material used to trace the development of robots from early ideas and science fiction to current fact and future predictions.

The written material is imaginatively displayed on panels covering themes such as robots in space, robots in books and films and even robots on the farm, where they have been successfully used to milk cows for more than 10 years. However, with so much to look at and try, it is easy to be distracted. Helpfully, all the information on the panels is in an attractive booklet that costs pound;1.

Display cases hold a stunning selection of robot toys and gadgets dating from 1937, including Robby, the robot steamroller and a novelty robot telephone.

Visitors can watch a robotic vacuum cleaner, shaped like a curling stone, at work or the amazing Rag and Bone Man automaton in action or web-cam images of an underwater remotely operated vehicle. Other attractions include a corner where battery-operated robotic bees can be set against each other and you can discover how difficult it is to copy a human skill by putting plastic tubes on your fingers and trying to carry out a simple task.

The Callendar House activities room has been decorated with framed posters of robots in films and visitors can try out dozens of different robotic toys, make a robot mask and try on a robot head.

An excellent teacher's pack complements the show. It comprises activities and worksheets (plus relevant website addresses) that can be used before, during and after a class visit. One pre-visit activity is described as:

"Clear a space in the classroom. Place two buckets at either end of the space, one full of bean bags. Divide the class into teams, each team must nominate one of their group to be the robot. The 'robot' is blindfolded; the rest of the team must give directions or 'programme' the robot to move a bag from one bucket to the other in a given length of time. The team who move the most bean bags are the winners."

Children have described the exhibition as "cool", "brilliant" and "the best". One child who signed the visitors' book commented: "I came here with my class and I came back again." A primary school teacher wrote: "The class really enjoyed the hands-on experience."

Postcards and book marks of robots are available but people who are particularly inspired by the show can pick up a leaflet about the degree course in robotics and cybertronics at Heriot-Watt University.

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