Friday, 8 January 2016

How Did Robots Get Their Name?

Kids robots are everywhere at the moment. We regularly feature new kids robots in our crowdfunding roundups and there are plenty of programmable kids robots and kits to choose from.

So why does everyone know what we mean when we use the word robot? Where did it come from? Well, January 9th in the anniversary of Karel Čapek's birthday so it's a good time to take a look at that question.

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Karel Čapek was a Czech playright who was born in 1890. He needed a word for the artificial humanoid characters in a play he was writing.

He asked his brother for advice and he came up with 'roboti' which became 'robots' in English (siblings can be useful!) The play was called Rossum's Universal Robots and it deals with some very modern themes.

You can buy a book of the playscript. It's very dark and definitely not for kids but would make interesting discussion material with older teens.

Robota means hard work in Czech and there are similar words in many related languages. So robots have been workers from the start.

Čapek's robots were made from biological material. Afterwards the word was applied to the mechanical and electronic robots that came along. Now we think of robots as electro-mechanical machines that can be programmed to respond to commands or act autonomously.

If you want to learn more about how science fiction robots including Čapek's have influenced modern robotics then this excellent talk by robotics expert Professor Mary-Anne Williams is worth listening to. It's aimed at adults but very accessible. A good introduction for teens interested in robotics.

If you're inspired to try out robotics with your family then why not take a look at our kids robot buying guide which takes you through many of the options that are currently available.

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