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Robotics: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) Paperback – 27 Sep 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (27 Sep 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199695989
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199695980
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 1.3 x 11.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 200,655 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

About the Author

Alan Winfield is Professor of Electronic Engineering and Director of the Science Communication Unit at the University of the West of England, Bristol. He conducts research in swarm robotics in the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and is especially interested in robots as working models of life, evolution, intelligence, and culture. Alan is passionate about communicating science and technology. He holds an EPSRC Senior Media Fellowship with the theme Intelligent Robots in Science and Society, and blogs about robots, open science and related topics at

Customer Reviews

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Preacherdoc on 16 Nov 2012
Format: Paperback
I became hooked on the Very Short Introductions series from the very first one I read ("Consciousness" by Susan Blackmore). These short, lively, engaging books provide an excellent overview of their subject matter for the interested non-specialist. Like the very best in the series, "Robotics" succeeds on many levels. First, Alan Winfield introduces a very technical subject in plain readable English, without overuse of technical jargon. Secondly, he neatly summarises the state of the art of robotics as we see it today. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, he took me down fascinating avenues I had not previously considered. For example, if we give robots a degree of autonomy in their actions, we cannot therefore be certain of their behaviour in every situation, which means we can't be absolutely sure they will be safe. As another example, robots are being developed which use biological processes such as microbial "digestion" to provide power. As a third example, the ethics of robots are considered: what happens if we design an artificial robotic companion? It would never get angry or frustrated with (say) a demented adult, but a naive person such as a child might not be able to conceptualise the robot's apparent emotions as an artificial facsimile.
As someone whose knowledge of robotics was limited to endless hours of sci-fi TV, it was fascinating to see the book delineate the gap between reality and science-fiction. The mechanical and engineering problems (robots which can walk on two legs, or cluster robots which can unite to form a larger unit) are much closer to robust solution than the cognitive problems of robot "intelligence" and "emotion".
Informative and thought-provoking by turns, this book is a worthy addition to this series.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Bojan Tunguz TOP 500 REVIEWER on 2 Jan 2013
Format: Paperback
Robots are very fascinating entities, and they have always been one of the foremost subjects of science fiction. The very name robot originated in science fiction writing, although one could argue that the notion of autonomous mechanical artifacts has a very long tradition that predates science fiction. The golden age of robots in science fiction was probably a few decades ago. Unfortunately as the developments in robotics have lagged well behind of what the sci-fi writers had made us to expect, the interest in robots has somewhat cooled off. However, the first low-scale commercial robots are finally making their mark, and the robotic parts are well within the reach of most casual hobbyists and enthusiasts. Furthermore, as first fully autonomous cars are starting to roll on the highways, it is quite possible that the age of widespread everyday use of robots is finally upon us.

"Robotics: A Very Short Introduction" is a great little book about robots and robotics. The author is a bona fide authority in the field, and his enthusiasm for robotics clearly shows. Unlike some other similar books, this one really does go into the nitty-gritty aspects of robots - what are robots, how can they be classified, how are they designed and built, what is the state of art of robots right now, and what can we reasonably expect to see in the upcoming years and decades. This, however, is not a how-to book on robots, and if you are looking to actually build your own first robot you may want to look elsewhere.

There are a couple of issues that I wish were covered in more detail: the ethics of robots, and the legal aspect of having robots in our society.
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Format: Paperback
I must confess, I’m rather fond of the Very Short Introduction (VSI) series that Oxford University Press publish. This was one of the more recent editions that I just happened to pick up when I was browsing a few months ago.

Another confession: I had very little prior knowledge of robotics. It’s always seemed to me a more ‘hands-on’ science where I’m much more at home with theory. The book, though, doesn’t require you to build your own robot. For that, I was quite grateful.

Instead, Winfield starts us off as simply as he can, by defining what a robot is. He gives a few different definitions, as one simply will not suffice, and then expands a little on these. From here, he goes on to show the reader some different examples of robots in use now, highlighting the differences between them. For example, car production line machines, cow milking machines, hospital dispensing robots, drone aircraft and the Mars rover.

A table of classification is then built up, so that we can better understand each different type of robot. They are classed according to their mobility, their means of control, their shape/morphology, their interactivity with humans, their ability to learn and their ultimate purpose. All this takes up the first two chapters of the book and are very easy to follow. Winfield doesn’t assume very much of his readers, for which I, as a total novice to the field, am very grateful.

From here, he goes on to look at what he dubs ‘biological robotics’ where robots are designed to mimic either human or animal behaviour or functions to greater levels of mimicry, including a fascinating example of a robot that has something resembling a digestive system – something I had never come across before.
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