________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 7 . . . .November 25, 2005


Mighty Robots: Mechanical Marvels that Fascinate and Frighten.

David Jones.
Toronto, ON: Annick, 2005.
126 pp., pbk. & cl., $16.95 (pbk.), $24.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55037-928-3 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55037-929-1 (cl.).

Subject Headings:
Robots-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5 and up / Ages 11 and up.

Review by Lori Walker.

**** /4



Are there days when the only parts of your body to get any exercise are the thumb and forefinger you use to grasp a joystick? Are your parents constantly nagging you to get more fresh air and spend less time playing video games? Now you can tell them that you are training for a fulfilling career as an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicles) driver.

You would think that the term ROV would apply to any telerobotic vehicle, but for some reason the name is usually given to robotic submarines and underwater tractors. Today, well over 3,000 of these telerobots are working in the world’s oceans, and all of them require human operators. The pilots sit aboard surface ships, watching monitors supplied with pictures from cameras on the ROVs. Computers convert the motion of joysticks, levers, and other controls into electronic signals that guide maneuvering fans and mechanical hands.


With the bulk of our attention to new technologies being paid to computers, it is easy to assume that robotics technology is limited to entertainment or slightly kitschy futuristic musings. David Jones will bring readers up to date on the world of robotics with this comprehensive book. Mighty Robots: Mechanical Marvels that Fascinate and Frighten not only covers robot history and achievements (both practical and fantastic), but it weaves in the philosophical issues that give these near humans the power to fascinate and frighten.

      Jones begins by discussing our idea of the robot as a machine in the form of a human being and the role it was hoped to take on in relieving us of mundane and dangerous tasks. This dream is not new. The first robot, built by Jacques de Vaucanson in France, predates Mary Shelley’s 1816 publication of Frankenstein by a little less than one hundred years. Yet, despite their long history, it is clear that our aspirations for robots will not be easily fulfilled. There are many challenges to address in constructing machines that both move independently and change their behaviour by sensing the world around them, not the least of which is keeping them from falling over.

      Despite this, Jones provides examples of robotic inventions that explore volcanoes, ocean floors and space, both detonate and deliver bombs, perform gall bladders surgery from afar, care for the elderly and vacuum the carpet. How the designers of these machines worked to overcome the many glitches they encountered along the way provides wonderful insight into the scientific process. Chapters are well organized, and smaller topic sections cover the specific examples and suggest relevant movies which offer readers great cross-media opportunities to explore further the themes and issues that arise. What happens when Isaac Asimov’s Laws of Robotics (not to injure humans, to obey orders, and to protect itself without harming or disobeying) are broken, as they are in 2001: A Space Odyssey, or I Robot? When machines do all our fighting, Jones asks, what will prevent us from resorting to war? And if we someday create machines with self awareness, how will we treat robots? How will they treat us?

      Mighty Robots will be enjoyed by young teens and adults alike. Despite the high tech nature of the topic, Jones’ writing style is clear and conversational. The design of the book is sleek and futuristic, and it is brimming with cool information. The author’s references to film take full advantage of the reality that books do not hold a complete monopoly on advancing thought and add great value to this book. If there is a technology buff on your gift list this season, this book will be a hit. Even better, pair it up with a robotic toy!

Highly Recommended.

Lori Walker is completing a Masters in Children’s Literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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