Book review: Robots

0robotiy.jpgRobots by Daniel Ichbiah (UK).

Promo blurb: This book seeks to be the first “written and photo reportage” on a development that affects every branch of society. Each chapter depicts robots in a given environment and adumbrates the underlying message. Features of the book include an anthology of films featuring robots, from Metropolis to I Robot; a survey of robots in space, including Mars rovers; robotic household appliances; robotic toys, including Aibo and Poochie and Lego Mindstorm; and robots in contemporary art.

Robots is extremely well researched and the information is very accessible, a kind of encyclopedia for the whole family. Tons of pictures (1,500 illustrations in full color says the back cover) and many interviews (most of them with French or Swiss researchers.)

As often, it’s the historical part that got me really hooked. The author traced the history of robots back to ancient Egypt with temple doors that open as people approach and statues of the god Amon lifting its hand thanks to a mechanism of compressed water, ropes and pulleys (engineered by priests to wow the crowd). Then comes the usual and very entertaining chapters on automata. However, i feel like the author could have added something about the Karakuri Ningyo craft which is certainly no less fascinating than Jacques Vaucanson’s Duck.

The “Robots in Fiction” section was good fun as well. Ichbiah made my day again (i used to be a teacher of Latin and Ancient Greek) by starting the history of fictional robots Hephaestus‘s three-legged tables on wheels that ferried by themselves the wares that Hephaestus made from his smithy up to Mount Olympus. The author then mentioned classic movies such as the Golem and Frankenstein. Which made me want to see the movies again. The section ends with stuff you know much better than me: animatronics, mechas, “I, Robot”, Astro Boy, etc. but there’s also a few words about a short movie project that looks lovely: Underground Robot.

0gololm.jpg The rest of the book presents Androids, domestic robots, robots in industry, robots as explorers, security robots, robots and medecine, playful robots, robots and the arts, robots in the future and it ends with a very useful “Brief Guide for the Robotic Enthusiast” packed with addresses of museums (very Europe-centered though), exhibitions, websites, DVDs of scifi movies or documentaries starring bots, books, etc.

I’ll never find the courage to read Robots from page 1 to page 539 but it’s a reliable companion worth checking next time i’ll write a post about say, the latest advance in robot for hospital as the book provides valuable, clear and generously illustrated background information for any field related to robotics.

The project from the book i’d like to highlight is not really a project as the few examples of the “Robots in Art” section i had never heard about are not traceable online. Btw, if anyone has some images of the wonderful work of Jeremy Heringuez, i’d be delighted to write something about it. However, as i said above, the Robots in Fiction made me want to see some old scifi so i’ll end the post with a good news (for me at least): Der Golem, the 1920 movie by Paul Wegener, can be downloaded for free on Internet archive.

The silent horror film is set in the 16th century Prague. Rabbi Loew ben Bezalel creates a giant golem out of clay, to protect the Jews from persecution. Unfortunately, his assistant Famulus takes control of the golem and orders it to perform criminal acts.

Robots for fun and research.