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Children's Nonfiction General

Mighty Robots

Mechanical Marvels that Fascinate and Frighten

by (author) David Jones

Annick Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2005
General, Modern, Film
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2005
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2005
    List Price

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Where to buy it

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 11 to 13
  • Grade: 6 to 12


The intriguing universe of robots.

Robots have lived in the human imagination for generations. Remember Frankenstein's creature brought to life by an electric charge, the Tin Man who yearned to become human, or the robot-filled world of the popular 1960s animated television series The Jetsons?

Young readers will share this fascination as they embark on a thrilling journey from primitive robots to the revolution that is now underway. Chapters include:

  • In Our Own Image: The history of robots, from the first automaton in 1709 to the rise of computers in 20th century
  • Where are All the Robots?: Robot predictions from the past vs. modern reality
  • Robot Explorers: Searching new frontiers: underwater, outer space
  • Fighting Robots: Military assignments too dangerous for humans
  • Working Robots: From assembly line operations to intricate surgical procedures
  • Robots at Play: Robotic athletes, pets, toys and even actors grabbing the movie spotlight
  • The Future: What can we expect?

With a text that will engross readers from the outset, lively sidebars, and intriguing photography, Mighty Robots creates a captivating picture of the robotic world.


About the author

David Jones is a full-time freelance writer with a degree in zoology. He has written widely on natural history themes and has published one previous book for young readers. He lives in Vancouver, B.C.

David Jones' profile page

Excerpt: Mighty Robots: Mechanical Marvels that Fascinate and Frighten (by (author) David Jones)

Excerpted from Chapter 1

In Our Own Image

What do you see when you hear the word robot? A mechanical arm in a darkened factory, welding a car body in a veil of sparks? Or maybe you picture a tractor rolling over a sand dune on Mars, pausing to collect a scoop of rust-colored dirt. Or a tiny submarine drifting through the corridors of a sunken ship.

All of these machines are real robots. And yet it's far more likely that you envisioned something in the form of a man, perhaps clanking out of the dark with glowing eyes, reaching for you with metal claws. The robots we have seen in movies and read about in stories live in our imaginations. They are what we think of when we hear the word robot. For a century now, we've had a recurring dream of a mechanical man -- a servant to obey our every command. Such a machine would free us of all our dull labors. While it's taking out the garbage or walking the dog, we could go to the beach or see a movie.

But for every dream, there is a nightmare. Robots also frighten us. The metal bodies that make them powerful servants give them the strength to crush us. We ask, "Will a machine created in our image look favorably upon us, its creator?" Since we began imagining robots, our answer has almost always been no.

Although we may one day succeed in building a machine in our own image, we probably won't be able to predict what it will do. Like people, such a machine will act independently -- maybe even against our wishes. Perhaps that is why robots both fascinate and frighten us.

What Exactly Is a Robot?

While the idea of the robot began ax a machine in the form of a human being, few real robots look anything like us. They toil away in factories, the depths of the ocean, or outer space, far from human eyes. We send them to places where people cannot, or would rather not, go

Most robots are machines that replace human effort, built to do something that otherwise a person would have to do. Some robots are toys, but most are labor-saving devices.

A dishwasher is a labor-saving device. Does that make it a robot? No. A dishwasher is an automatic machine; it does the same thing over and over. So is a conveyor belt in an auto factory. All it does is move forward, carrying a product or a part to the next worker. But a robot welder can be reprogrammed to move to any position within its reach before welding two parts together, depending on what it is making.

There is a second kind of robot that does only what people tell it -- usually using a joystick or other form of remote control. It's called a telerobot. While a telerobot might surprise a stranger, its actions are entirely predictable to its operator. It has no capacity for independent behavior. For this reason, some people don't consider telerobots to be true robots.

And yet telerobots are the most successful robots of all. We send them into places that are too dangerous, small, or unpleasant for people. There are telerobots that put out fires, explore sunken ships, or peer across the universe and back through time. In fact, almost all the robots working outside of factories are telerobots. Because they have proven so useful, telerobots are included in this book.

True robots change their behavior by sensing the world around them, then acting on this information. They may be able to hear a human voice and move towards it, or recognize one object in a bin full of different things and pick it up. But such robots are rare. Only now are they starting to make their way into our homes.

Today almost all robots are at least partly controlled by computers. So does that make your home computer a robot? Not really. Your computer can't move. Whether a robot looks like a human being or not, or is controlled by a joystick or a software program, all or part of its body moves.

The dream of roboticists (scientists who build and study robots) has long been to make a machine capable of doing what a person can. Such a machine would have to be intelligent.

But what do we mean by "intelligent"? There are many definitions of the word. One that would be applicable to robots is "having the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one's environment." Another one is "having the ability to deal with new or trying situations"

Alan Turing is considered no be the father of the branch of study known as artificial intelligence, or AI. Turing was part of the team of scientists who built Enigma, a machine that allowed the Allies to decipher coded messages sent by the Germans during World War II. Most historians acknowledge that without Enigma. the Allies would never have won the war

Shortly after the war, Turing gave the first public lecture on artificial intelligence. "What we want," he said, "is a machine that can learn from experience." He added that such a machine would have the ability to alter ins own instructions

The History of the Robot

Many have called Mary' Shelley's novel Frankenstein the worlds first stork of science fiction. In the story, written in 1816, Victor Frankenstein sews together a manlike creature using various body parts taken from dead people. He brings his creature to life with an electric charge furnished by a bolt of lightning. Shortly after he succeeds in bringing his brainchild no life, Frankenstein gives it a series of lessons to help it function in the world.

Although he was assembling organs and limbs rather than wires and motors. Frankenstein's goal was very much the same as that stated by Alan Turing over a century' later: to create an artificial being able to learn from experience. So. had he been a real person, would Frankenstein have qualified as the worlds first roboticist?

Maybe But to trace the origins of the robot we have to go back way before the good doctor began robbing the local graveyards. People have been trying to create machines in the forms of animals and people for thousands of years


Much of the technology used in early robots was developed in toy's called automatons. These toys were often very delicate and expensive, and so they were usually owned by adults and not children. Most of them were figures in the shapes of people or animals. They could he powered by springs, weights, or hand-turned cranks.

Hero of Alexandria, a mathematician and inventor who lived around 62 CE, drew up simple plans for figures that played musical instruments, birds that chirped, or hunters who shot arrows at dragons. No one knows if he ever actually constructed any of these automatons; if he did, only the plans survived. Most of the automatons seem beyond the technology of Hero's time, but they are some of the earliest known designs to make use of hydraulics and pneumatics -- the techniques of powering machines by forcing liquids or air through pipes and hoses

Today, the movements of the animatronic figures you see in theme parks like Disneyland are still powered mainly by hydraulic or pneumatic devices. Pneumatic (air-driven) mechanisms have largely replaced hydraulic (oil- or water-driven) machines because pneumatics are much faster and lighter, if not as powerful or smooth as hydraulics. Also, if an air hose leaks a little during a show, it doesn't matter too much. If a hydraulic arm full of oil leaks the results can be quite memorable. Crowds visiting the Hall of Presidents exhibit at Disneyland will probably never forget seeing Abe Lincoln -- apparently too patriotic to excuse himself from the proceedings for even a moment -- wet his pants.

In the 1600s, the Japanese built puppets called Karakuri. The most common was a doll that served tea. When a cup was set on a tray the doll carried, the doll shuffled forward. When the cup was removed, is triggered a switch that caused the doll to turn and walk back the way it came. (Actually, the doll rolled on wheels, but a pair of wooden feet dangling beneath the hem of its dress made it appear

Editorial Reviews

Jones presents a great deal of information in a well-organized, accessible manner, enhanced by the appropriately techno look of the book's pages.


There's a lot of text here... for those truly fascinated by these amazing machines, but it's also fun to browse through this and just read the sidebars and informative captions.


Explores how robots have become ingrained on human imagination and how scientists have developed ever-more-advanced machines to perform the tasks that people are unable or unwilling to handle.

Science News

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... will be enjoyed by teens and adults alike.

CM Magazine

Librarian Reviews

Mighty Robots: Mechanical Marvels that Fascinate and Frighten

The wonderful world of robots is sure to fire up the imagination of readers young and old. Mighty Robots traces the history of robots, from the realm of the imagination to reality. We meet robots from fiction, think Frankenstein, and follow their progression to the silver screen – the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars’ C-3PO and R2-D2, and beyond. In the real world, some robots are machines, some are toys, but most are labour-saving devices. Robots can be workers, explorers, fighters, and even playmates. Remote-controlled robots, called telerobots, are often sent to places too dangerous, small or unpleasant for people. Androids resemble humans. NASA’s Robonaut is a robot with the dexterity of an astronaut. This book is chock-full of interesting facts. For example, did you know the most successful bomb disposal robot, the Vanguard MK 2, is Canadian?

The well-designed pages, with colourcoded sections, have a high-tech feel. Section headings and text boxes have been printed with an appropriate robotsilver background. Wonderful colour photos greatly enhance the book’s appeal. An excellent index makes finding information quick and easy.

Not content to document only robots of the past and present, author David Jones also examines the possible role robots will play in the future. From robots that travel under the sea or into outer space to those that will one day crawl through a human’s digestive tract, robots of all kinds have been included to “fascinate and frighten!”

Source: The Canadian Children's Bookcentre. Spring 2006. Vol.29 No. 2.

Mighty Robots: Mechanical Marvels that Fascinate and Frighten

Fighting robots, working robots, robots at play… Older sci-fi fans will enjoy this guide – filled with facts, stories, and photos of where the droids are now, and will be in the future.

Source: The Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Canadian Children’s Book News. 2006.

Other titles by David Jones