Bristol teens explore future impact of robots

Issue date: 02 July 2009

Walking with Robots Robotic Visions
Wednesday 8 July 2009
Explore-At-Bristol, Harbourside, Bristol

Young people and teenagers from Bristol and the surrounding area are being offered an exciting opportunity to explore their visions of the future, particularly in relation to the roles that robots will play. Working with robotics experts and science communicators from Explore-At-Bristol, the project aims to provide a unique platform for a two-way discussion and debate between young people and robotics researchers.

Award winning Science Communicator, Dr Karen Bultitude, and Dr Claire Rocks from Walking with Robots, are teaming up with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory at the University of the West of England and the Learning Team at Explore-At-Bristol for the first in a series of five Robotic Visions conferences that will be held all around the UK throughout the summer and autumn.

The Bristol conference is taking place on 8 July 2009 at Explore and this will be followed by similar events in Newcastle, Aberystwyth, Glasgow and Oxford. In each case the researchers will be working with local schools, experienced science communicators and key robotics research labs.

Project co-ordinator Dr Claire Rocks explains, “Each Robotic Visions conference builds on work started last year when we investigated the ethics of robotics with a small group of students in London at the Royal Academy of Engineering. Very interesting responses arose from this and it was immediately apparent that the outcomes demanded a wider participation with more young people being given the opportunity to contribute to the debate.”

Responses from young people at the London event included:

“We don't need a robot in every part of our lives, don't rely on robots or let them take over. Don't miss out on the value of hard work and real experiences”

“Robots are a good idea - they make for a better/easier future but they are not an easy answer to society's problems. There needs to be a focus on what is needed, what will contribute to society and what is just not wanted.”

Rebeca Medrano Arnaez, Formal Learning Manager at Explore, adds: “We are keen to engage young people of all abilities and source opinions in discussion about developments in robotics as part of this project. Bridging the divide between scientists and the public is one of Explore-At-Bristol's key aims and this conference offers an exciting opportunity for young people to meet robotics researchers in an interactive and inspiring environment.”

Professor Alan Winfield from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory explains “Robots have such an enormous impact on our lives already and the speed at which the research is developing has important repercussions for our futures. This makes it critical that we identify strong ethical principles for future investigations so we are seeking the views of the very people whose lives will be affected by research developments.”

Each conference will consist of two distinct phases, a divergent phase where participants are given the opportunity to explore the uses and potentials of robotics and a convergent phase where the young people will identify key priorities and themes for more in-depth discussion. A list of key recommendations will be then be agreed by the participants, aimed at communicating ideas to different audiences including government, policy makers, other researchers and young people.

At the end of the conference a shared vision will be presented to local stakeholders including robotics researchers from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, local government officials and other key representatives interested in the young people's views.

The project leader Dr Karen Bultitude concludes, “At the end of the national tour of Robotic Visions we will make sure that the right people get to hear about our findings by disseminating a report to the policy departments of relevant government bodies and learned institutions and making it available to existing networks. We think it's very important that the students and roboticists get a chance to make their opinions heard in the places that matter.”

For more current stories relating to robotics see:

Researchers unveil whiskered robot rat


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