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CHAPTER 1 ROBOTS AND PROGRAMS
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Programs are for Humans Too
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You ve encountered a lot of programs in your lifetime. Don t believe me Let me give you an example: Teacher: OK class, take out your math books. [Grumbling, the students take out their math books.] Teacher: I want everyone to turn to page 55. [With more grumbling, everyone turns to page 55.] Teacher: Everyone read through to page 65. [Loud grumbling] The teacher just gave a program to follow: take out your book, turn to a specific page, and read a specified number of pages. The students are told what page to begin reading. They are also told what page to stop reading. The teacher could have added a little more complexity to the instructions by telling the students to skip page 60 and solve the problem on page 62. My point is that there is an order to the instructions and some decision making involved. It is up to the student to determine, for example, when he or she has reached page 65 and to stop reading. Here s one more example: Step 1: Place the widget firmly against the whatsit. Step 2: Snap the special wonder-whatchamacallit into the widget. Step 3: Flip the whatsit over, and bend the thingamajig to the left. Those are steps I found in an instruction manual a program for me to follow. If I follow the steps, my whatsit should work perfectly (my whatchamacallit still isn t working!).
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Programs are Merely Instructions
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A simple program is just a set of instructions (written, spoken, or maybe provided in some other method) that needs to be followed. I certainly don t want to call you a robot, but in a way, we all can frequently act like robots. When we follow a set of instructions, we are running a program! (Another word you might sometimes hear used instead of run is execute: I told SPOT to run his SLEEP program is the same as I told SPOT to execute his SLEEP program. ) In the previous example, the teacher could have easily handed out a weekly reading assignment sheet like the following: Monday: Read pages 1 20. Tuesday: Read pages 21 40. Wednesday: Read pages 41 60. Thursday: Read pages 61 80. Friday: Read pages 81 100.
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CHAPTER 1 ROBOTS AND PROGRAMS
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Now, when the students arrive to class, all the teacher has to say is Students, it s time for today s reading assignment. It is now up to the students to consult the reading assignment sheet (I always lost mine), open their books, and start reading. The program is the reading assignment sheet and the teacher has the students run or execute the program. Let s go back to SPOT. He s just sitting there. How boring. Let s pretend for a moment that SPOT has ears, and I can give him some instructions. I ll start off by giving SPOT some basic movements: Me: SPOT, move forward. [SPOT starts to roll forward.] Me: SPOT, stop. [SPOT stops rolling.] I ve just given SPOT two very simple programs to follow. What Two programs Yes, the first program is Move forward. The second program is Stop. The simplest programs can be just one step!
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The Challenge of Programming
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So far, my programs in this chapter have been simple, trivial. You ve probably understood them just fine. You re human though and you have a brain. Robots aren t so lucky, and that leads to one of the chief challenges of programming: the need to be specific. Here s an example. Let s combine the two steps from the previous program into just one step. Me: SPOT, move forward and stop. [SPOT just sits there.] What happened Well, think about someone telling you to move forward and stop. How far forward will you move When will you stop You re smart, but robots are not. Robots must be told exactly what to do. In this example, SPOT did exactly as he was told. SPOT moved forward and stopped. The reason you didn t see him move is because the moment he started spinning his motors, he stopped. In the first example, I waited until SPOT began to roll before telling him to stop, so he had time to actually move. In the second example, I combined the instructions into one program (move forward and stop) without telling SPOT how far or maybe how long (in time) to move forward. So let s try it again: Me: SPOT, move forward for 5 seconds and stop. [SPOT moves forward for 5 seconds and then stops.] Here is another example. Suppose I provide SPOT with the following program: Me: SPOT, spin 180 degrees and then move forward two feet. Believe it or not, even though this program sounds very specific in its instructions, it s still going to cause confusion with SPOT. Why Well, let s look at the first part of the program spin 180 degrees. Should SPOT rotate 180 degrees to the left or right Believe it or not, it matters to a robot! Remember, a robot wants very specific instructions, so I should change this to spin 180 degrees clockwise or spin 180 degrees to your right. There s also a slight problem with the second part of the program. For me to tell SPOT to move forward two feet, I need to have defined forward and backward for SPOT. Most of us tend to think of
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