How do chemical reactions help the Library care for our collection of over 3 million books? What role do robots play in providing access to all those books?

In partnership with Fizzics Education, join the Education team as they discover the answers to these questions and demonstrate some simple fun science experiments to do at home in this series, Science at the Library. Today we explore robots and programming.

Fizzics Education have a whole range of other free and easy experiments that can be done at home. For more information visit the website.

Discover more Science at the Library.

Hello everyone, my name is Aaron and I work at the National Library of Australia. 

The Library is located in Canberra which is on the lands of the Ngunnawal and the Ngambri people. 

The National Library of Australia extends our respects to their elders past and present, and through them to all Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

Today we're here to talk about libraries and robots, but perhaps you're wondering what the two have in common. 

Do robots like to read? 

I mean, perhaps there's a robot out there who does enjoy reading, but at the National Library of Australia our robots help us to provide books to you and they help us out every day and here's how. 

The National Library of Australia collection of books is huge. There's about 3,000,000 books in our collection. That's a lot of books by any standard. 

That's way too many for us to keep on shelves in our main reading rooms. Now imagine your local library, or perhaps your school library. What does it look like? Is it a big room? Shelves with some books in it? 

Do you walk in and go browse the shelves and find the book that you want? Now I bet your school library has a lot of books, but I also bet it doesn't have 3,000,000 books. 

Imagine there'd be no space for anyone if you had to put that many books on the shelves in one room so to help us store all of our books, we've come up with some storage solutions, and one of those solutions is to store things underground. 

The National Library building is actually eight floors. There are four above ground, and there are three below ground. Now two of those floors below ground are where we keep a lot of our books. But we also have hundreds and hundreds of visitors visit us every day when our building is open. 

So because all the books are underground, it means that people just can't go and browse the shelves and pick out the ones you want. If you want to read a book at the library, you have to have a library card. You come to our main reading room and you collect a book that you've called up on the Internet. 

But in a place that has three million books, that's a lot of distance to walk if you're the person who has to go and find all of those books. So that's where our robot friends come in. At the library we have four robo -couriers and they're all called Isaac. They help out the human library staff to provide books and other collection items for our readers. 

I work together with the humans in the library stacks to transport items up to the reading rooms as quickly as possible for people to use. I can carry up to 60 kilos. 

Once a reader has requested a book, a call slip is generated through the Internet and the Human Library staff go off to where the books are kept and they collect them off the shelves. 

They bring the books back to a central collection point and then they call Isaac for some help. Instead of the human librarians have to walk up and down, up and down all through the building all day, the Issacs do some of the heavy lifting for us. 

The human Library staff load all the books that have been requested into Isaac and then they find their way back to what we call our book lift a special elevator just for books. This delivers the books from underground upstairs to the main reading rooms. 

Our robots travel up to 6 kilometres every day, and that's just within the building. They can also carry up to 60 kilos of books, now have a think for a moment from where you are where would 6 kilometres get you? 

And then have a think about what might weigh 60 kilos. Now, would you like to carry around 60 kilos of things all day for six kilometres? 

I wouldn't, and it's a big job and our robots do it very well. They're also pretty smart. They're programmed to move around the library building by themselves there. They’re programmed to know when to stop, when to go, when to turn, when to go straight, they are even programmed to know what doors to go through and most importantly for everyone, they are programmed to detect when people are in their way. 

If they sense people with their radar or sonar, they will stop and wait until the person or the object has moved and then they'll continue on their programmed path. 

But how do robots know what to do or where to go? Or where to stop? Or perhaps even what to say? 

Our friends at Fizzics education have enlisted the help of a stripy friend to help demonstrate how we help robots learn.  

So, we're going to learn about how robots really think and importantly if you don't tell them what to do they don't know what to do and we're going to do this with this Beebot, hey check it out. 

Now look at this Beebot. This Beebot has an arrow here an arrow here an arrow here arrow here, which tells them which way it's gonna go? It's got a green go button. It's gotta let's not do it anymore, and it's got a pause button so what we're going to do is we're going to make it go from our beehive all the way to our flower turn around and then come all the way back again and let's see if we can make this work. 

OK. 

So first job we need to turn the thing on. 

So on goes our Beebot, it's on lights are on now to make it go forwards I need to really press the arrow that says which way to go. 

So in this case to go forwards I need to press that one there. 

Ah, it's not going so I need to press the go button let's press go and off we go. 

Awesome, so we've done our first step. 

The thing is, we've got way more to do now if you look at it, there's an arrow pointing this way, so it makes sense that if we press this button here and then press go it would turn that way, right? 

Let's find out. 

That's not where we wanted to go. The thing is it remembered what we did at the start. 

It remembered the forward step and then it remembered to turn. 

So we've got ourselves a problem. It's gonna have to work in the way we want it to work and in this case it always remembers the last step we told it. 

So what if I bring it all the way back to the start again? Remember it remembered to go forward at the start and then turn. 

So how about we press green for go let's see what it does. There's our forward movements. 

And then there's our turn. Hey, this is useful because it's got a memory like most robots do they've got a memory? We can use that memory to add step after step after step after step to be able to achieve our challenge. 

So we know it's stored 2 steps. It knows to go forwards and we know it's going to go right. 

So, I guess the next will be forwards, which would bring it up to here now, then I need to turn it, then we turn it that way then I need to go forwards then it goes forwards, we hit the flower good, but we gotta turn it around, right so I turn 1, it would go like that. Turn again, it would go like that, huh? 

There's a lot of planning, isn't there?  

 This one? To here or now, it's gotta go that way. 

That one to there, that one to there, that one well to there and that one, to there and back to our hive now. Hopefully it's now stored those instructions we gave it and it can go from the hive to the flower, so let's set it up there. 

I need to make sure it's nice and centered on our line, because it doesn't even know there's a line there. 

There's no sensors. Fancy robots have sensors. This one doesn't. It just knows where I've told it to move its wheels to make it go. 

Let's see if I got it right. Here we go pressing go. 

Forwards, yes turn yes forwards. 

We’re getting there, forwards yes, uh oh you can see I didn't set up perfectly straight, it's now a little bit off centre. I wonder if this is going to help us turning all the way back over on the home stretch now we're turning left. Come on turn left yes, then we go forward. 

I think we – YES. Excellent, we got it to work. The thing is robots only do what you tell them to do. 

Now we can get advanced robots ones with artificial intelligence that can sense their surroundings and then respond to it and that's what we're programming is really about doing coding.To get robots and machines to understand how the world works and respond to it. 

Now I just need to get my big but to get me some honey. 

A simple demonstration, but no matter whether you're programming aBeebot or something as complex as Isaac, the process is still the same. You give the robot a set of instructions. It will remember it and follow them. 

Now at home we may not all have robots that we can program, but why not try to program a person? 

So first find someone who wants to help you out. Then think of a list of instructions, perhaps 10 or so. 

They could be simple instructions like stop, start, turn left, go straight, pick up something like that. 

Then write them down, but don't show the other person. Get the other person to stand in a starting spot wherever might work for you around the house and then give them the first instruction. 

Have them do it, then tell them to go back to where they started from and then give them the second instruction but don't retell them the first one have them step out instruction 1, instruction 2. Then have them reset, then give them the third instruction. 

Keep repeating this with new instructions, but don't tell them the last one. See how many instructions your person robot is able to remember before forgetting. Perhaps if you're nice, you might give them a hint. 

Thanks for watching today and happy programming.