This assembly looks at the importance of technology and wonders where science will take us in the next few decades

Two very different pieces of Japanese technology have been in the newspapers this week: a spacecraft that travels by a solar-powered sail, and a wedding ceremony officiated by a robot.

Resources

Introduction
Today we’re going to be talking about science. (PAUSE) Yes, it’s such a pity that the word ‘science’ conjures up something dull and boring when that’s so far from the truth. Science is helping us change the world around us: it helps us develop technology to deal with climate change; it helps us make more environmentally-friendly cars; it helps us cure diseases; it helps us communicate with people on the other side of the world in seconds, rather than days, weeks or months. Science is something we use every day – and it can be very exciting, as well as, at times, very strange.

So today I’m going to show you two different pieces of technology created by scientists.

Have a look at this short film clip/picture and tell me what you think is happening.

[Run film clip, then take suggestions]

Yes, that’s right. It looks like two people are getting married: there’s a bride in a white dress and a groom in a smart suit and… oh, where’s the priest, where’s the official person who is conducting the wedding ceremony? Good gracious! It’s a robot!

I-Fairy’s story
Yes, that’s right. The… er… ‘person’ who is conducting this wedding ceremony is indeed a robot. She’s been invented in Japan, a country in the Far East almost on the other side of the world [show map], and the robot is called called ‘I-Fairy’.

The first two people to be married by a robot are Tomohiro and Satoko Shibata. Tomohiro, the groom, is a science professor and Satoko, the bride, works for the company who invented I-Fairy. She says,

‘I hope our actions set a precedent for helping robots spread through Japanese society.’ [http://www.cnngo.com/tokyo/none/i-do-robot-706278?hpt=C2]

Now that’s an interesting point, isn’t it? We have computers in school and we use them for all sorts of things, including writing, maths and looking at the internet; we have computers in our cars to help us drive them safely (and SatNav so we don’t get lost!); we have computers in our TVs and DVD players and in our mobile phones and iPods. But do we want computers to replace people? If you had an accident and went to hospital, would you want to see a doctor or a computer? If you had a problem with a lesson, would you want to talk to a teacher or a computer? Do we want computers to solve problems, or do we want them to be like people – or both? And computers can’t give us a hug when we’re upset. But what if your favourite teddybear had a computer in it that gave you a hug when you got home and asked you how your day has been when you got home from school? What would you think of that? [Take suggestions]

Those are some very interesting answers. In Japan, robots are being built that do more and more complex jobs. A toy that is very popular is called a Tamagotchi [show picture]. It’s really a small computer game that asks you to look after the Tamagotchi as if it were a pet: you have to feed it and look after it – you even have to clean up after it, just like a real pet. But it’s not a real pet, is it? And you can’t hurt its feelings and it can’t feel lonely, like real pets can and do.

So whilst the I-Fairy is fun, is it useful? Mind you, a robot that can hoover the carpets or do the washing up or scrub the bath – that would be useful!

The story of Ikaros
But scientists in Japan have serious uses for technology as well as fun ones. They have been thinking about new ways to build space rockets. At the moment the few space rockets that have been built use a special kind of fuel, quite like the petrol that makes cars run, to send rockets into space. But the main problem is that this sort of fuel is quite heavy and it runs out! Can you think of any types of energy that don’t run out? [Take suggestions]

That’s right: the power of the sun, the power of the wind and the power of the waves – they don’t run out. The problem is that there is no wind in space – and no waves either! But… there is, of course, the power of the sun.

Scientists in Japan have developed a space rocket that uses the energy of the sun – called solar energy – to travel through space. [Show picture] It’s a sort of sun-powered yacht with a big sail – and it can travel ten-times as fast as a rocket in space; maybe even up to 500,000 miles per hour! And, best of all, the source of energy – the sun – won’t run out.

The first space yacht is called Ikaros and it will be launched very soon. Its first journey will be to travel to the planet Venus, over 23 million miles* away.

Like the best technology, the space yacht also has a more practical use. If Ikaros works properly, then it can be used to launch satellites more cheaply – and satellites are used for sending mobile phone signals and TV signals around the world. A piece of technology that none of us would want to be without.

Conclusion
Everyday scientists all over the world are working on new inventions: some will end up as fun computer games; some will help us make our world better; and some will help us to travel to new worlds in the years to come. Perhaps some of you will become scientists – and perhaps some of you will become the first people to set foot on another planet.

PrayerDear Father,

Thank you for our imaginations that helps us dream of new technologies and new worlds. Thank you for the scientists who help turn dreams into real things. Amen.

Reflection
‘Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.’ Thomas Edison, inventor (February 11 1847 – October 18, 1931)

Further information

  • You can download a PDF in English about I-Fairy from (some of the English is a little awkward)
  • Why not discuss the myth of Icarus with pupils and see why it might – or might not – be a good name for the space yacht.
  • *Venus is the planet that is nearest to Earth’s orbit. At its nearest it is 23.7 million miles away, but it can be up to 161 million miles away. [Source: http://www.universetoday.com/guide-to-space/venus/venus-distance-from-earth/]

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2010

About the author: Jane A. C. West

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