A text in which robots run riot

Mechatronics and the Design of Intelligent Machines and Systems
March 8, 2002

The authors of this book tell us that in mechatronics, the technologies of electronics, software engineering and information systems are integrated with mechanical engineering. Despite its broad title, the book focuses on areas within the field that have been most active in the previous decade.

It is an easy read, very well presented with oodles of straightforward, well-explained diagrams. It describes software systems and some of the more classical approaches to artificial intelligence in concise detail. I particularly liked the section on fuzzy-neural systems.

The book probably has a fairly limited audience. It could not be used by just any engineering student, let alone general reader, to discover about mechatronics. Mechatronics students, however, will be drip-fed some concepts of intelligent systems.

Although I feel some warmth towards this understandable book, it is a little off the pace, a touch conservative and staid. The chapter on "Future developments" is misnamed - "Recent developments" would have been a more apt description.

The historical introduction starts nicely but then degenerates into a listing of computer company sales pitches. Can Digital Equipment's introduction of the Alpha processor seriously rank alongside the Wright brothers' first flight?

The chapter on artificial intelligence should, in places, be pensioned off. A table comparing humans and computers seems extremely naive. For example, human communication is said to be much better than that of a computer - oh come on!

In chapter two, an excavation robot designed by the authors appears as a useful example of an intelligent robot system. The same robot turns up in chapters four, six, seven and eight. The authors seem to have dug themselves into a literary hole. By chapter nine, I was having nightmares about robot excavators chasing me.

Despite my reservations, this is a respectable textbook on the intelligent-systems wing of mechatronics. Although a little dated in content, it has been well thought out and would be a useful addition to the library of any mechatronics or engineering design student.

Kevin Warwick is professor of cybernetics, University of Reading.

Mechatronics and the Design of Intelligent Machines and Systems

Author - David Bradley, Derek Seward, David Dawson and Stuart Burge
ISBN - 0 7487 5443 1
Publisher - Nelson Thornes
Price - £28.25
Pages - 348

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