Robots Live! brings Robot Wars and a robotic football squad to Edinburgh

Robot Wars and football-playing robots at the National Museum of Flight

It's difficult to talk about the appeal of robots. How do you talk about the appeal of something as universally loved. What's not to love about robots? Since technology first enabled humans to build machines that could to programmed to perform functions, the idea has fascinated generations of children and adults alike.

You need only list the examples from popular culture to get the picture. From R2D2 and C3PO of Star Wars, Knight Rider's Kitt, Doctor Who's robot dog K9 and Wall-E, the idea of a man-made helper has been a recurring one throughout books film and TV. Remember that crucially, in addition to performing the tasks that humans can't or don't want to do, they can also become your friend.

However, for every friendly robot to become pals with, there's also the huge dramatic potential of the robot-gone-wrong scenario. Will Smith's target in I-Robot and most famously The Hal 9000 computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey all develop themes originally explored by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein, whose monster was the original robot.

Attack from an evil robot we made ourselves is one thing, but from one we didn't is worse. Alien robots such as The Daleks and Cybermen have simultaneously terrified and fascinated generations of Doctor Who fans, from those who remember the 1963 debut of the Daleks, to those for whom there's never been a Doctor prior to Matt Smith.

The fascination with robots stretches across age and gender

Fiction aside, since the advent of computing, we've been making our own robots. There were programmable children's toys such as Big Trak years ago, and the occasional slot on Tomorrow's World showcasing recent development, but who could have predicted the massive popularity of Robot Wars, a staple of teatime viewing between 1997 and 2003. Surely the closest to televised bloodsports the BBC has come.

For those that miss thrill of these battles - with all the impaling, chopping and gloating that goes with it - or for those too young to watch it first time round, there's some good news. Robots Live on Sun 19 June at the National Museum of Flight near Edinburgh offers you a ringside seat as robots with names including 'Behemoth', 'Big Nipper' and 'Battleaxe' beat the solder out of each other, in a way that manages to be both brutally primitive and technologically advanced at the same time.

It's not all war though, there are also games, specifically, football-playing robots in the form of the Edinburgh Robocup team – robots that can locate the ball, the goal and the other players (Quick! Sign them up for the Scotland squad!).

There's also plenty to keep the enquiring minds of your household satisfied. Engineers from the University of Edinburgh will run talks and workshops explaining what they do, while University physicists will be explaining the fabric of the universe and the science behind the hula hoop. There's also some practical activities to compete in including a 'Fake your own UFO' activity and a chance to make your own wind generator and mini jumping robot.

Once notes have been taken, creations have been built and battling robots been reduced to a smoking pile of parts, you can explore the rest of the National Museum of Flight attractions – which is included in the cover price.

Be careful though. The robot-building bug might also catch on at home. So don't be surprised one morning to find that your toaster has been cannibalised for parts.

Nao Robots @ Hannover Messe 2009

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