The Sound of Science

Fridays 9am – Sheffield Live! – 93.2FM

Show 75 first broadcast on 6th November 2009


This week’s program is the first in a two-parter dedicated to the memory of the great British Scientist William Grey Walter. It is a story of romance, sex, wife swapping, mystery and intrigue. If that isn’t enough for you, he was a great roboticist who build the first autonomous robots that could operate together. But first I have been forced onto my soapbox again.

Noel on the soapbox

If the government want to ignore scientific evidence they should make clear their moral or political arguments


I am on my soap box this week because of the sacking of the UK Government’s Head of the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs, Professor David Nutt. When Gordon Brown became prime minister he said that he would relook at the cannabis classification which had been downgraded from Class B to Class C before he took office.

Professor Nutt said that the Prime minister had ignored the scientific advice completely and had even made up his mind before the council had told him that there was no evidence to support reclassifying. David Nutt, who has been a psychiatrist working of drugs and alcohol abuse for over 30 years, got sacked because he spoke out at a lecture and said that the cannabis was less harmful than alcohol and tobacco.

The scientific community has been up in arms about his sacking and even the government chief scientific advisor said that he believed the evidence. There is a much wider issue here than drugs abuse. The government should separate it policy and moral arguments from scientific arguments. It is entitled to make decisions against scientific advice but it should not then make scientific arguments. It should justify is case in other ways.

See also the BBC website on the sacking.

W. Grey Walter and his amazing robots Pt1


This week’s programme begins my journey into the fascinating world of W. Grey Walter (1910-1977) a great British Scientist: psychologist-neurophysiologist-roboticist-social commentator-TV celebrity.

He was far ahead of his time. Apart from a couple of simple predecessors, Grey Walter designed and built the first fully autonomous tortoise robots that could seek light, avoid obstacles and return to their hutchs to automatically recharge. They were the first robots to interact with each other and the first learning robots. They were even said to flirt with each other

In this weeks programme I look at his work with robots and discuss its importance with world renowed roboticists:

Professor Rod Brooks from MIT founder of iRobots and widely held to be the father of modern Behaviour Based Robots.

Professor Owen Holland from the University of Essex who actually discovered one of the robots and replicated it. Owen has written about the legacy of Grey Walter.

Professor Alan Winfield director of the Bristol Robotics Lab at the University of West England

Check out more pictures of the robots at the Bristol Robotics Lab in Bristol

There is a lovely old New Reel piece of Grey Walter, his wife and his robots Elmer and Elsie

There is a short biography here

Next week I go in search of one of Walter’s surviving robots and I find out about Grey Walter the man from one of his old friends and from an historian of technology.


November 7, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment