James with robot Copyrighted image Credit: Production team

As a child, James May dreamed of a world populated by humanoid robots. Robots which would tidy his room and do the washing up. In the second programme of his Big Ideas series, he sets off to discover how close his vision of a robot-world is to becoming a reality and in doing so enters an intriguing, mysterious and often rather strange world.

In Japan, James meets the closest thing to Robocop. It’s a woman who can double her strength thanks to an extraordinary electro-mechanical jumpsuit, but what will this bizarre mix of human intelligence and machine brawn be used for?

He also has a close encounter of the weird kind with the most disturbing robot he has ever seen – a robot designed to look and behave exactly like its creator.

Continuing his travels James heads to the US, to explore the possibilities of bionic implants and talks to the doctor who is making them a reality, and in doing so has created a real 2 million dollar bionic woman.

And finally, in the unlikeliest of laboratories he encounters the world’s most advanced walking robot: Asimo – it can tackle stairs and has even mastered running, however when faced with a closed door, the robot proves he isn’t all that smart. Cue Asimo’s twin brother, who has learnt to recognise everyday objects. But will he amaze James when asked to identify a Mini car? And is this all enough to restore James’s vision of a robot filled future world?

Take it further

Make some meetings with robots at the Open University's Robotics Outreach Group

Inspired? Why not consider studying science or engineering and technology with the Open University?

First broadcast: Sunday 5 Oct 2008 on BBC TWO