What Is a Robot?
A robot can be defined as a programmable, self-controlled device consisting of electronic, electrical, or mechanical units. In fact, it is a machine that functions in a place of a living being.
Robots are especially desirable for certain work functions because, unlike humans, they never get tired. They can endure physical conditions that are uncomfortable or even dangerous, and can operate in airless conditions.
Repetition does not bore them, and they cannot be distracted from the task at hand. The concept of robots is a very old one, yet the actual word robot was invented in the twentieth century from the Czechoslovakian word ‘robota’ or ‘robotonik’ meaning slave, servant or forced labor.
Robots don’t have to look or act like humans but they do need to be flexible so they can perform different tasks. Early industrial robots handled radioactive material in atomic labs and were called master/slave manipulators.
They were connected together with mechanical linkages and steel cables. Push buttons, switches or joysticks can now move remote arm manipulators. Current robots have advanced sensory systems that process information and appear to function as if they have brains. Their ‘brain’ is actually a form of computerized artificial intelligence.
Robots can be autonomous or semi-autonomous and range from humanoids such as Honda’s Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility (ASIMO) and TOSY’s TOSY Ping Pong Playing Robot (TOPIO) to industrial robots, medical operating robots, patent assist robots, dog therapy robots, collectively programmed swarm robots, UAV drones such as General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, and even microscopic nano robots. By mimicking a lifelike appearance or automating movements, a robot may convey a sense of intelligence or thought of its own.
The branch of technology that deals with the design, construction, operation, and application of robots, as well as computer systems for their control, sensory feedback, and information processing is robotics. These technologies deal with automated machines that can take the place of humans in dangerous environments or manufacturing processes, or resemble humans in appearance, behavior, and/or cognition.
Many of today’s robots are inspired by nature contributing to the field of bio-inspired robotics. These robots have also created a newer branch of robotics: soft robotics.
From the time of ancient civilization there have been many accounts of user-configurable automated devices and even automata resembling animals and humans, designed primarily as entertainment. As mechanical techniques developed through the Industrial age, there appeared more practical applications such as automated machines, remote-control and wireless remote-control.
The word ‘robot’ was first used to denote a fictional humanoid in a 1920 play R.U.R. by the Czech writer, Karel Čapek but it was Karel’s brother Josef Čapek who was the word’s true inventor. Electronics evolved into the driving force of development with the advent of the first electronic autonomous robots created by William Grey Walter in Bristol, England in 1948.
The first digital and programmable robot was invented by George Devol in 1954 and was named the Unimate. It was sold to General Motors in 1961 where it was used to lift pieces of hot metal from die casting machines at the Inland Fisher Guide Plant in the West Trenton section of Ewing Township, New Jersey.
Robots have replaced humans in performing repetitive and dangerous tasks which humans prefer not to do, or are unable to do because of size limitations, or which take place in extreme environments such as outer space or the bottom of the sea.
There are concerns about the increasing use of robots and their role in society. Robots are blamed for rising unemployment as they replace workers in increasing numbers of functions. The use of robots in military combat raises ethical concerns. The possibilities of robot autonomy and potential repercussions have been addressed in fiction and may be a realistic concern in the future.