Robotics is an interdisciplinary branch of Electronics & Communication, computer science and engineering. Robotics involves the design, construction, operation, and use of robots. The goal of robotics is to design machines that can help and assist humans. Robotics integrates fields of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, information engineering, mechatronics engineering, electronics, biomedical engineering, computer engineering, control systems engineering, software engineering, mathematics, etc.
Robotics develops machines that can substitute for humans and replicate human actions. Robots can be used in many situations for many purposes, but today many are used in dangerous environments (including inspection of radioactive materials, bomb detection and deactivation), manufacturing processes, or where humans cannot survive (e.g., in space, underwater, in high heat, and clean up and containment of hazardous materials and radiation). Robots can take any form, but some are made to resemble humans in appearance. This is claimed to help in the acceptance of robots in certain replicative behaviors which are usually performed by people. Such robots attempt to replicate walking, lifting, speech, cognition, or any other tasks mainly performed by a human. Many of today’s robots are inspired by nature, contributing to the field of bio-inspired robotics.
Certain robots require user input to operate, while other robots function autonomously. The concept of creating robots that can operate autonomously dates back to classical times, but research into the functionality and potential uses of robots did not grow substantially until the 20th century. Throughout history, it has been frequently assumed by various scholars, inventors, engineers, and technicians that robots will one day be able to mimic human behavior and manage tasks in a human-like fashion. Today, robotics is a rapidly growing field, as technological advances continue; researching, designing, and building new robots serve various practical purposes, whether domestically, commercially, or militarily. Many robots are built to do jobs that are hazardous to people, such as defusing bombs, finding survivors in unstable ruins, and exploring mines and shipwrecks. Robotics is also used in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) as a teaching aid.
In 1948, Norbert Wiener formulated the principles of cybernetics, the basis of practical robotics.
Fully autonomous robots only appeared in the second half of the 20th century. The first digitally operated and programmable robot, the Unimate, was installed in 1961 to lift hot pieces of metal from a die casting machine and stack them. Commercial and industrial robots are widespread today and used to perform jobs more cheaply, more accurately, and more reliably than humans. They are also employed in some jobs which are too dirty, dangerous, or dull to be suitable for humans. Robots are widely used in manufacturing, assembly, packing and packaging, mining, transport, earth and space exploration, surgery, weaponry, laboratory research, safety, and the mass production of consumer and industrial goods.
The history of robots has its origins in the ancient world. During the industrial revolution, humans developed the structural engineering capability to control electricity so that machines could be powered with small motors. In the early 20th century, the notion of a humanoid machine was developed.
The first uses of modern robots were in factories as industrial robots. These industrial robots were fixed machines capable of manufacturing tasks which allowed production with less human work. Digitally programmed industrial robots with artificial intelligence have been built since the 2000s.
People have been interested in building machines that do work for us for a long time. But it takes time and money to build just one machine, so early ideas were not built. Leonardo da Vinci designed a man-shaped machine to look like a knight in 1464. It would be controlled with ropes and wheels. Other engineers and dreamers drew mechanical men. In 1920, Karel Čapek wrote a story about them, and he used a word from Czech that is connected with ‘work’: robot.
The most successful robot designs in the 20th century were not made to look like people. They were designed for use. George Devol made the first of these, the Unimate, in 1954, with one arm and one hand. General Motors bought it in 1960. The next year, it started work in a factory in New Jersey, lifting and stacking pieces of metal that were too hot for people to touch. The engineers could program it, and reprogram it if they had to.
A robot is a machine—especially one programmable by a computer—capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically. A robot can be guided by an external control device, or the control may be embedded within. Robots may be constructed to evoke human form, but most robots are task-performing machines, designed with an emphasis on stark functionality, rather than expressive aesthetics.
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, patient 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. Autonomous things are expected to proliferate in the future, with home robotics and the autonomous car as some of the main drivers.
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, 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 humans and other animals, such as animatronics, 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 term comes from a Slavic root, robot-, with meanings associated with labor. The word ‘robot’ was first used to denote a fictional humanoid in a 1920 Czech-language play R.U.R. (Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti – Rossum’s Universal Robots) by Karel Čapek, though 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, as well as Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine tools in the late 1940s by John T. Parsons and Frank L. Stulen.
The first modern digital and programmable robot was invented by George Devol in 1954 and spawned his seminal robotics company, Unimation. The first Unimate was sold to General Motors in 1961 where it lifted 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 technological 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.
Robots have many uses. Many factories use robots to do hard work quickly and without many mistakes. They do not look like people, because they are made to do things. These are ‘industrial’ robots. Some robots find and get rid of bombs. If someone makes a mistake, the robot is damaged or destroyed, which is better than a person being killed. There are also robots that help at home, to vacuum or run a lawn mower, for example. Such robots must learn about the area of work.
A few robots do surgery in places inside the body where a human hand is too big.
Planet rovers are robots for exploring distant planets. Because it takes a long time to send a radio signal from Earth to another planet, the robots do much of their work alone, without commands from Earth.
People still think of robots as having a shape like a person—two legs, two arms, and a head. ASIMO is one robot that is helping scientists learn how to design and program robots. It can walk, which is not easy to program.
Mobile robots have the capability to move around in their environment and are not fixed to one physical location. An example of a mobile robot that is in common use today is the automated guided vehicle or automatic guided vehicle (AGV). An AGV is a mobile robot that follows markers or wires in the floor, or uses vision or lasers. AGVs are discussed later in this article.
Mobile robots are also found in industry, military and security environments. They also appear as consumer products, for entertainment or to perform certain tasks like vacuum cleaning. Mobile robots are the focus of a great deal of current research and almost every major university has one or more labs that focus on mobile robot research.
Mobile robots are usually used in tightly controlled environments such as on assembly lines because they have difficulty responding to unexpected interference. Because of this most humans rarely encounter robots. However domestic robots for cleaning and maintenance are increasingly common in and around homes in developed countries. Robots can also be found in military applications.
Industrial robots usually consist of a jointed arm (multi-linked manipulator) and an end effector that is attached to a fixed surface. One of the most common type of end effector is a gripper assembly.
The International Organization for Standardization gives a definition of a manipulating industrial robot in ISO 8373:
“an automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose, manipulator programmable in three or more axes, which may be either fixed in place or mobile for use in industrial automation applications.”
This definition is used by the International Federation of Robotics, the European Robotics Research Network (EURON) and many national standards committees.
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