In the late 1970s, Harlan Ellison wrote a screenplay based on Asimov’s book I, Robot for Warner Bros. This film project was ultimately abandoned, but Ellison’s script was later published in book form as I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay (1994).
Humanoid robots are now used as research tools in several scientific areas. Researchers study the human body structure and behavior (biomechanics) to build humanoid robots. On the other side, the attempt to simulate the human body leads to a better understanding of it. Human cognition is a field of study which is focused on how humans learn from sensory information in order to acquire perceptual and motor skills. This knowledge is used to develop computational models of human behavior, and it has been improving over time.
It has been suggested that very advanced robotics will facilitate the enhancement of ordinary humans. See transhumanism.
Humanoid robots are a valuable resource in the world of medicine and biotechnology, as well as other fields of research such as biomechanics and cognitive science. Humanoid robots are being used to develop complex prosthetics for individuals with physical disabilities such as missing limbs. The WABIAN-2 is a new medical humanoid robot created to help patients in the rehabilitation of their lower limbs.
Although the initial aim of humanoid research was to build better orthosis and prosthesis for human beings, knowledge has been transferred between both disciplines. A few examples are powered leg prosthesis for the neuromuscularly impaired, ankle-foot orthosis, biological realistic leg prosthesis, and forearm prosthesis.
Humanoid robots can be used as test subjects for the practice and development of personalized healthcare aids, essentially performing as robotic nurses for demographics such as the elderly. Humanoids are also suitable for some procedurally-based vocations, such as reception-desk administrators and automotive manufacturing line workers. In essence, since they can use tools and operate equipment and vehicles designed for the human form, humanoids could theoretically perform any task a human being can, so long as they have the proper software. However, the complexity of doing so is immense.
Humanoid robots have had a long history in the realm of entertainment, from the conception and ideas in the story of Prometheus to the application and physical build of modern animatronics used for theme parks. Current uses and development of humanoid robots in theme parks are focused on creating stuntronics. Stuntronics are humanoid robots built for serving as stunt doubles, and are designed to simulate life-like, untethered, dynamic movement. Several Disney theme park shows utilize animatronic robots that look, move and speak much like human beings. Although these robots look realistic, they have no cognition or physical autonomy. Various humanoid robots and their possible applications in daily life are featured in an independent documentary film called Plug & Pray, which was released in 2010.
Though many real-world applications for humanoid robots are unexplored, their primary use is to demonstrate up-and-coming technologies. Modern examples of humanoid robots, such as the Honda Asimo, are revealed to the public in order to demonstrate new technological advancements in motor skills, such as walking, climbing, and playing an instrument. Other humanoid robots have been developed for household purposes, however excel only in single purpose skills and are far from autonomous. Humanoid robots, especially those with artificial intelligence algorithms, could be useful for future dangerous and/or distant space exploration missions, without having the need to turn back around again and return to Earth once the mission is completed.
While robots have often been described as possessing social qualities (see for example the tortoises developed by William Grey Walter in the 1950s), social robotics is a fairly recent branch of robotics. Since the early 1990s artificial intelligence and robotics researchers have developed robots which explicitly engage on a social level. Notable researchers include Cynthia Breazeal, Tony Belpaeme, Aude Billard, Kerstin Dautenhahn, Yiannis Demiris, Hiroshi Ishiguro, Maja Mataric, Javier Movellan, Brian Scassellati and Dean Weber. Also related is the Kansai engineering movement in Japanese science and technology — for social robotics, see especially work by Takayuki Kanda, Hideki Kozima, Hiroshi Ishiguro, Micho Okada, Tomio Watanabe, and P. Ravindra S. De Silva.
The evolution of social robots began with autonomous robots designed to have little to no interaction with humans. Essentially, they were designed to take on what humans could not. Technologically advanced robots were sent out to handle hazardous conditions and the assignments that could potentially put humans in danger, like exploring the deep oceans or the surface of Mars. Advancing these original intentions, robots are continually being developed to be inserted into human-related settings to establish their social aspect and access their influence on human interactions. Over time, social robots have been advanced to begin to have their own role in society.
Designing an autonomous social robot is particularly challenging, as the robot needs to correctly interpret people’s action and respond appropriately, which is currently not yet possible. Moreover, people interacting with a social robot may hold very high expectancies of its capabilities, based on science fiction representations of advanced social robots. As such, many social robots are partially or fully remote controlled to simulate advanced capabilities. This method of (often covertly) controlling a social robot is referred to as a Mechanical Turk or Wizard of Oz, after the character in the L. Frank Baum book. Wizard of Oz studies are useful in social robotics research to evaluate how people respond to social robots.
The earliest known industrial robot, conforming to the ISO definition was completed by “Bill” Griffith P. Taylor in 1937 and published in Meccano Magazine, March 1938. The crane-like device was built almost entirely using Meccano parts, and powered by a single electric motor. Five axes of movement were possible, including grab and grab rotation. Automation was achieved using punched paper tape to energise solenoids, which would facilitate the movement of the crane’s control levers. The robot could stack wooden blocks in pre-programmed patterns. The number of motor revolutions required for each desired movement was first plotted on graph paper. This information was then transferred to the paper tape, which was also driven by the robot’s single motor. Chris Shute built a complete replica of the robot in 1997.
George Devol applied for the first robotics patents in 1954 (granted in 1961). The first company to produce a robot was Unimation, founded by Devol and Joseph F. Engelberger in 1956. Unimation robots were also called programmable transfer machines since their main use at first was to transfer objects from one point to another, less than a dozen feet or so apart. They used hydraulic actuators and were programmed in joint coordinates, i.e. the angles of the various joints were stored during a teaching phase and replayed in operation. They were accurate to within 1/10,000 of an inch (note: although accuracy is not an appropriate measure for robots, usually evaluated in terms of repeatability – see later). Unimation later licensed their technology to Kawasaki Heavy Industries and GKN, manufacturing Unimates in Japan and England respectively. For some time Unimation’s only competitor was Cincinnati Milacron Inc. of Ohio. This changed radically in the late 1970s when several big Japanese conglomerates began producing similar industrial robots.
In 1969 Victor Scheinman at Stanford University invented the Stanford arm, an all-electric, 6-axis articulated robot designed to permit an arm solution. This allowed it accurately to follow arbitrary paths in space and widened the potential use of the robot to more sophisticated applications such as assembly and welding. Scheinman then designed a second arm for the MIT AI Lab, called the “MIT arm.” Scheinman, after receiving a fellowship from Unimation to develop his designs, sold those designs to Unimation who further developed them with support from General Motors and later marketed it as the Programmable Universal Machine for Assembly (PUMA).
Industrial robotics took off quite quickly in Europe, with both ABB Robotics and KUKA Robotics bringing robots to the market in 1973. ABB Robotics (formerly ASEA) introduced IRB 6, among the world’s first commercially available all electric micro-processor controlled robot. The first two IRB 6 robots were sold to Magnusson in Sweden for grinding and polishing pipe bends and were installed in production in January 1974. Also in 1973 KUKA Robotics built its first robot, known as FAMULUS, also one of the first articulated robots to have six electromechanically driven axes.
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