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This article is about . For , see Robot (disambiguation).

In practical usage, a robot is a mechanical device which performs its tasks either according to direct human control, partial control with human supervision, or completely autonomously. Robots are typically used to do tasks that are too dull, dirty, or dangerous for humans. Industrial robots used in manufacturing lines used to be the most common form of robots, but that has recently been replaced by consumer robots cleaning floors and mowing lawns. Other applications include toxic waste cleanup, underwater and space exploration, surgery, mining, search and rescue, and searching for IEDs and land mines. Robots are also finding their way into entertainment and home health care.


A robot may include a feedback-driven connection between sense and action, not under direct human control, although it may have a human override function. The action may take the form of electro-magnetic motors or actuators (also called effectors) that move an arm, open and close grips, or propel the robot. The step by step control and feedback is provided by a computer program run on either an external or embedded computer or a microcontroller. By this definition, a robot may include nearly all automated devices.

Two basic ways of using effectors are to move the robot around (locomotion) or to move other objects around (manipulation). This distinction divides robotics into two mostly separate categories: mobile robotics (moving) and manipulator robotics (grabbing).

Joints connect parts of manipulators. The most common joint types are:

  1. rotary (rotation around a fixed axis)
  2. prismatic (linear movement)

A parallel robot is one whose arms (primary axes) have three concurrent prismatic joints or both prismatic and rotary joints. Degrees of freedom (DOF) means axes of movement. The human arm has seven Degrees of Freedom. A "6 DOF" arm is highly flexible.

Proprioceptive sensors sense the robot's actuators (e.g., shaft encoders, joint angle sensors). Proprioception is one of the most important senses of the human body.

Alternately, robot has been used as the general term for a mechanical man, or an automaton resembling an animal, either real or imaginary. It has come to be applied to many machines which directly replace a human or animal in work or play. In this way, a robot can be seen as a form of biomimicry. Lack of anthropomorphism is perhaps what makes us reluctant to refer to the highly complex modern washer-dryer as a robot. However, in modern understanding, the term implies a degree of autonomy that would exclude many automatic machine tools from being called robots. It is the search for ever more highly autonomous robots or cognitive robots which is the major focus of robotics research and which drives much work in artificial intelligence.

The term robot is also often used to refer to sophisticated mechanical devices that are remotely controlled by human beings, such as waldoes and ROVs, even though these devices are not autonomous.


The idea of artificial people dates at least as far back as the ancient legend of Cadmus, who sowed dragon teeth that turned into soldiers, and the myth of Pygmalion, whose statue of Galatea came to life. In classical mythology, the deformed god of metalwork (Vulcan or Hephaestus) created mechanical servants, ranging from intelligent, golden handmaidens to more utilitarian three-legged tables that could move about under their own power. Jewish legend tells of the Golem, a clay statue animated by Kabbalistic magic. Similarly, in the Younger Edda, Norse mythology tells of a clay giant, Mökkurkálfi or Mistcalf, constructed to aid the troll Hrungnir in a duel with Thor, the God of Thunder.

Czech writer Karel Kapek introduced the word "Robot" in his play "R.U.R" (Rossuum's Universal Robots) in 1921. The term "robot" was actually not created by Karel Čapek but by his brother Josef, also a respected Czech writer. "Robot" comes from the Czech word "robota", meaning "forced labor, drudgery." The earliest ideas that could be related to the robotics of today was in 350 B.C. by the Greek mathematician Archytas of Tarentum. He created a mechanical bird he called “The Pigeon.” The bird was propelled by steam.

The first recorded design of a humanoid robot was made by Leonardo da Vinci around 1495. Da Vinci's notebooks, rediscovered in the 1950s, contained detailed drawings for a mechanical knight that was apparently able to sit up, wave its arms, and move its head and jaw. The design was likely based on his anatomical research recorded in the Vitruvian Man. It is not known whether or not he attempted to build the robot (see: Leonardo's robot).

The first known functioning robot was created in 1738 by Jacques de Vaucanson, who made an android that played the flute, as well as a mechanical duck that reportedly ate and defecated. E.T.A. Hoffmann's 1817 short story "The Sandman" features a doll-like mechanical woman, and Edward S. Ellis' 1865 "Steam Man of the Prairies" expresses the American fascination with industrialization. A wave of stories about humanoid automatons culminated with the "Electric Man" by Luis Senarens in 1885.

Once technology advanced to the point where people foresaw mechanical creatures as more than toys, literary responses to the concept of robots reflected fears that humans would be replaced by their own creations. Frankenstein (1818), sometimes called the first science fiction novel, has become synonymous with this theme. When Kapek's play RUR introduced the concept of an assembly line run by robots who try to build still more robots, the theme took on economic and philosophical overtones, further disseminated by the classic movie Metropolis (1927), and the popular Blade Runner (1982) and The Terminator (1984). With robots a reality and intelligent robots a likely prospect, a better understanding of interactions between robots and human is embodied in such modern films as Spielberg's A.I. (movie) (2001) and Proyas' I, Robot (2004).

Many consider the first robot in the modern sense to be a teleoperated boat, similar to a modern ROV, devised by Nikola Tesla and demonstrated at an 1898 exhibition in Madison Square Garden. Based on his patent 613,809 for "teleautomation", Tesla hoped to develop the "wireless torpedo" into an automated weapon system for the US Navy.

In the thirties, Westinghouse made a humanoid robot known as Elektro. It was exhibited at the 1939 and 1940 World's Fairs.

The first electronic autonomous robots were created by Grey Walter at Bristol University, England in 1948.

Literary history

See also List of fictional robots and androids

The word robot comes from the Czech robota meaning "drudgery." Robotnik was used in the 1600's to classify Czech tenant-farmers. A robotnik had to work as a minimum one month a year free for the landlord, according to Karsten Alnaes in his "European History II". The word was first used in its modern sense in Karel Kapek's play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) (written in 1920; first performed in Czechoslovakia 1921; performed in New York 1922; English edition published 1923). [1]. While Karel Kapek is frequently acknowledged as the originator of the word, he wrote a short letter in reference to the Oxford English Dictionary ethymology in which he named his brother, painter and writer Josef Kapek as its true inventor. [2].

Some claim that the word "robot" was first used in Josef Kapek's short story Opilec (the Drunkard) published in the collection Lelio in 1917. According to the Čapek Brothers Society in Prague, this is not correct. The word used in Opilec is "automat". "Robot" appeared in R.U.R. for the first time.

Although Kapek's robots were organic artificial humans, the word robot has come to refer to mechanical humans. The term android can mean either one of these, while a cyborg ("cybernetic organism" or "bionic man") would be a creature that is a combination of organic and mechanical parts.

The word "robotics" was first used (in print) in Isaac Asimov's story "Liar!" (1941) In it, he referred to the 'three rules of robotics' that later became the Three Laws of Robotics in the short fiction collection I, Robot.

In Douglas Adams series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the marketing division of the fictional Sirius Cybernetics Corporation defines a robot as "your plastic pal who's fun to be with".


According to the American Heritage Dictionary, robotics is the science or study of the technology associated with the design, fabrication, theory, and application of robots.

Robotics requires a working knowledge of electronics, mechanics, and software. Depending on the size of the project a working knowledge of kinematics, pneumatics, hydraulics, and microcontrollers / PLCs will also be useful. A standard process while creating a robot starts with an exploration of the sensors, algorithms, and actuators that will be required to perform the required task. Some idea of the most effective size for the robot and its primary power source are then decided.

After a basic mobile platform has been completed, sensors and other inputs and outputs throughout the robot are connected to a decision-making device, most commonly a microcontroller. This circuit evaluates the input signals, calculates what the appropriate response is, and sends appropriate signals out to the actuators to cause a reaction.

Contemporary uses of robots

File:Industrial Robotics in car production.jpg
KUKA Industrial Robots for assembly of vehicle underbody

Robots are used to do tasks that are too dull, dirty, or dangerous for humans. Industrial robots used in manufacturing lines used to be the most common form of robots, but that has recently been replaced by consumer robots cleaning floors and mowing lawns. Other applications include toxic waste cleanup, underwater and space exploration, surgery, mining, search and rescue, and searching for IEDs and land mines. Robots are also finding their way into entertainment and home health care.

Industrial manipulators have similar in motion capability to the human arm and are the most widely used in industry. Applications include welding, painting, and machine loading. The automotive industry has taken full advantage of this technology where robots have been programmed to replace human labor in many repetitive or dangerous tasks. The wide adoption of such technologies, however, was delayed by the availability of cheap labour and high capital requirements of robots. Another form of industrial robots is AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles). AGVs are used in warehouses, hospitals, container ports, laboratories, server facilities, and other applications where risk, reliability, and security are important concerns. Likewise, autonomously patrolling safety and security robots are appearing as part of the growing move toward automated buildings.

In early 2000s domestic robots entered the mainstream culture, with the success of Sony's Aibo and several manufacturers releasing robot vacuum cleaners, such as iRobot, Electrolux, and Karcher. Over 1,000,000 vacuum cleaners units were sold worldwide by the end of 2004 [3]. iRobot plans to produce a floor mopping robot similar in size and design to the robot vacuum cleaners. Japanese corporations have been successful in developing prototypes of humanoid robots and plan to use the technology not only in their manufacturing plants, but also in Japanese homes. There is much hope in Japan that home care for an aging (and long-lived) population can be better achieved through robotics.

While robotic technology has achieved a certain amount of maturity, the social impact of these robots is largely unknown. The field of social robots is now emerging and investigates the relationship between robots and humans. A ludobot is an instance of a social robot dedicated to entertainment and companionship.

Robots have also been explored as a form of High-tech Art.

The Austin Robot group and LMABTechnics have produced many interesting pieces such as Sparky and GeniumAR8.

Current developments

When roboticists first attempted to mimic human and animal gaits, they discovered that it was incredibly difficult; requiring more computational power than what was available at the time. So, emphasis was shifted to other areas of research. Simple wheeled robots were used to conduct experiments in behavior, navigation, and path planning. These navigation techniques have now developed into commercially available autonomous robot control systems; the most sophisticated examples of autonomous navigation control systems now available include laser-based navigation systems and VSLAM (Visual Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) systems from ActivMedia Robotics and Evolution Robotics.

When engineers were ready to attempt walking robots again, they started small with hexapods and other multi-legged platforms. These robots mimicked insects and arthropods in both form and function. The trend towards these body types offer immense flexibility and proven adaptability to any environment, but the cost of the added mechanical complexity has prevented adoption by consumers. With more than four legs, these robots are statically stable which makes them easier to work with. The goal of bipedal robot research is to achieve a walk using passive-dynamic motion that mimics the natural human gait. There has been some recent progress towards robot bipedal locomotion, however a robust bipedal gait is still years away.

File:Robot hand holding an egg.jpg
Robotic manipulators can be very precise, but only when a task can be fully described

Another technical problem preventing wider adoption of robots is the complexity of handling physical objects in the inherently chaotic natural environment. Tactile sensors and better vision algorithms may solve this problem. The UJI Online Robot from University Jaume I in Spain is a good example of current progress in this field.

Recently, tremendous progress has been made in medical robotics, with two companies in particular, Computer Motion and Intuitive Surgical, receiving regulatory approval in North America, Europe and Asia for their robots to be used in minimal invasive surgical procedures. Laboratory automation is also a growing area. Here, benchtop robots are used to transport biological or chemical samples between instruments such as incubators, liquid handlers and readers. Other places where robots are likely to replace human labour are in deep-sea exploration and space exploration. For these tasks, arthropod body types are generally preferred. Mark W. Tilden formerly of Los Alamos National Laboratories specializes in cheap robots with bent but unjointed legs, while others seek to replicate the full jointed motion of crabs' legs.

Experimental winged robots and other examples exploiting biomimicry are also in early development. So-called "nanomotors" and "smart wires" are expected to drastically simplify motive power, while in-flight stabilization seems likely to be improved by extremely small gyroscopes. A significant driver of this work is military research into spy technologies.

Future prospects

Some scientists believe that robots will be able to approximate human-like intelligence in the first half of the 21st century. Even before such theoretical intelligence levels are obtained, it is speculated that robots may begin to replace humans in many labor-intensive career fields. The cybernetics pioneer Norbert Wiener discussed some of these issues in his book The human use of human beings (1950), in which he speculated that robots taking over human jobs may initially lead to growing unemployment and social turmoil, but that in the medium-term it might bring increased material wealth to people in most nations.

One might think of these robots collectively as a new "robot proletariat," or working class, which will enable humans to concern themselves mainly with ruling the means of production (such as farm equipment and factories) and enjoying the fruits of robots' labour. Such a shift in the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services would represent a radical departure from current socio-economic systems, and in order to avoid poverty normally caused by unemployment and to be allowed to partake in the fruits of robotic labour, the human proletariat would need to overthrow the ruling class, in full accordance with Marx's predictions.

Robotics will probably continue its spread in offices and homes, replacing "dumb" appliances with smart robotic equivalents. Domestic robots capable of performing many household tasks, described in science fiction stories and coveted by the public in the 1960s, are likely to be eventually perfected.

There is likely to be some degree of convergence between humans and robots. Some humans are already cyborgs with some body parts and even parts of the nervous system replaced by artificial analogues, such as Pacemakers. In many cases the same technology might be used both in robotics and in medicine. Although not strictly robotics, there has been study in this area by Professor Kevin Warwick.

Robot Competitions

Dean Kamen, Founder of FIRST, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) created a competitive forum that inspires in young people, their schools and communities an appreciation of science and technology.

Their robotics competition is a multinational competition that teams professionals and young people to solve an engineering design problem in an intense and competitive way. In 2003 the competition will reach more than 20,000 students on over 800 teams in 24 competitions. Teams come from Canada, Brazil, the U.K., and almost every U.S. state. Unlike the Robot sumo wrestling competitions that take place regularly in some venues, or the Battlebots competitions on TV, these competitions include the creation of the robot.

RoboCup is a competitive organization dedicated to developing a team of fully autonomous humanoid robots that can win against the human world soccer champion team by the year 2050. There are many different leagues from simulation, to full-size humanoid.

RoboCup Jr. is similar to RoboCup. RoboCup Jr. is a competition for anybody under 18 years of age, and is a bit easier than the real RoboCup. RoboCup Jr. includes three competitions: soccer (a soccer tournament), rescue (an obstacle course which an item has to be brought from one end to the other) and dance (robots dancing to music judged for the dancing, creativity and costumes). Like RoboCup, all robots have to be built and programmed by the team that made it, there is no buying other robots allowed.

The DARPA Grand Challenge is a competition for robotic vehicles to complete an under-200 mile, off-road course in the Mojave Desert. The unclaimed 2004 prize was $1,000,000. The farthest any participant got was only 7.4 miles. However, the 2005 prize of $2,000,000 was claimed by Stanford University. In this race, four vehicles successfully completed the race. This is a testament to how fast robotic vision and navigation are improving.

The Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC), is a competition for autonomous ground vehicles that must traverse outdoor obstacle courses without any human interaction. This international competition sponsored by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), is a student design competition at the university level and has held annual competitions since 1992.

The two AAAI Grand Challenges focus on Human Robot Interaction, with one being a robot attending and delivering a conference talk, the other being operator-interaction challenges in rescue robotics.

The Centennial Challenges are NASA prize contests for non-government funded technological achievements, including robotics, by US citizens.

In Micromouse competitions, small robots try to solve a maze in the fastest time.

The popularity of the TV shows Robot Wars Robotica and Battlebots, of college level robot-sumo wrestling competitions, the success of "smart bombs" and UCAVs in armed conflicts, grass-eating "gastrobots" in Florida, and the creation of a slug-eating robot in England, suggest that the fear of an artificial life form doing harm, or competing with natural wild life, is not an illusion. The worldwide Green Parties in 2002 were asking for public input on extending their existing policies against such competition, as part of more general biosafety and biosecurity concerns. It appears that, like Aldous Huxley's concerns about human cloning, questions Karel Kapek raised eighty years earlier in science fiction have become real debates.

Possible dangers

The concern that robots might displace or compete with humans is common. In his I, Robot series, Isaac Asimov created the Three Laws of Robotics in a literary attempt to control the competition of robots with humans:

  1. A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by the human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Unfortunately the issue may be not so simple to resolve. Asimov himself based the plots of several novels and short stories on probing into the applicability and sufficiency of the Three Laws. The laws or rules that could or must apply to robots or other "autonomous capital" in cooperation or competition with humans have spurred investigation of macro-economics of this competition, notably by Alessandro Acquisti building on much older work by John von Neumann.

Even without overt malicious programming, robots and humans simply do not have the same body tolerances or awareness, leading to accidents: In Jackson, Michigan on July 21, 1984, a factory robot crushed a worker against a safety bar in apparently the first robot-related death in the United States. Since then, laser light curtains have been required to protect against such dangers from heavy equipment.

In another take on the issue, the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Prototype" depicted a group of robots known as Automated Personnel Units, which had been built for combat by a pair of warring species but later killed their creators when the war ended.

External links

Classes of Robots

Research areas associated with robotics

Additional Robot Topics

Notable Roboticists

Notable Robots

Operational robots

Robots in science fiction

Endtas robotics community website with lots of free robotic projects. Do it yourself.

External links

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principles of the] nervous system.

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