A stand-alone hybrid computer system that performs physical and computational activities. Capable of performing many tasks, a robot is a multiple-motion device with one or more arms and joints. Robots can be similar in form to a human, but industrial robots do not resemble people at all.
The term is attributed to Czech dramatist Karel Capek in his 1921 play titled "R.U.R. - Rossum's Universal Robots." Capek applied the Czech word "robota," which means "forced labor" or "servitude" to the mechanized people in the skit. Three years later, robots appeared in Fritz Lang's classic silent movie "Metropolis," and they have been with us ever since.
A Wide Variety of Applications
In manufacturing, robots are used for welding, riveting, scraping and painting. They are also deployed for demolition, fire and bomb fighting, nuclear site inspection, industrial cleaning, laboratory use, medical surgery (see telepresence surgery), agriculture, forestry, office mail delivery as well as many other tasks. Increasingly, more artificial intelligence is being added. For example, some robots can identify objects in a pile, select the objects in the appropriate sequence and assemble them into a unit (see AI).
Analog and Digital
Robots use analog sensors for recognizing real-world objects and digital computers for direction. Analog to digital converters convert temperature, motion, pressure, sound and images into binary code for the robot's computer, which directs the actions of the arms and joints by pulsing their motors. See AIBO.
Shakey the Robot
Developed in 1969 by the Stanford Research Institute, Shakey was the first fully mobile robot with artificial intelligence. Shakey is seven feet tall and was named after its rather unstable movements. (Image courtesy of The Computer History Museum, www.computerhistory.org.)
Huey, Dewey and Louie
Named after Donald Duck's famous nephews, robots at this Wayne, Michigan plant apply sealant to prevent possible water leakage. Huey (top) seals the drip rails while Dewey (right) seals the interior weld seams. Louie is outside the view of this picture. (Image courtesy of Ford Motor Company.)
Inspect Pipes from the Inside
Developed by SRI for Osaka Gas in Japan, this Magnetically Attached General Purpose Inspection Engine (MAGPIE) goes inside gas pipes and looks for leaks. This unit served as the prototype for multicar models that perform temporary repairs while capturing pictures. (Image courtesy of SRI International.)
Computers Making Computers
Robots, whose brains are nothing but chips, are making chips in this TI fabrication plant. (Image courtesy of Texas Instruments, Inc.)
How Small Can They Get?
By 2020, Rutgers University scientists believe that nano-sized robots injected into the bloodstream will administer drugs directly to infected cells. This carbon nanotube body uses a biomolecular motor for propulsion and peptide limbs for orientation. (Image courtesy of the Rutgers Bio-Nano Robotics team: Constantinos Mavroidis, Martin L. Yarmush, Atul Dubey, Angela Thornton, Kevin Nikitczuk, Silvina Tomassone, Fotios Papadimitrakopoulos and Bernie Yurke.)