Robotics is the intersection of science, engineering and technology that produces machines, called robots, that substitute for (or replicate) human actions. Pop culture has always been fascinated with robots. R2-D2. Optimus Prime. WALL-E. These over-exaggerated, humanoid concepts of robots usually seem like a caricature of the real thing…or are they more forward thinking than we realize? Robots are gaining intellectual and mechanical capabilities that don’t put the possibility of a R2-D2-like machine out of reach in the future.
As technology progresses, so too does the scope of what is considered robotics. In 2005, 90% of all robots could be found assembling cars in automotive factories. These robots consist mainly of mechanical arms tasked with welding or screwing on certain parts of a car. Today, we’re seeing an evolved and expanded definition of robotics that includes the development, creation and use of bots that explore Earth’s harshest conditions, robots that assist law-enforcement and even robots that assist in almost every facet of healthcare.
While the overall world of robotics is expanding, a robot has some consistent characteristics:
- Robots all consist of some sort of mechanical construction. The mechanical aspect of a robot helps it complete tasks in the environment for which it’s designed. For example, the Mars 2020 Rover’s wheels are individually motorized and made of titanium tubing that help it firmly grip the harsh terrain of the red planet.
- Robots need electrical components that control and power the machinery. Essentially, an electric current (a battery, for example) is needed to power a large majority of robots.
- Robots contain at least some level of computer programming. Without a set of code telling it what to do, a robot would just be another piece of simple machinery. Inserting a program into a robot gives it the ability to know when and how to carry out a task.
The robotics industry is still relatively young, but has already made amazing strides. From the deepest depths of our oceans to the highest heights of outer space, robots can be found performing tasks that humans couldn’t dream of achieving.
Types of Robots
Mechanical bots come in all shapes and sizes to efficiently carry out the task for which they are designed. From the 0.2 millimeter-long “RoboBee” to the 200 meter-long robotic shipping vessel “Vindskip,” robots are emerging to carry out tasks that humans simply can’t. Generally, there are five types of robots:
Pre-programmed robots operate in a controlled environment where they do simple, monotonous tasks. An example of a pre-programmed robot would be a mechanical arm on an automotive assembly line. The arm serves one function — to weld a door on, to insert a certain part into the engine, etc. — and it’s job is to perform that task longer, faster and more efficiently than a human.
Humanoid robots are robots that look like and/or mimic human behavior. These robots usually perform human-like activities (like running, jumping and carrying objects), and are sometimes designed to look like us, even having human faces and expressions. Two of the most prominent examples of humanoid robots are Hanson Robotics’ Sophia and Boston Dynamics’ Atlas.
Autonomous robots operate independently of human operators. These robots are usually designed to carry out tasks in open environments that do not require human supervision. An example of an autonomous robot would be the Roomba vacuum cleaner, which uses sensors to roam throughout a home freely.
Augmenting robots either enhance current human capabilities or replace the capabilities a human may have lost. Some examples of augmenting robots are robotic prosthetic limbs or exoskeletons used to lift hefty weights.