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A robot is a virtual or mechanical artificial agent. In practice, it is usually an electro-mechanical machine which is guided by computer or electronic programming, and is thus able to do tasks on its own. Another common characteristic is that by its appearance or movements, a robot often conveys a sense that it has intent or agency of its own.

Definitions



The word robot can refer to both physical robots and virtual software agents, but the latter are usually referred to as bots. There is no consensus on which machines qualify as robots, but there is general agreement among experts and the public that robots tend to do some or all of the following: move around, operate a mechanical limb, sense and manipulate their environment, and exhibit intelligent behavior, especially behavior which mimics humans or other animals.

There is conflict about whether the term can be applied to remotely operated devices, as the most common usage implies, or solely to devices which are controlled by their software without human intervention. In South Africa, robot is an informal and commonly used term for a set of traffic lights.

Stories of artificial helpers and companions and attempts to create them have a long history but fully autonomous machines only appeared in 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. Today, commercial and industrial robots are in widespread use performing jobs more cheaply or with greater accuracy and reliability than humans. They are also employed for jobs which are too dirty, dangerous or dull to be suitable for humans. Robots are widely used in manufacturing, assembly and packing, transport, earth and space exploration, surgery, weaponry, laboratory research, and mass production of consumer and industrial goods.

It is difficult to compare numbers of robots in different countries, since there are different definitions of what a "robot" is. The International Organization for Standardization gives a definition of 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.

The Robotics Institute of America (RIA) uses a broader definition: a robot is a "re-programmable multi-functional manipulator designed to move materials, parts, tools, or specialized devices through variable programmed motions for the performance of a variety of tasks." The RIA subdivides robots into four classes: devices that manipulate objects with manual control, automated devices that manipulate objects with predetermined cycles, programmable and servo-controlled robots with continuous point-to-point trajectories, and robots of this last type which also acquire information from the environment and move intelligently in response.

There is no one definition of robot which satisfies everyone, and many people have their own. For example, Joseph Engelberger, a pioneer in industrial robotics, once remarked: "I can't define a robot, but I know one when I see one." According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, a robot is "any automatically operated machine that replaces human effort, though it may not resemble human beings in appearance or perform functions in a humanlike manner". Merriam-Webster describes a robot as a "machine that looks like a human being and performs various complex acts (as walking or talking) of a human being", or a "device that automatically performs complicated often repetitive tasks", or a "mechanism guided by automatic controls".

Modern 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, particularly in Japanmarker. Robots can also be found in the military.

Defining characteristics

While there is no single correct definition of "robot," a typical robot will have several, or possibly all, of the following characteristics.

It is an electric machine which has some ability to interact with physical objects and to be given electronic programming to do a specific task or to do a whole range of tasks or actions. It may also have some ability to perceive and absorb data on physical objects, or on its local physical environment, or to process data, or to respond to various stimuli. This is in contrast to a simple mechanical device such as a gear or a hydraulic press or any other item which has no processing ability and which does tasks through purely mechanical processes and motion.

Mental agency
For robotic engineers, the physical appearance of a machine is less important than the way its actions are controlled. The more the control system seems to have agency of its own, the more likely the machine is to be called a robot. An important feature of agency is the ability to make choices. Higher-level cognitive functions, though, are not necessary, as shown by ant robots.

  • A clockwork car is never considered a robot.
  • A remotely operated vehicle is sometimes considered a robot (or telerobot).
  • A car with an onboard computer, like Bigtrak, which could drive in a programmable sequence, might be called a robot.
  • A self-controlled car which could sense its environment and make driving decisions based on this information, such as the 1990s driverless cars of Ernst Dickmanns or the entries in the DARPA Grand Challenge, would quite likely be called a robot.
  • A sentient car, like the fictional KITT, which can make decisions, navigate freely and converse fluently with a human, is usually considered a robot.


Physical agency
However, for many laymen, if a machine appears to be able to control its arms or limbs, and especially if it appears anthropomorphic or zoomorphic (e.g. ASIMO or Aibo), it would be called a robot.
  • A player piano is rarely characterized as a robot.
  • A CNC milling machine is very occasionally characterized as a robot.
  • A factory automation arm is almost always characterized as an industrial robot.
  • An autonomous wheeled or tracked device, such as a self-guided rover or self-guided vehicle, is almost always characterized as a mobile robot or service robot.
  • A zoomorphic mechanical toy, like Roboraptor, is usually characterized as a robot.
  • A mechanical humanoid, like ASIMO, is almost always characterized as a robot, usually as a service robot.


Even for a 3-axis CNC milling machine using the same control system as a robot arm, it is the arm which is almost always called a robot, while the CNC machine is usually just a machine. Having eyes can also make a difference in whether a machine is called a robot, since humans instinctively connect eyes with sentience. However, simply being anthropomorphic is not a sufficient criterion for something to be called a robot. A robot must do something; an inanimate object shaped like ASIMO would not be considered a robot.

Etymology

The word robot was introduced to the public by Czechmarker writer Karel Čapek in his play R.U.R. , published in 1920. The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people called robots, but they are closer to the modern ideas of androids, creatures who can be mistaken for humans. They can plainly think for themselves, though they seem happy to serve. At issue is whether the robots are being exploited and the consequences of their treatment.

However, Karel Čapek himself did not coin the word. He wrote a short letter in reference to an etymology in the Oxford English Dictionary in which he named his brother, the painter and writer Josef Čapek, as its actual originator.In an article in the Czech journal Lidové noviny in 1933, he explained that he had originally wanted to call the creatures laboři (from Latin labor, work). However, he did not like the word, and sought advice from his brother Josef, who suggested "roboti". The word robota means literally work, labor or serf labor, and figuratively "drudgery" or "hard work" in Czech and many Slavic languages. Traditionally the robota was the work period a serf had to give for his lord, typically 6 months of the year. Serfdom was outlawed in 1848 in Bohemia, so at the time Čapek wrote R.U.R., usage of the term robota had broadened to include various types of work, but the obsolete sense of "serfdom" would still have been known.

The word robotics, used to describe this field of study, was coined by the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov.

Social impact

As robots have become more advanced and sophisticated, experts and academics have increasingly explored the questions of what ethics might govern robots' behavior, and whether robots might be able to claim any kind of social, cultural, ethical or legal rights. One scientific team has said that it is possible that a robot brain will exist by 2019. Others predict robot intelligence breakthroughs by 2050. Recent advances have made robotic behavior more sophisticated.

Vernor Vinge has suggested that a moment may come when computers and robots are smarter than humans. He calls this "the Singularity." He suggests that it may be somewhat or possibly very dangerous for humans. This is discussed by a philosophy called Singularitarianism.

In 2009, experts attended a conference to discuss whether computers and robots might be able to acquire any autonomy, and how much these abilities might pose a threat or hazard. They noted that some robots have acquired various forms of semi-autonomy, including being able to find power sources on their own and being able to independently choose targets to attack with weapons. They also noted that some computer viruses can evade elimination and have achieved "cockroach intelligence." They noted that self-awareness as depicted in science-fiction is probably unlikely, but that there were other potential hazards and pitfalls. Various media sources and scientific groups have noted separate trends in differing areas which might together result in greater robotic functionalities and autonomy, and which pose some inherent concerns.

Some experts and academics have questioned the use of robots for military combat, especially when such robots are given some degree of autonomous functions. There are also concerns about technology which might allow some armed robots to be controlled mainly by other robots.The US Navy has funded a report which indicates that as military robots become more complex, there should be greater attention to implications of their ability to make autonomous decisions. Some public concerns about autonomous robots have received media attention, especially one robot, EATR, which can continually refuel itself using biomass and organic substances which it finds on battlefields or other local environments.

The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence has studied this topic in depth and its president has commissioned a study to look at this issue.

Some have suggested a need to build "Friendly AI", meaning that the advances which are already occurring with AI should also include an effort to make AI intrinsically friendly and humane. Several such measures reportedly already exist, with robot-heavy countries such as Japan and South Korea having begun to pass regulations requiring robots to be equipped with safety systems, and possibly sets of 'laws' akin to Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. An official report was issued in 2009 by the Japanese government's Robot Industry Policy Committee. Chinese officials and researchers have issued a report suggesting a set of ethical rules, as well as a set of new legal guidelines referred to as "Robot Legal Studies." Some concern has been expressed over a possible occurrence of robots telling apparent falsehoods.

Technological trends

Technological development

Overall trends
Japan hopes to have full-scale commercialization of service robots by 2025. Much technological research in Japan is led by Japanese government agencies, particularly the Trade Ministry.

As robots become more advanced, eventually there may be a standard computer operating system designed mainly for robots. Robot Operating System (ROS) is an open-source set of programs being developed at Stanford Universitymarker, the Massachusetts Institute of Technologymarker and the Technical University of Munichmarker, Germany, among others. ROS provides ways to program a robot's navigation and limbs regardless of the specific hardware involved. It also provides high-level commands for items like image recognition and even opening doors. When ROS boots up on a robot's computer, it would obtain data on attributes such as the length and movement of robots' limbs. It would relay this data to higher-level algorithms. Microsoft is also developing a "Windows for robots" system with its Robotics Developer Studio, which has been available since 2007.

New functions and abilities
The Caterpillar Company is making a dump truck which can drive itself without any human operator.

Research robots

While most robots today are installed in factories or homes, performing labour or life saving jobs, many new types of robot are being developed in laboratories around the world. Much of the research in robotics focuses not on specific industrial tasks, but on investigations into new types of robot, alternative ways to think about or design robots, and new ways to manufacture them. It is expected that these new types of robot will be able to solve real world problems when they are finally realized.

A microfabricated electrostatic gripper holding some silicon nanowires.
  • Nanorobots: Nanorobotics is the still largely hypothetical technology of creating machines or robots at or close to the scale of a nanometer (10−9 meters). Also known as nanobots or nanites, they would be constructed from molecular machines. So far, researchers have mostly produced only parts of these complex systems, such as bearings, sensors, and Synthetic molecular motors, but functioning robots have also been made such as the entrants to the Nanobot Robocup contest. Researchers also hope to be able to create entire robots as small as viruses or bacteria, which could perform tasks on a tiny scale. Possible applications include micro surgery (on the level of individual cells), utility fog, manufacturing, weaponry and cleaning. Some people have suggested that if there were nanobots which could reproduce, the earth would turn into "grey goo", while others argue that this hypothetical outcome is nonsense.
  • Soft Robots: Robots with silicone bodies and flexible actuators (air muscles, electroactive polymers, and ferrofluids), controlled using fuzzy logic and neural networks, look and feel different from robots with rigid skeletons, and are capable of different behaviors.
  • Reconfigurable Robots: A few researchers have investigated the possibility of creating robots which can alter their physical form to suit a particular task, like the fictional T-1000. Real robots are nowhere near that sophisticated however, and mostly consist of a small number of cube shaped units, which can move relative to their neighbours, for example SuperBot. Algorithms have been designed in case any such robots become a reality.
  • Swarm robots: Inspired by colonies of insects such as ants and bees, researchers are modeling the behavior of swarms of thousands of tiny robots which together perform a useful task, such as finding something hidden, cleaning, or spying. Each robot is quite simple, but the emergent behavior of the swarm is more complex. The whole set of robots can be considered as one single distributed system, in the same way an ant colony can be considered a superorganism, exhibiting swarm intelligence. The largest swarms so far created include the iRobot swarm, the SRI/MobileRobots CentiBots project and the Open-source Micro-robotic Project swarm, which are being used to research collective behaviors. Swarms are also more resistant to failure. Whereas one large robot may fail and ruin a mission, a swarm can continue even if several robots fail. This could make them attractive for space exploration missions, where failure can be extremely costly.
  • Haptic interface robots: Robotics also has application in the design of virtual reality interfaces. Specialized robots are in widespread use in the haptic research community. These robots, called "haptic interfaces," allow touch-enabled user interaction with real and virtual environments. Robotic forces allow simulating the mechanical properties of "virtual" objects, which users can experience through their sense of touch. Haptic interfaces are also used in robot-aided rehabilitation.


Varying cultural perceptions

Roughly half of all the robots in the world are in Asia, 32% in Europe, and 16% in North America, 1% in Australasia and 1% in Africa. 30% of all the robots in the world are in Japanmarker. This means that Japan has the most robots in the world out of all the countries, and is in fact leading the world's robotics. Japan is actually said to be the robotic capital of the world.

In Japan and South Koreamarker, ideas of future robots have been mainly positive, and the start of the pro-robotic society there is thought to be possibly due to the famous 'Astro Boy'. Asian societies such as Japan, South Korea, and more recently, China, believe robots to be more equal to humans, having them care for old people, play with or teach children, or replace pets etc. The general view in Asian cultures is that the more robots advance, the better, which is the opposite of the Western belief.

"This is the opening of an era in which human beings and robots can co-exist," says Japanese firm Mitsubishi about one of the many humanistic robots in Japan. South Korea aims to put a robot in every house there by 2015-2020 in order to help catch up technologically with Japan.

Western societies are more likely to be against, or even fear the development of robotics, through much media output in movies and literature that they will replace humans. Some believe that the West regards robots as a 'threat' to the future of humans, partly due to religious beliefs about the role of humans and society. Obviously, these boundaries are not clear, but there is a significant difference between the two cultural viewpoints.

Contemporary uses

At present there are 2 main types of robots, based on their use: general-purpose autonomous robots and dedicated robots.

Robots can be classified by their specificity of purpose. A robot might be designed to perform one particular task extremely well, or a range of tasks less well. Of course, all robots by their nature can be re-programmed to behave differently, but some are limited by their physical form. For example, a factory robot arm can perform jobs such as cutting, welding, gluing, or acting as a fairground ride, while a pick-and-place robot can only populate printed circuit boards.

General-purpose autonomous robots

General-purpose autonomous robots are robots that can perform a variety of functions independently. General-purpose autonomous robots typically can navigate independently in known spaces, handle their own re-charging needs, interface with electronic doors and elevators and perform other basic tasks. Like computers, general-purpose robots can link with networks, software and accessories that increase their usefulness. They may recognize people or objects, talk, provide companionship, monitor environmental quality, respond to alarms, pick up supplies and perform other useful tasks. General-purpose robots may perform a variety of functions simultaneously or they may take on different roles at different times of day. Some such robots try to mimic human beings and may even resemble people in appearance; this type of robot is called a humanoid robot.

A general-purpose robot acts as a guide during the day and a security guard at night


Dedicated robots

In 2006, there were an estimated 3,540,000 service robots in use, and an estimated 950,000 industrial robots. A different estimate counted more than one million robots in operation worldwide in the first half of 2008, with roughly half in Asia, 32% in Europe, 16% in North America, 1% in Australasia and 1% in Africa. Industrial and service robots can be placed into roughly two classifications based on the type of job they do. The first category includes tasks which a robot can do with greater productivity, accuracy, or endurance than humans; the second category consists of dirty, dangerous or dull jobs which humans find undesirable.

Increased productivity, accuracy, and endurance

A Pick and Place robot in a factory
Many factory jobs are now performed by robots. This has led to cheaper mass-produced goods, including automobiles and electronics. Stationary manipulators used in factories have become the largest market for robots. In 2006, there were an estimated 3,540,000 service robots in use, and an estimated 950,000 industrial robots. A different estimate counted more than one million robots in operation worldwide in the first half of 2008, with roughly half in Asia, 32% in Europe, 16% in North America, 1% in Australasia and 1% in Africa.

Some examples of factory robots

  • Car production: Over the last three decades automobile factories have become dominated by robots. A typical factory contains hundreds of industrial robots working on fully automated production lines, with one robot for every ten human workers. On an automated production line, a vehicle chassis on a conveyor is welded, glued, painted and finally assembled at a sequence of robot stations.


  • Packaging: Industrial robots are also used extensively for palletizing and packaging of manufactured goods, for example for rapidly taking drink cartons from the end of a conveyor belt and placing them into boxes, or for loading and unloading machining centers.


  • Electronics: Mass-produced printed circuit boards (PCBs) are almost exclusively manufactured by pick-and-place robots, typically with SCARA manipulators, which remove tiny electronic components from strips or trays, and place them on to PCBs with great accuracy. Such robots can place hundreds of thousands of components per hour, far out-performing a human in speed, accuracy, and reliability.


  • Automated guided vehicles (AGVs): Mobile robots, following markers or wires in the floor, or using vision or lasers, are used to transport goods around large facilities, such as warehouses, container ports, or hospitals.


    • Early AGV-Style Robots were limited to tasks that could be accurately defined and had to be performed the same way every time. Very little feedback or intelligence was required, and the robots needed only the most basic exteroceptors (sensors). The limitations of these AGVs are that their paths are not easily altered and they cannot alter their paths if obstacles block them. If one AGV breaks down, it may stop the entire operation.


    • Interim AGV-Technologies developed that deploy triangulation from beacons or bar code grids for scanning on the floor or ceiling. In most factories, triangulation systems tend to require moderate to high maintenance, such as daily cleaning of all beacons or bar codes. Also, if a tall pallet or large vehicle blocks beacons or a bar code is marred, AGVs may become lost. Often such AGVs are designed to be used in human-free environments.


    • Newer AGVs such as the Speci-Minder, ADAM, Tug and PatrolBot Gofer are designed for people-friendly workspaces. They navigate by recognizing natural features. 3D scanners or other means of sensing the environment in two or three dimensions help to eliminate cumulative errors in dead-reckoning calculations of the AGV's current position. Some AGVs can create maps of their environment using scanning lasers with simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) and use those maps to navigate in real time with other path planning and obstacle avoidance algorithms. They are able to operate in complex environments and perform non-repetitive and non-sequential tasks such as transporting photomasks in a semiconductor lab, specimens in hospitals and goods in warehouses. For dynamic areas, such as warehouses full of pallets, AGVs require additional strategies. Only a few vision-augmented systems currently claim to be able to navigate reliably in such environments.


Dirty, dangerous, dull or inaccessible tasks

There are many jobs which humans would rather leave to robots. The job may be boring, such as domestic cleaning, or dangerous, such as exploring inside a volcano. Other jobs are physically inaccessible, such as exploring another planet, cleaning the inside of a long pipe, or performing laparoscopic surgery.

  • Telerobots: When a human cannot be present on site to perform a job because it is dangerous, far away, or inaccessible, teleoperated robots, or telerobots are used. Rather than following a predetermined sequence of movements, a telerobot is controlled from a distance by a human operator. The robot may be in another room or another country, or may be on a very different scale to the operator. For instance, a laparoscopic surgery robot allows the surgeon to work inside a human patient on a relatively small scale compared to open surgery, significantly shortening recovery time. When disabling a bomb, the operator sends a small robot to disable it. Several authors have been using a device called the Longpen to sign books remotely. Teleoperated robot aircraft, like the Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, are increasingly being used by the military. These pilotless drones can search terrain and fire on targets. Hundreds of robots such as iRobot's Packbot and the Foster-Miller TALON are being used in Iraqmarker and Afghanistanmarker by the U.S. military to defuse roadside bombs or Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in an activity known as explosive ordnance disposal (EOD).




The ANATROLLER ARI-100 is a modular mobile robot used for cleaning hazardous environments
  • In the home: As prices fall and robots become smarter and more autonomous, simple robots dedicated to a single task work in over a million homes. They are taking on simple but unwanted jobs, such as vacuum cleaning and floor washing, and lawn mowing. Some find these robots to be cute and entertaining, which is one reason that they can sell very well.
  • Elder Care: The population is aging in many countries, especially Japan, meaning that there are increasing numbers of elderly people to care for, but relatively fewer young people to care for them. Humans make the best carers, but where they are unavailable, robots are gradually being introduced.
  • Duct Cleaning: In the hazardous and tight spaces of a building's duct work, many hours can be spent cleaning relatively small areas if a manual brush is used. Robots have been used by many duct cleaners primarily in the industrial and institutional cleaning markets, as they allow the job to be done faster, without exposing workers to the harful enzymes released by dust mites. For cleaning high-security institutions such as embassies and prisons, duct cleaning robots are vital, as they allow the job to be completed without compromising the security of the institution. Hospitals and other government buildings with hazardous and cancerogenic environments such as nuclear reactors legally must be cleaned using duct cleaning robots, in countries such as Canada, in an effort to improve workplace safety in duct cleaning.






Potential problems

Fears and concerns about robots have been repeatedly expressed in a wide range of books and films. A common theme is the development of a master race of conscious and highly intelligent robots, motivated to take over or destroy the human race. (See The Terminator, Runaway, Blade Runner, Robocop, Replicator the Replicators in Stargate, the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica, The Matrix, THX-1138, and I, Robot.) Some fictional robots are programmed to kill and destroy; others gain superhuman intelligence and abilities by upgrading their own software and hardware. Examples of popular media where the robot becomes evil are 2001: A Space Odyssey, Red Planet, ... Another common theme is the reaction, sometimes called the "uncanny valley", of unease and even revulsion at the sight of robots that mimic humans too closely. Frankenstein (1818), often called the first science fiction novel, has become synonymous with the theme of a robot or monster advancing beyond its creator. In the TV show, Futurama, the robots are portrayed as humanoid figures that live alongside humans, not as robotic butlers. They still work in industry, but these robots carry out daily lives.

Manuel De Landa has noted that "smart missiles" and autonomous bombs equipped with artificial perception can be considered robots, and they make some of their decisions autonomously. He believes this represents an important and dangerous trend in which humans are handing over important decisions to machines.

Marauding robots may have entertainment value, but unsafe use of robots constitutes an actual danger. A heavy industrial robot with powerful actuators and unpredictably complex behavior can cause harm, for instance by stepping on a human's foot or falling on a human. Most industrial robots operate inside a security fence which separates them from human workers, but not all. Two robot-caused deaths are those of Robert Williams and Kenji Urada. Robert Williams was struck by a robotic arm at a casting plant in Flat Rock, Michiganmarker on January 25, 1979. 37-year-old Kenji Urada, a Japanese factory worker, was killed in 1981; Urada was performing routine maintenance on the robot, but neglected to shut it down properly, and was accidentally pushed into a grinding machine.

Timeline

Date Significance Robot Name Inventor
First century A.D. and earlier Descriptions of more than 100 machines and automata, including a fire engine, a wind organ, a coin-operated machine, and a steam-powered engine, in Pneumatica and Automata by Heron of Alexandria Ctesibius of Alexandria, Philo of Byzantium, Heron of Alexandria, and others
1206 First programmable humanoid automatons Boat with four robotic musicians Al-Jazari
c. 1495 Designs for a humanoid robot Mechanical knight Leonardo da Vinci
1738 Mechanical duck that was able to eat, flap its wings, and excrete Digesting Duck Jacques de Vaucanson
1800s Japanese mechanical toys that served tea, fired arrows, and painted Karakuri toys Hisashige Tanaka
1921 First fictional automata called "robots" appear in the play R.U.R. Rossum's Universal Robots Karel Čapek
1928 Humanoid robot, based on a suit of armor with electrical actuators, exhibited at the annual exhibition of the Model Engineers Society in London Eric W. H. Richards
1930s Humanoid robot exhibited at the 1939 and 1940 World's Fairs Elektro Westinghouse Electric Corporation
1948 Simple robots exhibiting biological behaviors Elsie and Elmer William Grey Walter
1956 First commercial robot, from the Unimation company founded by George Devol and Joseph Engelberger, based on Devol's patents Unimate George Devol
1961 First installed industrial robot Unimate George Devol
1963 First palletizing robot Palletizer Fuji Yusoki Kogyo
1973 First robot with six electromechanically driven axes Famulus KUKA Robot Groupmarker
1975 Programmable universal manipulation arm, a Unimation product PUMA Victor Scheinman


History

Many ancient mythologies include artificial people, such as the mechanical servants built by the Greek god Hephaestus (Vulcan to the Romans), the clay golems of Jewish legend and clay giants of Norse legend, and Galatea, the mythical statue of Pygmalion that came to life. In Greek drama, Deus Ex Machina was contrived as a dramatic device that usually involved lowering a deity by wires into the play to solve a seemingly impossible problem.

In the 4th century BC, the Greek mathematician Archytas of Tarentum postulated a mechanical steam-operated bird he called "The Pigeon". Hero of Alexandria created numerous user-configurable automated devices, and described machines powered by air pressure, steam and water. Su Song built a clock tower in China in 1088 featuring mechanical figurines that chimed the hours.

Al-Jazari (1136–1206), a Muslim inventor during the Artuqid dynasty, designed and constructed a number of automated machines, including kitchen appliances, musical automata powered by water, and the first programmable humanoid robots in 1206. The robots appeared as four musicians on a boat in a lake, entertaining guests at royal drinking parties. His mechanism had a programmable drum machine with pegs (cams) that bumped into little levers that operated percussion instruments. The drummer could be made to play different rhythms and different drum patterns by moving the pegs to different locations.

Early modern developments

Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) sketched plans for a humanoid robot around 1495. Da Vinci's notebooks, rediscovered in the 1950s, contain detailed drawings of a mechanical knight now known as Leonardo's robot, able to sit up, wave its arms and move its head and jaw. The design was probably based on anatomical research recorded in his Vitruvian Man. It is not known whether he attempted to build it.In 1738 and 1739, Jacques de Vaucanson exhibited several life-sized automatons: a flute player, a pipe player and a duck. The mechanical duck could flap its wings, crane its neck, and swallow food from the exhibitor's hand, and it gave the illusion of digesting its food by excreting matter stored in a hidden compartment. Complex mechanical toys and animals built in Japan in the 1700s were described in the Karakuri zui (Illustrated Machinery, 1796)

Modern developments

The Japanese craftsman Hisashige Tanaka (1799–1881), known as "Japan's Edison" or "Karakuri Giemon", created an array of extremely complex mechanical toys, some of which served tea, fired arrows drawn from a quiver, and even painted a Japanese kanji character. In 1898 Nikola Tesla publicly demonstrated a radio-controlled torpedo. Based on patents for "teleautomation", Tesla hoped to develop it into a weapon system for the US Navy.

The first Unimate
In 1926, Westinghouse Electric Corporation created Televox, the first robot put to useful work. They followed Televox with a number of other simple robots, including one called Rastus, made in the crude image of a black man. In the 1930s, they created a humanoid robot known as Elektro for exhibition purposes, including the 1939 and 1940 World's Fairs. In 1928, Japan's first robot, Gakutensoku, was designed and constructed by biologist Makoto Nishimura.

The first electronic autonomous robots were created by William Grey Walter of the Burden Neurological Institute at Bristol, England in 1948 and 1949. They were named Elmer and Elsie. These robots could sense light and contact with external objects, and use these stimuli to navigate.

The first truly modern robot, digitally operated and programmable, was invented by George Devol in 1954 and was ultimately called the Unimate. Devol sold the first Unimate to General Motors in 1960, and it was installed in 1961 in a plant in Trenton, New Jerseymarker to lift hot pieces of metal from a die casting machine and stack them.

Literature



Robotic characters, androids (artificial men/women) or gynoids (artificial women), and cyborgs (also "bionic men/women", or humans with significant mechanical enhancements) have become a staple of science fiction.

The first reference in Western literature to mechanical servants appears in Homer's Iliad. In Book XVIII, Hephaestus, god of fire, creates new armor for the hero Achilles, assisted by robots. According to the Rieu translation, "Golden maidservants hastened to help their master. They looked like real women and could not only speak and use their limbs but were endowed with intelligence and trained in handwork by the immortal gods." Of course, the words "robot" or "android" are not used to describe them, but they are nevertheless mechanical devices human in appearance.

The most prolific author of stories about robots was Isaac Asimov (1920–1992), who placed robots and their interaction with society at the center of many of his works. Asimov carefully considered the problem of the ideal set of instructions robots might be given in order to lower the risk to humans, and arrived at his Three Laws of Robotics: a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; a robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; and a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. These were introduced in his 1942 short story "Runaround", although foreshadowed in a few earlier stories. Later, Asimov added the Zeroth Law: "A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm"; the rest of the laws are modified sequentially to acknowledge this.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first passage in Asimov's short story "Liar!" (1941) that mentions the First Law is the earliest recorded use of the word robotics. Asimov was not initially aware of this; he assumed the word already existed by analogy with mechanics, hydraulics, and other similar terms denoting branches of applied knowledge.

See also

Main list: Topic outline of robotics


For classes and types of robots see :Category:Robots.

Notes and references

  1. Including Slovak, Ukrainian, Russian and Polish. The origin of the word is the Old Church Slavonic rabota "servitude" ("work" in contemporary Bulgarian and Russian), which in turn comes from the Indo-European root *orbh-.
  2. Robot is cognate with the German word Arbeiter (worker). In Hungary, the robot was a feudal service, similar to corvee which was rendered to local magnates by peasants every year.
  3. AAAI webpage of materials on robot ethics.
  4. AAAI compilation of articles on robot rights, Sources compiled up to 2006.
  5. Scientists Predict Artificial Brain in 10 Years, by Kristie McNealy M.D. July 29, 2009.
  6. Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind By Hans Moravec, Google Books.
  7. Robots Almost Conquering Walking, Reading, Dancing, by Matthew Weigand, Korea Itimes, Monday, August 17, 2009.
  8. The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era,by Vernor Vinge, Department of Mathematical Sciences, San Diego State University, (c) 1993 by Vernor Vinge.
  9. Scientists Worry Machines May Outsmart Man By JOHN MARKOFF, NY Times, July 26, 2009.
  10. Gaming the Robot Revolution: A military technology expert weighs in on Terminator: Salvation., By P. W. Singer, slate.com Thursday, May 21, 2009.
  11. Robot takeover, gyre.org.
  12. robot page, engadget.com.
  13. Call for debate on killer robots, By Jason Palmer, Science and technology reporter, BBC News, 8/3/09.
  14. Robot Three-Way Portends Autonomous Future, By David Axe wired.com, August 13, 2009.
  15. New Navy-funded Report Warns of War Robots Going "Terminator", by Jason Mick (Blog), dailytech.com, February 17, 2009.
  16. Navy report warns of robot uprising, suggests a strong moral compass, by Joseph L. Flatley engadget.com, Feb 18th 2009.
  17. AAAI Ethics page.
  18. AAAI Presidential Panel on Long-Term AI Futures 2008-2009 Study, Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, Accessed 7/26/09.
  19. Article at Asimovlaws.com, July 2004, accessed 7/27/09.
  20. Robotic age poses ethical dilemma; BBC News; 2007-03-07; retrieved on 2007-01-02;
  21. Asimov's First Law: Japan Sets Rules for Robots, By Bill Christensen, livescience.com, May 26, 2006.
  22. Japan drafts rules for advanced robots, UPI via physorg.com, April 6th, 2007.
  23. Report compiled by the Japanese government's Robot Industry Policy Committee -Building a Safe and Secure Social System Incorporating the Coexistence of Humans and Robots, Official Japan government press release, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, March 2009.
  24. Toward the human-Robot Coexistence Society: on Safety intelligence for next Generation Robots, report by Yueh-Hsuan Weng, China Ministry of the Interior, International Journal of Social Robotics, April 7, 2009.
  25. Evolving Robots Learn To Lie To Each Other, Popular Science, August 19, 2009.
  26. Research and Development for Next-generation Service Robots in Japan, United Kingdom Foreign Ministry report, by Yumiko Moyen, Science and Innovation Section, British Embassy, Tokyo, Japan, January 2009.
  27. Robots to get their own operating system, by Mehret Tesfaye Ethipian Review, August 13th, 2009.
  28. The Caterpillar Self-Driving Dump Truck, By Tim McKeough, fastcompany.com, Nov 25, 2008.
  29. Techbirbal: Nanobots Play Football
  30. KurzweilAI.net: Utility Fog: The Stuff that Dreams Are Made Of
  31. (Eric Drexler 1986) Engines of Creation, The Coming Era of Nanotechnology
  32. (1996) LEGO(TM)s to the Stars: Active MesoStructures, Kinetic Cellular Automata, and Parallel Nanomachines for Space Applications
  33. (Robert Fitch, Zack Butler and Daniela Rus) Reconfiguration Planning for Heterogeneous Self-Reconfiguring Robots
  34. ((cite web|http://www.activrobots.com/RESEARCH/wheelchair.html|title=SRI/MobileRobots Centibot project))
  35. Robots Today and Tomorrow: IFR Presents the 2007 World Robotics Statistics Survey; World Robotics; 2007-10-29; retrieved on 2007-12-14
  36. Reporting by Watanabe, Hiroaki; Writing and additional reporting by Negishi, Mayumi; Editing by Norton, Jerry; Japan's robots slug it out to be world champ; Reuters; 2007-12-02; retrieved on 2007-01-01
  37. Lewis, Leo; The robots are running riot! Quick, bring out the red tape; TimesOnline; 2007-04-06; retrieved on 2007-01-02
  38. Biglione, Kirk; The Secret To Japan's Robot Dominance; Planet Tokyo; 2006-01-24; retrieved on 2007-01-02
  39. Robot Helpers, USA Today, April 11, 2004.
  40. Domestic robot to debut in Japan ; BBC News; 2005-08-30; retrieved on 2007-01-02
  41. Chamberlain, Ted; Photo in the News: Ultra-Lifelike Robot Debuts in Japan; National Geographic News; 2005-06-10; retrieved on 2008-01-02
  42. Yang, Jeff; ASIAN POP Robot Nation Why Japan, and not America, is likely to be the world's first cyborg society; SFGate; 2005-08-25; retrieved on 2007-01-02
  43. http://blogs.spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/2008/03/21/10_stats_you_should_know_about_robots.html
  44. *Manuel de Landa, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, New York: Zone Books, 1991, 280 pages, Hardcover, ISBN 0-942299-76-0; Paperback, ISBN 0-942299-75-2.
  45. Wood, Gabby. "Living Dolls: A Magical History Of The Quest For Mechanical Life", The Guardian, 2002-02-16.
  46. He wrote "over 460 books as well as thousands of articles and reviews", and was the "third most prolific writer of all time [and] one of the founding fathers of modern science fiction".


Further reading

  • Cheney, Margaret [1989:123] (1981). Tesla, Man Out of Time. Dorset Press. New York. ISBN 0-88029-419-1
  • Craig, J.J. (2005). Introduction to Robotics. Pearson Prentice Hall. Upper Saddle River, NJ.
  • Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 2. Taipei: Caves Books Ltd.
  • Sotheby's New York. The Tin Toy Robot Collection of Matt Wyse, (1996)
  • Tsai, L. W. (1999). Robot Analysis. Wiley. New York.
  • DeLanda, Manuel. War in the Age of Intelligent Machines. 1991. Swerve. New York.
  • Journal of Field Robotics


External links

General news and developments
  • robots.net general robot-related news and technological developments.
Research


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