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The study, use, or making of robots for fun, work, and much more
A robot is a mechanical device that can perform physical tasks. A robot may act under the direct control of a human (eg. the robotic arm of the space shuttle) or autonomously under the control of a pre-programmed computer. Robots may be used to perform tasks that are too dangerous or difficult for humans to implement directly (e.g. the space shuttle arm) or may be used to automate repetitive tasks that can be performed more cheaply by a robot than by them employment of a human (e.g. automobile production).
The word robot is also used to describe an intelligent mechanical device in the form of a human. This form of robot (culturally referred to as androids) is common in science fiction stories. However, such robots are yet to become common-place in reality and much development is yet required in the field of artificial intelligence before they even begin to approach the robots of science fiction.
Finally, bots are sometimes referred to as robots, because they perform mundane, repetitive tasks.
The word robot is used to refer to a wide range of machines, the common feature of which is that they are all capable of movement and can be used to perform physical tasks. Robots take on many different forms, ranging from humanoid, which mimic the human form and way of moving, to industrial, whose appearance is dictated by the function they are to perform. Robots can be grouped generally as mobile robots (eg. autonomous vehicles), manipulator robots (eg. industrial robots) and Self reconfigurable robots, which can conform themselves to the task at hand.
Robots may be controlled directly by a human, such as remotely-controlled bomb-disposal robots, robotic arms, or shuttles, or may act according to their own decision making ability, provided by artificial intelligence. However, the majority of robots fall in-between these extremes, being controlled by pre-programmed computers. Such robots may include feedback loops such that they can interact with their environment, but do not display actual intelligence.
The word robot is also used in a general sense to mean any machine which mimics the actions of a human (biomimicry), in the physical sense or in the mental sense.
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.
The word "Robot" was introduced by Czech writer Karel Čapek in his play "R.U.R." (Rossum's Universal Robots) which was written in 1920 (See also Robots in literature for details of the play). Although, the slang verb "robotovát", meaning "to work" or "to slave", used extensively in the Czech and Slovak languages, has been used since the early 10th century.
Concepts akin to today's robot can be found as long ago as 450B.C. when the Greek mathematician Archytas of Tarentum postulated a mechanical bird he called "The Pigeon" which was propelled by steam. Al-Jazari (1136-1206) an Ortoqid (Artuk) Turkish inventor designed and constructed automatic machines such as water clocks, kitchen appliances and musical automats powered by water (See one of his
works at ).
One of the first recorded designs of a humanoid robot was made by Leonardo da Vinci in around 1495. Da Vinci's notebooks, rediscovered in the 1950s, contain detailed drawings of a mechanical knight able to sit up, wave its arms and move its head and jaw. The design is likely to be based on his anatomical research recorded in the "Vitruvian Man". It is not known whether he attempted to build the 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.
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 while the first electronic autonomous robots were created by Grey Walter at Bristol University, England in 1948.
Contemporary uses of robots
Robots are growing in complexity and their use in industry is becoming more widespread. The main use of robots has so far been in the automation of mass production industries, where the same, definable, tasks must be performed repeatedly in exactly the same fashion. Car production is the primary example of the employment of large and complex robots for producing products. Robots are used in that process for the painting, welding and assembly of the cars. Robots are good for such tasks because the tasks can be accurately defined and must be performed the same every time, with little need for feedback to control the exact process being performed. can be manufactured in a wide range of sizes and so can handle much larger tasks than a human could.
Robots are also useful in environments which are unpleasant or dangerous for humans to work in, for example the cleaning of toxic waste, bomb disposal, work in space or underwater and in mining.
Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) are moveable robots that are used in large facilities such as warehouses, hospitals and container ports, for the movement of goods, or even for safety and security patrols. Such vehicles follow wires, markers or laser-guidance to navigate around the location and can be programmed to move between places to deliver goods or patrol a certain area.
Domestic robots are now available that perform simple tasks such as vacuum cleaning and grass cutting. By the end of 2004 over 1,000,000 vacuum cleaner units had been sold . Examples of domestic robots are Sony's Aibo, the Scooba and Roomba robots from iRobot Corporation, and Electrolux's Automower.
Humanoid robots are in development with the aim of being able to provide robotic functions in a form that may be more aesthetically pleasing to customers, thereby increasing the likelihood of them being accepted in society. These robots fall within a field known as social robots which aim to interact and provide companionship to people. Example of social robots are ludobot and Wakamaru.
For education in schools and high schools and mechatronics training in companies robot kits are becoming more and more popular. On the schools side there exists kits from LEGO or Fischertechnik made of plastics components, on the more professional side there exists e.g. the qfix robot kit made of aluminium parts.
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