ASIMO (2000) at the Expo 2005, a humanoid robot
Articulated welding robots used in a factory

A robot is a mechanical or virtual intelligent agent that can perform tasks automatically or with guidance, typically by remote control. In practice a robot is usually an electro-mechanical machine that is guided by computer and electronic programming. Robots can be autonomous, semi-autonomous or remotely controlled. Robots range from humanoids such as ASIMO and TOPIO to Nano robots, Swarm robots, Industrial robots, mobile and servicing robots. By mimicking a lifelike appearance or automating movements, a robot may convey a sense that it has intent or agency of its own.

When societies first began developing, nearly all production and effort was the result of human labour, as well as with the aid of semi- and fully domesticated animals. As mechanical means of performing functions were discovered, and mechanics and complex mechanisms were developed, the need for human labour was reduced. Machinery was initially used for repetitive functions, such as lifting water and grinding grain. With technological advances more complex machines were slowly developed, such as those invented by Hero of Alexandria (in Egypt) in the 1st century AD, and the first half of the second millennium AD, such as the Automata of Al-Jazari in the 12th century AD (in medieval Iraq). They were not widely adopted as human labour, particularly slave labour, was still inexpensive compared to the capital-intensive machines. Men such as Leonardo Da Vinci in 1495 through to Jacques de Vaucanson in 1739, as well as rediscovering the Greek engineering methods, have made plans for and built automata and robots leading to books of designs such as the Japanese Karakuri zui (Illustrated Machinery) in 1796. As mechanical techniques developed through the Industrial age we find more practical applications such as Nikola Tesla in 1898, who designed a radio-controlled boat, and John Hammond Jr. and Benjamin Miessner who in 1912 created the Electric Dog as a precursor to their self directing torpedo of 1915.[1]. We also find a more android development as designers tried to mimic more human-like features including designs such as those of biologist Makoto Nishimura in 1929 and his creation Gakutensoku, which cried and changed its facial expressions, and the more crude Elektro from Westinghouse Electric Corporation in 1938.

Electronics then became the driving force of development instead of mechanics, with the advent of the first electronic autonomous robots created by William Grey Walter in Bristol, England, in 1948. The first digital and programmable robot was invented by George Devol in 1954 and was ultimately called the Unimate. Devol sold the first Unimate to General Motors in 1960 where it was used to lift pieces of hot metal from die casting machines in a plant in Trenton, New Jersey. Since then we have seen robots finally reach a more true assimilation of all technologies to produce robots such as ASIMO which can walk and move like a human. Robots have replaced slaves[citation needed] in the assistance of performing those repetitive and dangerous tasks which humans prefer not to do, or are unable to do due to size limitations, or even those such as in outer space or at the bottom of the sea where humans could not survive the extreme environments.

Man has developed an awareness of the problems associated with autonomous robots and how they may act in society. Fear of robot behaviour, such as Shelley's Frankenstein and the EATR, drive current practice in establishing what autonomy a robot should and should not be capable of. Thinking has developed through discussion of robot control and artificial intelligence (AI) and how its application should benefit society, such as those based around Asimov's three laws. Practicality still drives development forwards and robots are used in an increasingly wide variety of tasks such as vacuuming floors, mowing lawns, cleaning drains, investigating other planets, building cars, in entertainment and in warfare.



The idea of automata originates in the mythologies of many cultures around the world. Engineers and inventors from ancient civilizations, including Ancient China,[2] Ancient Greece, and Ptolemaic Egypt,[3] attempted to build self-operating machines, some resembling animals and humans. Early descriptions of automata include the artificial doves of Archytas,[4] the artificial birds of Mozi and Lu Ban,[5] a "speaking" automaton by Hero of Alexandria, a washstand automaton by Philo of Byzantium, and a human automaton described in the Lie Zi.[2]

Ancient beginnings

Many ancient mythologies include artificial people, such as the mechanical servants built by the Greek god Hephaestus[11] (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.

Since cerca 400 BCE, myths of Crete that were incorporated into Greek mythology include Talos, a man of bronze who guarded the Cretian island of Europa from pirates.

In ancient Greece, the Greek engineer Ctesibius (c. 270 BC) "applied a knowledge of pneumatics and hydraulics to produce the first organ and water clocks with moving figures."[12][13] In the 4th century BC, the Greek mathematician Archytas of Tarentum postulated a mechanical steam-operated bird he called "The Pigeon". Hero of Alexandria (10–70 AD), a Greek mathematician and inventor, created numerous user-configurable automated devices, and described machines powered by air pressure, steam and water.[14]

In ancient China, the 3rd century BC text of the Lie Zi describes an account of humanoid automata, involving a much earlier encounter between King Mu of Zhou (Chinese emperor 10th century BC) and a mechanical engineer known as Yan Shi, an 'artificer'. The latter proudly presented the king with a life-size, human-shaped figure of his mechanical 'handiwork' made of leather, wood, and artificial organs.[2] There are also accounts of flying automata in the Han Fei Zi and other texts, which attributes the 5th century BC Mohist philosopher Mozi and his contemporary Lu Ban with the invention of artificial wooden birds (ma yuan) that could successfully fly.[5] In 1066, the Chinese inventor Su Song built a water clock in the form of a tower which featured mechanical figurines which chimed the hours. The beginning of automata is associated with the invention of early Su Song's astronomical clock tower featured mechanical figurines that chimed the hours.[15]

In the medieval Islamic world, 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 programmable automata.[6][16] 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.[6][16]

Early modern developments

In Renaissance Italy, Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) sketched plans for a humanoid robot around 1495. Da Vinci's notebooks, rediscovered in the 1950s, contained 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.[17] The design was probably based on anatomical research recorded in his Vitruvian Man. It is not known whether he attempted to build it.

In Japan, complex animal and human automata were built between the 17th to 19th centuries, with many described in the 18th century Karakuri zui (Illustrated Machinery, 1796). One such automaton was the karakuri ningyō, a mechanized puppet.[18] Different variations of the karakuri existed: the Butai karakuri, which were used in theatre, the Zashiki karakuri, which were small and used in homes, and the Dashi karakuri which were used in religious festivals, where the puppets were used to perform reenactments of traditional myths and legends.

In France, between 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.[19]

Modern developments

TOPIO, a humanoid robot, played ping pong at Tokyo International Robot Exhibition (IREX) 2009.[20][21]

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.[22] In 1898 Nikola Tesla publicly demonstrated a radio-controlled torpedo.[23] Based on patents for "teleautomation", Tesla hoped to develop it into a weapon system for the US Navy.[24][25]

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.[26][27] In 1928, Japan's first robot, Gakutensoku, was designed and constructed by biologist Makoto Nishimura.

The first electronic autonomous robots with complex behaviour 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.[28]

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 Jersey to lift hot pieces of metal from a die casting machine and stack them.[29] Devol’s patent for the first digitally operated programmable robotic arm represents the foundation of the modern robotics industry.[30]

Commercial and industrial robots are now 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.[31]


A scene from Karel Čapek's 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), showing three robots

The word robot was introduced to the public by the Czech interwar writer Karel Čapek in his play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), published in 1920.[32] The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people called robots, though 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.

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.[32]

In an article in the Czech journal Lidové noviny in 1933, he explained that he had originally wanted to call the creatures laboři ("workers", from Latin labor) or dělňasi (from Czech dělníci - "workers"). However, he did not like the word, and sought advice from his brother Josef, who suggested "roboti". The word robota means literally "corvée", "serf labor", and figuratively "drudgery" or "hard work" in Czech and also (more general) "work", "labor" in many Slavic languages (e.g.: Slovak, Polish, archaic Czech). Traditionally the robota was the work period a serf (corvée) had to give for his lord, typically 6 months of the year. 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-.[33] 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.[34] It is not clear from which language Čapek took the radix "robot(a)". This question is not irrelevant, because its answer could help to reveal an original Čapek´s conception of robots. If from the modern Czech language, the notion of robot should be understood as an „automatic serf“ (it means a subordinated creature without own will). If from Polish, Russian or Slovak (Karel Čapek and his brother were frequent visitors of Slovakia which in this time was a part of Czechoslovakia, because their father MUDr. Antonín Čapek from 1916 worked as a physician in Trenčianske Teplice.[35]), the word robot would simply mean a „worker“ which is a more universal and neutral notion. The aspect of pronunciation probably also played a role in Čapek's final decision: In non-Slavic languages it is more easily to pronounce a word robot than dělňas or laboř.

The word robotics, used to describe this field of study, was coined by the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. Asimov and John W. Campbell created the "Three Laws of Robotics" which are a recurring theme in his books. These have since been used by many others to define laws used in fact and fiction. Introduced in his 1942 short story "Runaround" the Laws state the following:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by 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.


The word robot can refer to both physical robots and virtual software agents, but the latter are usually referred to as bots.[36] 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 no one definition of robot which satisfies everyone and many people have their own.[37] 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."[38] According to the 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".[39] 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".[40]

Defining characteristics

While there is no single correct definition of "robot,"[41] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Physical agency

However, for many laymen, if a machine appears 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.[citation needed]

  • A player piano is rarely characterized as a robot.[43]
  • A CNC milling machine is very occasionally characterized as a robot.[citation needed]
  • A factory automation arm is almost always characterized as an industrial robot.[citation needed]
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • A zoomorphic mechanical toy, like Roboraptor, is usually characterized as a robot.[44]
  • A mechanical humanoid, like ASIMO, is almost always characterized as a robot, usually as a service robot.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Modern robots

A laparoscopic robotic surgery machine

Mobile robot

Mobile robots have the capability to move around in their environment and are not fixed to one physical location. An example of a mobile robot that is in common use today is the automated guided vehicle or automatic guided vehicle (AGV). An AGV is a mobile robot that follows markers or wires in the floor, or uses vision or lasers. AGVs are discussed later in this article.[citation needed]

Mobile robots are also found in industry, military and security environments. They also appear as consumer products, for entertainment or to perform certain tasks like vacuum cleaning. Mobile robots are the focus of a great deal of current research and almost every major university has one or more labs that focus on mobile robot research.[citation needed]

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. Robots can also be found in military applications.[citation needed]

Industrial robots (manipulating)

Industrial robots usually consist of a jointed arm (multi-linked manipulator) and an end effector that is attached to a fixed surface. One of the most common type of end effector is a gripper assembly.

The International Organization for Standardization gives a definition of a manipulating industrial 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."[45]

This definition is used by the International Federation of Robotics, the European Robotics Research Network (EURON) and many national standards committees.[46]

A Pick and Place robot in a factory

Service robot

Most commonly industrial robots are fixed robotic arms and manipulators used primarily for production and distribution of goods. The term "service robot" is less well-defined. IFR has proposed a tentative definition, "A service robot is a robot which operates semi- or fully autonomously to perform services useful to the well-being of humans and equipment, excluding manufacturing operations."[citation needed]

Modular robot

Modular robots is a new breed of robots that are designed to increase the utilization of the robots by modularizing the robots. The functionality and effectiveness of a modular robot is easier to increase compared to conventional robots.

Robots in society

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.[47] 30% of all the robots in the world are in Japan,[48] making Japan the country with the highest number of robots.

Regional perspectives

In Japan and South Korea, 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.[49] The general view in Asian cultures is that the more robots advance, the better.

"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.[50] South Korea aims to put a robot in every house there by 2015-2020 in order to help catch up technologically with Japan.[51][52]

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.[53][54] Obviously, these boundaries are not clear, but there is a significant difference between the two cultural viewpoints.

Autonomy and ethical questions

A gynoid, or robot designed to resemble a woman, can appear comforting to some people and disturbing to others[55]

As robots have become more advanced and sophisticated, experts and academics have increasingly explored the questions of what ethics might govern robots' behavior,[56] and whether robots might be able to claim any kind of social, cultural, ethical or legal rights.[57] One scientific team has said that it is possible that a robot brain will exist by 2019.[58] Others predict robot intelligence breakthroughs by 2050.[59] Recent advances have made robotic behavior more sophisticated.[60] The social impact of intelligent robots is subject of a 2010 documentary film called Plug & Pray.[61]

Vernor Vinge has suggested that a moment may come when computers and robots are smarter than humans. He calls this "the Singularity".[62] He suggests that it may be somewhat or possibly very dangerous for humans.[63] This is discussed by a philosophy called Singularitarianism.

In 2009, experts attended a conference hosted by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) 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.[62] 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.[64][65][66]

Military robots

Some experts and academics have questioned the use of robots for military combat, especially when such robots are given some degree of autonomous functions.[67] There are also concerns about technology which might allow some armed robots to be controlled mainly by other robots.[68] 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.[69][70] One researcher states that autonomous robots might be more humane, as they could make decisions more effectively. However, other experts question this.[71]

Some public concerns about autonomous robots have received media attention.[72] One robot in particular, the EATR, has generated concerns over its fuel source as it can continually refuel itself using organic substances.[73] Although the engine for the EATR is designed to run on biomass and vegetation[74] specifically selected by its sensors which can find on battlefields or other local environments the project has stated that chicken fat can also be used.[75]

Contemporary uses

At present there are two 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 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. Humanoid robots are still in a very limited stage, as no humanoid robot, can, as of yet, actually navigate around a room that it has never been in. Thus humanoid robots are really quite limited, despite their intelligent behaviors in their well-known environments.

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

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.

An intelligent AGV drops-off goods without needing lines or beacons in the workspace

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.


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.[76] Such robots can place hundreds of thousands of components per hour, far out-performing a human in speed, accuracy, and reliability.[77]

Automated guided vehicles (AGVs)

Mobile robots, following markers or wires in the floor, or using vision[78] or lasers, are used to transport goods around large facilities, such as warehouses, container ports, or hospitals.[79]

Early AGV-Style Robots
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 to 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.
Intelligent AGVs (i-AGVs)
A U.S. Marine Corps technician prepares to use a telerobot to detonate a buried improvised explosive device near Camp Fallujah, Iraq
Such as SmartLoader[80], SpeciMinder,[81] ADAM,[82] Tug[83] and MT 400 with Motivity[84] 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 using three-dimensional sensors such as time-of-flight or stereovision cameras.

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.[85] Other jobs are physically inaccessible, such as exploring another planet,[86] cleaning the inside of a long pipe, or performing laparoscopic surgery.[87]

Space probes

Almost every unmanned space probe ever launched was a robot. Some were launched in the 1960s with very limited abilities, but their ability to fly and land (in the case of Luna 9) is an indication of their status as a robot. This includes the Voyager probes and the Galileo probes, and others.


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.[87] 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.[88] 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.[89][90] Hundreds of robots such as iRobot's Packbot and the Foster-Miller TALON are being used in Iraq and Afghanistan by the U.S. military to defuse roadside bombs or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in an activity known as explosive ordnance disposal (EOD).[91]

Automated fruit harvesting machines
The Roomba domestic vacuum cleaner robot does a single, menial job

Used to pick fruit on orchards at a cost lower than that of human pickers.

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.

Duct cleaning
The ANATROLLER ARI-100 is a modular mobile robot used for cleaning hazardous environments

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 harmful 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.

Military robots

Military robots include the SWORDS robot which is currently used in ground-based combat. It can use a variety of weapons and there is some discussion of giving it some degree of autonomy in battleground situations.[92][93][94]

Unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs), which are an upgraded form of UAVs, can do a wide variety of missions, including combat. UCAVs are being designed such as the Mantis UCAV which would have the ability to fly themselves, to pick their own course and target, and to make most decisions on their own.[95] The BAE Taranis is a UCAV built by Great Britain which can fly across continents without a pilot and has new means to avoid detection.[96] Flight trials are expected to begin in 2011.[97][98]

The AAAI has studied this topic in depth[56] and its president has commissioned a study to look at this issue.[99]

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.[100] Several such measures reportedly already exist, with robot-heavy countries such as Japan and South Korea[51] 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.[101][102] An official report was issued in 2009 by the Japanese government's Robot Industry Policy Committee.[103] Chinese officials and researchers have issued a report suggesting a set of ethical rules, and a set of new legal guidelines referred to as "Robot Legal Studies."[104] Some concern has been expressed over a possible occurrence of robots telling apparent falsehoods.[105]


Robotics at school has three main applications, Robotic kits, Virtual tutors, and teacher's assistants.

Robotic kits

Robotic kits, as Lego Mindstorms or BotBrain Educational Robots, help children to learn about mathematics, physics, programming and electronics.

Robotics have also been introduced into the lives of elementary and high school students with the company FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). The organization is the foundation for the FIRST Robotics Competition, FIRST LEGO League, Junior FIRST LEGO League, and FIRST Tech Challenge competitions.

Virtual tutors

Virtual tutors are some kind of embodied agent that helps children to do their homework, for example, on peer to peer basis.

Teacher assistants

Robots as teacher assistants let children to be more assertive during the class and get more motivated. South Korea is the first country deploying a program to have a robot in each school.


Robots in healthcare have two main functions. Those which assist an individual, such as a sufferer of a disease like Multiple Sclerosis, and those which aid in the overall systems such as pharmacies and hospitals.

Home automation for the elderly and disabled
The Care-Providing Robot FRIEND. (Photo: IAT)

Robots have developed over time from simple basic robotic assistants, such as the Handy 1,[106] through to semi-autonomous robots, such as FRIEND which can assist the elderly and disabled with common tasks.

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.[107][108] Humans make the best carers, but where they are unavailable, robots are gradually being introduced.[109]

FRIEND is a semi-autonomous robot designed to support disabled and elderly people in their daily life activities, like preparing and serving a meal. FRIEND make it possible for patients who are paraplegic, have muscle diseases or serious paralysis (due to strokes etc.), to perform tasks without help from other people like therapists or nursing staff.


Script Pro manufactures a robot designed to help pharmacies fill prescriptions that consist of oral solids or medications in pill form. The pharmacist or pharmacy technician enters the prescription information into its information system. The system, upon determining whether or not the drug is in the robot, will send the information to the robot for filling. The robot has 3 different size vials to fill determined by the size of the pill. The robot technician, user, or pharmacist determines the needed size of the vial based on the tablet when the robot is stocked. Once the vial is filled it is brought up to a conveyor belt that delivers it to a holder that spins the vial and attaches the patient label. Afterwards it is set on another conveyor that delivers the patient’s medication vial to a slot labeled with the patient's name on an LED read out. The pharmacist or technician then checks the contents of the vial to ensure it’s the correct drug for the correct patient and then seals the vials and sends it out front to be picked up. The robot is a very time efficient device that the pharmacy depends on to fill prescriptions.

McKesson’s Robot RX is another healthcare robotics product that helps pharmacies dispense thousands of medications daily with little or no errors. The robot can be ten feet wide and thirty feet long and can hold hundreds of different kinds of medications and thousands of doses. The pharmacy saves many resources like staff members that are otherwise unavailable in a resource scarce industry. It uses an electromechanical head coupled with a pneumatic system to capture each dose and deliver it to its either stocked or dispensed location. The head moves along a single axis while it rotates 180 degrees to pull the medications. During this process it uses barcode technology to verify its pulling the correct drug. It then delivers the drug to a patient specific bin on a conveyor belt. Once the bin is filled with all of the drugs that a particular patient needs and that the robot stocks, the bin is then released and returned out on the conveyor belt to a technician waiting to load it into a cart for delivery to the floor.

Future development

Technological trends

Various techniques have emerged to develop the science of robotics and robots. One method is evolutionary robotics, in which a number of differing robots are submitted to tests. Those which perform best are used as a model to create a subsequent "generation" of robots. Another method is developmental robotics, which tracks changes and development within a single robot in the areas of problem-solving and other functions.

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.[110]

As robots become more advanced, eventually there may be a standard computer operating system designed mainly for robots. Robot Operating System is an open-source set of programs being developed at Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Technical University of Munich, 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.[111]

New functions and abilities

The Caterpillar Company is making a dump truck which can drive itself without any human operator.[112]

Many future applications of robotics seem obvious to people, even though they are well beyond the capabilities of robots available at the time of the prediction. As early as 1982 people were confident that someday robots would:[113] 1. clean parts by removing molding flash 2. spray paint automobiles with absolutely no human presence 3. pack things in boxes—for example, orient and nest chocolate candies in candy boxes 4. make electrical cable harness 5. load trucks with boxes—a packing problem 6. handle soft goods, such as garments and shoes 7. shear sheep 8. prosthesis 9. cook fast food and work in other service industries 10. household robot.

Generally such predictions are overly optimistic in timescale.

Reading robot

A literate or 'reading robot' named Marge has intelligence that comes from software. She can read newspapers, find and correct misspelled words, learn about banks like Barclays, and understand that some restaurants are better places to eat than others.[114]

Problems with implementing robots in society

Dangers and human harm

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. Four robot-caused deaths are those of Robert Williams, Kenji Urada, Wayne Lucio, and an unnamed worker. Robert Williams was struck by a robotic arm at a casting plant in Flat Rock, Michigan on January 25, 1979.[115] Kenji Urada, a 37-year-old 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.[116] Wayne Lucio, a 31-year-old Frito-Lay worker, died when he tried to adjust a pallet when an Automatic Guided Vehicle that did not sense a forklift, pinned Lucio between the two.[117] An unnamed contractor died when his car was crushed by debris when an Automated Storage and Retrieval System (AS/RS) collapse ignited a fire that burned for three weeks and destroyed the building in which an estimated 108 million pounds of paper were stored.[118]

Robotic devices

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.[119]

Relationship to unemployment

Some analysts, such as Martin Ford, author of The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future[120] argue that robots and other forms of automation will ultimately result in significant unemployment as machines begin to match and exceed the capability of workers to perform most jobs.[citation needed] At present the negative impact is only on menial and repetitive jobs, and there is actually a positive impact on the number of jobs for highly skilled technicians, engineers, and specialists. However, these highly skilled jobs are not sufficient in number to offset the greater decrease in employment among the general population, causing structural unemployment in which overall (net) unemployment rises.[citation needed]

A recent example of human replacement involves Taiwanese technology company Foxconn who, in July 2011, announced a three year plan to replace workers with more robots. At present the company uses ten-thousand robots but will increase them to a million robots over a three year period.[121]

Service robots of different varieties including medical robots, underwater robots, surveillance robots, demolition robots and other types of robots that carry out a multitude of jobs are gaining in numbers. Service robots are everyday tools for mankind. They can clean floors, mow lawns and guard homes and will also assist old and handicapped people, do some surgeries, inspect pipes and sites that are hazardous to people, fight fires and defuse bombs.[122]

Past responses to train humans for higher levels of technological work may have increased human labor jobs for unskilled workers in general and skilled workers also but that method does not seem to be viable now in industrial societies. Humans collecting on a toll road for instance in some countries are replaced by robots doing that job and though it may be an idea for a trained worker, say perhaps the former human toll taker doing the job to fix and program the new toll-collecting robots, it never really works out that way since not as many people are needed to make or program the robots as the robots replace.[123]

Robots in popular culture


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.[124] 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 first use of the word Robot was in Karel Čapek's play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) (written in 1920)" Robots in literature.

Possibly the most prolific authors of the twentieth century was Isaac Asimov (1920–1992)[125] who published over five-hundred books.[126] Asimov is probably best remembered for his science-fiction stories and especially those about robots, where he placed robots and their interaction with society at the center of many of his works.[127][128] 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.[129] 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.[130]

Problems depicted in popular culture

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, the Replicators in Stargate, the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica, The Matrix, Enthiran 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 and Enthiran. 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.[55] 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. Other problems may include events pertaining to robot surrogates (i.e the movie Surrogates) where tissue of living organisms is interchanged with robotic systems. These problems can leave many possibilities where electronic viruses or an electro magnetic pulse (EMP) can destroy not only the robot but kill the host/operator as well.

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  • robot — sustantivo masculino 1. Máquina electrónica que ejecuta automáticamente operaciones o movimientos previamente programados: Los robots aún distan mucho de parecerse al ser humano. robot de cocina Máquina con diversos accesorios para realizar… …   Diccionario Salamanca de la Lengua Española

  • robot — ro‧bot [ˈrəʊbɒt ǁ ˈroʊbɑːt, bət] noun [countable] MANUFACTURING a machine used in a manufacturing process that can move and do some of the work of a person: • Robots fulfil many dull and tedious jobs on the production line. robotics noun… …   Financial and business terms

  • robot — /ro bot/, meno com. / rɔbot/, frequente ma erron. / robot/ s.m. [dal cèco Robot, nome proprio, der. a sua volta di robota lavoro , con cui lo scrittore cèco Karel Čapek denominava gli automi che lavorano al posto degli operai nel suo dramma… …   Enciclopedia Italiana

  • robot — (Del ingl. robot, y este del checo robota, trabajo, prestación personal). m. Máquina o ingenio electrónico programable, capaz de manipular objetos y realizar operaciones antes reservadas solo a las personas. ☛ V. retrato robot …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • robot — 1. ‘Máquina programable capaz de realizar trabajos antes reservados solo a las personas’. Su plural es robots (→ plural, 1h): «En las industrias habrá más robots que hombres» (Tiempo [Col.] 7.4.97). 2. retrato (o foto) robot …   Diccionario panhispánico de dudas

  • robot — |robô| s. m. Ver robô. • Plural: robots.   ‣ Etimologia: palavra francesa, do checo robot, de robota, trabalho duro …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

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