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Definition: robot


A stand-alone hybrid computer system that performs physical and computational activities. Capable of performing many tasks, a robot is a multiple-motion device with one or more arms and joints. Robots can be similar in form to a human, but industrial robots do not resemble people at all.

The term is attributed to Czech dramatist Karel Capek in his 1921 play titled "R.U.R. - Rossum's Universal Robots." Capek applied the Czech word "robota," which means "forced labor" or "servitude" to the mechanized people in the skit. Three years later, robots appeared in Fritz Lang's classic silent movie "Metropolis," and they have been with us ever since.

A Wide Variety of Applications
In manufacturing, robots are used for welding, riveting, scraping and painting. They are also deployed for demolition, fire and bomb fighting, nuclear site inspection, industrial cleaning, laboratory use, medical surgery (see telepresence surgery), agriculture, forestry, office mail delivery as well as many other tasks. Increasingly, more artificial intelligence is being added. For example, some robots can identify objects in a pile, select the objects in the appropriate sequence and assemble them into a unit (see AI).

Analog and Digital
Robots use analog sensors for recognizing real-world objects and digital computers for direction. Analog to digital converters convert temperature, motion, pressure, sound and images into binary code for the robot's computer, which directs the actions of the arms and joints by pulsing their motors. See AIBO.




Shakey the Robot
Developed in 1969 by the Stanford Research Institute, Shakey was the first fully mobile robot with artificial intelligence. Shakey is seven feet tall and was named after its rather unstable movements. (Image courtesy of The Computer History Museum, www.computerhistory.org.)






Huey, Dewey and Louie
At the turn of the century, these robots were applying sealant to cars at Ford's Wayne, Michigan plant. Named after Donald Duck's nephews, Huey (top) sealed the drip rails while Dewey (right) sealed the interior weld seams. Louie is outside the view of this photo. (Image courtesy of Ford Motor Company.)






Inspect Pipes from the Inside
Developed years ago by SRI for Osaka Gas in Japan, this Magnetically Attached General Purpose Inspection Engine (MAGPIE) traveled inside gas pipes to look for leaks. MAGPIE served as the prototype for multicar models that perform temporary repairs. (Image courtesy of SRI International.)






Computers Making Computers
Robots, whose brains are nothing but chips, are making chips in this TI fabrication plant. (Image courtesy of Texas Instruments, Inc.)






Sophia - A More Realistic Android
Hanson Robotics designed Sophia to look like British actress Audrey Hepburn. Debutting in 2015, her flesh-rubber skin is very realistic, and her answers to questions (using the cloud) are very clever. On the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in 2017, she played rock paper scissors and won. (Image courtesy of Hanson Robotics, www.hansonrobotics.com)






How Small Can They Get?
By 2020, Rutgers University scientists believe that nano-sized robots injected into the bloodstream will administer drugs directly to infected cells. This carbon nanotube body uses a biomolecular motor for propulsion and peptide limbs for orientation. (Image courtesy of the Rutgers Bio-Nano Robotics team: Constantinos Mavroidis, Martin L. Yarmush, Atul Dubey, Angela Thornton, Kevin Nikitczuk, Silvina Tomassone, Fotios Papadimitrakopoulos and Bernie Yurke.)