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Robotics: Facts

What are Robots?

Robot comes from the Czech word “robota” which means “forced work or labor.” We use the word "Robot" today to mean any man-made machine that can perform work or other actions normally performed by humans, either automatically or by remote control. Robotics is the science and study of robots.

What do Robots do?

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Imagine if your job was to tighten one screw on a toaster. And you did this over and over again on toaster after toaster, day after day, for weeks, months, or years. This kind of job is better done by robots than by humans. Most robots today are used to do repetitive actions or jobs considered too dangerous for humans. A robot is ideal for going into a building that has a possible bomb. Robots are also used in factories to build things like cars, candy bars, and electronics. Robots are now used in medicine, for military tactics, for finding objects underwater and to explore other planets. Robotic technology has helped people who have lost arms or legs. Robots are a great tool to help mankind.

A brief history

Robots seem like a modern day invention, but in reality evidence suggests that automations were created for everything from toys to parts for religious ceremonies in ancient Greece and Rome. Leonardo da Vinci sketched plans for a humanoid robot in the late 1400s. Jacques de Vaucanson was famous in the 18th century for his automated human figure that played the flute and for a duck that could flap its wings.

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Many automated inventions that could behave in similar fashion to a human have been documented throughout history. Most were created largely for entertainment purposes. Fiction writers found great success in writing about robots in all sorts of situations which meant that the robot was part of daily conversation and imagination. In 1956 George Devol and Joseph Engelberger formed the world's first robot company. By the 1960s robots were introduced into the General Motors automobile plant in New Jersey for moving car parts around. Robots continued to develop and can now be found in homes as toys, vacuums, and as programmable pets. Today robots are a part of many aspects of industry, medicine, science, space exploration, construction, food packaging and are even used to perform surgery. Watson, a robot with artificial intelligence from IBM, defeated the human players in an episode of Jeopardy.

So Why Use Robots?

The reason robots are used is that it is often cheaper to use them over humans, easier for robots to do some jobs and sometimes the only possible way to accomplish some tasks! Robots can explore inside gas tanks, inside volcanoes, travel the surface of Mars or other places too dangerous for humans to go where extreme temperatures or contaminated environments exist.

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Robots can also do the same thing over and over again without getting bored. They can drill, they can weld, they can paint, they can handle hazardous materials, and in some situations, robots are much more accurate than a human ‐ which can cut back on production costs, mistakes or hazards. Robots never get sick, don't need sleep, don't need food, don't need to take a day off, and best of all they don't ever complain! There are a lot of benefits to using robots.

Parts of a Robot

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Robots can be made from a variety of materials including metals and plastics. Most robots are composed of 3 main parts:

  1. The Controller ‐ also known as the "brain" which is run by a computer program. Often, the program is very detailed as it give commands for the moving parts of the robot to follow.
  2. Mechanical parts ‐ motors, pistons, grippers, wheels, and gears that make the robot move, grab, turn, and lift. These parts are usually powered by air, water, or electricity.
  3. Sensors ‐ to tell the robot about its surroundings. Sensors allow the robot to determine sizes, shapes, space between objects, direction, and other relations and properties of substances. Many robots can even identify the amount of pressure necessary to apply to grab an item without crushing it.

All of these parts work together to control how the robot operates.

Nanorobots

Nano-robots or nanobots are robots scaled down to microscopic size in order to put them into very small spaces to perform a function. Currently nanobots are still in the developmental stage. Future nanobots could be placed in the blood stream to perform surgical procedures that are too delicate or too difficult for standard surgery. Nanobots could fight bacteria by tracking down and eliminating each bacterial cell or could repair individual organ cells in the body.

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Imagine if a nanobot could target cancer cells and destroy them without touching healthy cells nearby. Nanobots would probably carry medication and surgical tools on board. They would need to be able to navigate through the human body and then find their way out too. Nanobots could be used in other situations too. Tiny nanobot gears and tools could allow construction of objects at the tiniest of scale. Some of the things we only imagine in science fiction could one day be reality. Maybe you will one day be a scientist who works with nanobots.

Artificial Intelligence

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Artificial intelligence is also known as machine intelligence or AI for short. Some computers and robots have been given the opportunity to act with human-like behavior. Face recognition software, complicated scheduling software, or computer games that give players a response based on the players actions are all forms of artificial intelligence. The goal for AI was, at one time, to recreate the intelligence of a human being. At the present time, insect intelligence is the focus of research and development because insects and their behavior are easier to mimic. Nanobots could be based on insect behavior, working in swarms together to perform a function.

Some robots and computers have been given the ability to learn and to use information from previous activities to make future decisions. A robot that fills a box with cookies might be able to “count” the number of cookies in the box, or a computer could determine the amount of traffic on a street to calculate when to change the light. This science is in the early stages, but robots are being developed that can make decisions in order to serve food, translate words from one language to another, and get information from outside resources to solve problems.

Robot Limitations

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Unlike in the movies, Robots are unable to think or make decisions; they are only tools to help us get things done. Robots are machines with programed movements that allow them to move in certain directions or sequences. Artificial intelligence has given robots more ability to process information and to “learn.” But, they are still limited by the information that they are given and the functions they are given to perform.

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