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Robotics-By Gaurav Mohadikar

What Is Robotics?

Robotics is the intersection of science, engineering and technology that produces machines, called robots, that substitute for (or replicate) human actions. Pop culture has always been fascinated with robots. R2-D2. Optimus Prime. WALL-E. These over-exaggerated, humanoid concepts of robots usually seem like a caricature of the real thing…or are they more forward thinking than we realize? Robots are gaining intellectual and mechanical capabilities that don’t put the possibility of a R2-D2-like machine out of reach in the future. As technology progresses, so too does the scope of what is considered robotics. In 2005, 90% of all robots could be found assembling cars in automotive factories. These robots consist mainly of mechanical arms tasked with welding or screwing on certain parts of a car. Today, we’re seeing an evolved and expanded definition of robotics that includes the development, creation and use of bots that explore Earth’s harshest conditionsrobots that assist law-enforcement and even robots that assist in almost every facet of healthcare.   

While the overall world of robotics is expanding, a robot has some consistent characteristics:

  1. Robots all consist of some sort of mechanical construction. The mechanical aspect of a robot helps it complete tasks in the environment for which it’s designed. For example, the Mars 2020 Rover’s wheels are individually motorized and made of titanium tubing that help it firmly grip the harsh terrain of the red planet.
  2. Robots need electrical components that control and power the machinery. Essentially, an electric current (a battery, for example) is needed to power a large majority of robots.
  3. Robots contain at least some level of computer programming. Without a set of code telling it what to do, a robot would just be another piece of simple machinery. Inserting a program into a robot gives it the ability to know when and how to carry out a task.

Types of Robots

Mechanical bots come in all shapes and sizes to efficiently carry out the task for which they are designed. All robots vary in design, functionality and degree of autonomy. From the 0.2 millimeter-long “RoboBee” to the 200 meter-long robotic shipping vessel “Vindskip,” robots are emerging to carry out tasks that humans simply can’t. Generally, there are five types of robots:


1) Pre-Programmed Robots

Pre-programmed robots operate in a controlled environment where they do simple, monotonous tasks. An example of a pre-programmed robot would be a mechanical arm on an automotive assembly line. The arm serves one function — to weld a door on, to insert a certain part into the engine, etc. — and its job is to perform that task longer, faster and more efficiently than a human.


2) Humanoid Robots

Humanoid robots are robots that look like and/or mimic human behavior. These robots usually perform human-like activities (like running, jumping and carrying objects), and are sometimes designed to look like us, even having human faces and expressions. Two of the most prominent examples of humanoid robots are Hanson Robotics’ Sophia (in the video above) and Boston Dynamics’ Atlas.


3) Autonomous Robots

Autonomous robots operate independently of human operators. These robots are usually designed to carry out tasks in open environments that do not require human supervision. They are quite unique because they use sensors to perceive the world around them, and then employ decision-making structures (usually a computer) to take the optimal next step based on their data and mission. An example of an autonomous robot would be the Roomba vacuum cleaner, which uses sensors to roam freely throughout a home.

EXAMPLES OF AUTONOMOUS ROBOTS

  • Cleaning Bots (for example, Roomba)
  • Lawn Trimming Bots
  • Hospitality Bots
  • Autonomous Drones
  • Medical Assistant Bots

 
4) Teleoperated Robots

Teleoperated robots are semi-autonomous bots that use a wireless network to enable human control from a safe distance. These robots usually work in extreme geographical conditions, weather, circumstances, etc. Examples of teleoperated robots are the human-controlled submarines used to fix underwater pipe leaks during the BP oil spill or drones used to detect landmines on a battlefield.


5) Augmenting Robots

Augmenting robots either enhance current human capabilities or replace the capabilities a human may have lost. The field of robotics for human augmentation is a field where science fiction could become reality very soon, with bots that have the ability to redefine the definition of humanity by making humans faster and stronger. Some examples of current augmenting robots are robotic prosthetic limbs or exoskeletons used to lift hefty weights.

How do robots function?

 Independent robots

Independent robots are capable of functioning completely autonomously and independent of human operator control. These typically require more intense programming but allow robots to take the place of humans when undertaking dangerous, mundane or otherwise impossible tasks, from bomb diffusion and deep-sea travel to factory automation. Independent robots have proven to be the most disruptive to society, eliminating low-wage jobs but presenting new possibilities for growth.

 Dependent robots

Dependent robots are non-autonomous robots that interact with humans to enhance and supplement their already existing actions. This is a relatively new form of technology and is being constantly expanded into new applications, but one form of dependent robots that has been realized is advanced prosthetics that are controlled by the human mind. 

Main components of a robot

Control system

Computation includes all of the components that make up a robot’s central processing unit, often referred to as its control system. Control systems are programmed to tell a robot how to utilize its specific components, similar in some ways to how the human brain sends signals throughout the body, in order to complete a specific task.

Sensors

Sensors provide a robot with stimuli in the form of electrical signals that are processed by the controller and allow the robot to interact with the outside world. 

Actuators

As previously stated, a device can only be considered to be a robot if it has a movable frame or body. Actuators are the components that are responsible for this movement. These components are made up of motors that receive signals from the control system and move in tandem to carry out the movement necessary to complete the assigned task.

Power Supply

Like the human body requires food in order to function, robots require power. Stationary robots, such as those found in a factory, may run on AC power through a wall outlet but more commonly, robots operate via an internal battery. Most robots utilize lead-acid batteries for their safe qualities and long shelf life while others may utilize the more compact but also more expensive silver-cadmium variety. 

End Effectors

End effectors are the physical, typically external components that allow robots to finish carrying out their tasks. Robots in factories often have interchangeable tools like paint sprayers and drills, surgical robots may be equipped with scalpels and other kinds of robots can be built with gripping claws or even hands for tasks like deliveries, packing, bomb diffusion and much more.

Uses of Robots

Robots have a wide variety of use cases that make them the ideal technology for the future. Soon, we will see robots almost everywhere. We’ll see them in our hospitals, in our hotels and even on our roads.

APPLICATIONS OF ROBOTICS

  • Helping fight forest fires
  • Working alongside humans in manufacturing plants (known as co-bots)
  • Robots that offer companionship to elderly individuals
  • Surgical assistants
  • Last-mile package and food order delivery.