the people and doing them harm.
The word robot comes from the Czech writer Karel Capek’s 1921 play ?
R.U.R.? (which stands for “Rossum’s Universal Robots”), in which mechanical
the fictional image of robots is sometimes troubling, expressing the fears that
may lead is beyond our imagination.
factories located in highly industrialized countries such as the United States,
people who have lost the use of their limbs. These devices, however, are for
the most part quite different from the androids, or humanlike robots, and other
robots of fiction. They rarely take human form, they perform only a limited
number of set tasks, and they do not have minds of their own. In fact, it is
often hard to distinguish between devices called robots and other modern
about walking statues and other marvels in human and animal form. Such objects
figures also mentioned in early writings could well have been made. Such
figures, called automatons, have long been popular.
For several centuries, automatons were as close as people came to
of clockwork figures from medieval times, and automatons were also devised in
China. By the 18th century, a number of extremely clever automatons became
famous for a while. Swiss craftsman Pierre Jacquet-Droz, for example, built
mechanical dolls that could draw a simple figure or play music on a miniature
organ. Clockwork figures of this sort are rarely made any longer, but many of
basically automatons. They may include technological advances such as radio
control, but for the most part they can only perform a set routine of
entertaining but otherwise useless actions.
Modern robots used in workplaces arose more directly from the Industrial
Revolution and the systems for mass production to which it led. As factories
developed, more and more machine tools were built that could perform some simple,
precise routine over and over again on an assembly line. The trend toward
of machines that were more versatile and needed less tending. One basic
part of a machine’s output is used as input to the machine as well, so that it
can make appropriate adjustments to changing operating conditions.
The most important 20th-century development, for automation and for
perform more than one kind of task. If it is given a complex manipulator arm,
its abilities can be enormously increased. The first such robot was designed by
the mid-1970s by the production of so called programmable universal manipulators
for assembly (PUMAs) by General Motors and then by other manufacturers in the
The nation that has used this new field most successfully, however, is
Japan. It has done so by making robot manipulators without trying to duplicate
all of the motions of which the human arm and hand are capable. The robots are
also easily reprogrammed and this makes them more adaptable to changing tasks on
an assembly line. The majority of the industrial robots in use in the world
today are found in Japan.
Except for firms that were designed from the start around robots, such
as several of those in Japan, industrial robots are still only slowly being
placed in production lines. Most of the robots in large automobile and airplane
factories are used for welding, spray-painting, and other operations where
humans would require expensive ventilating systems. The problem of workers
being replaced by industrial robots is only part of the issue of automation as a
whole, and individual robots on an assembly line are often regarded by workers
in the familiar way that they think of their car.
Current work on industrial robots is devoted to increasing their
as eyes, and pressure-sensitive skins are being developed for manipulator
grippers. Many other kinds of sensors can also be placed on robots.
Robots are also used in many ways in scientific research, particularly
in the handling of radioactive or other hazardous materials. Many other highly
automated systems are also often considered as robots. These include the probes
pilotless planes and guided missiles of the military.
None of these robots look like the androids of fiction. Although it
would be possible to construct a robot that was humanlike, true androids are
still only a distant possibility. For example, even the apparently simple act
of walking on two legs is very hard for computer-controlled mechanical systems
to duplicate. In fact, the most stable walker made, is a six-legged system. A
true android would also have to house or be linked to the computer-equivalent of
artificial intelligence, computers are likely to remain calculating machines
without the ability to think or create for a long time.
Research into developing mobile, autonomous robots is of great value.
systems, and can be used for such purposes as devising robot aids for the
behavior. Asimov’s first law is that robots may not harm humans either through
action or inaction. The second is that they must obey humans except when the
commands conflict with the first law. The third is that robots must protect
themselves except, again, when this comes into conflict with the first law.
must wait their time.
Stan. The McGraw-Hill Illustrated Encyclopedia of Robotics and Artificial
Intelligence. McGraw-Hill, Inc. New York, 1994. Warring, R. H. Robots and
Robotology. Tab Books Inc. Blue Ridge Summit, Pa. 1984.