Robotics is the science of the use and study of robots. The term 'robot' is usually applied to an automatically guided machine which is able to perform tasks on its own. Robots currently perform many functions, from making cars to defusing bombs. Children and adults play with toy robots, while vacuum-cleaning robots are sucking up dirt in a growing number of homes.
Use of Robots
A robot can be programmed to perform tasks normally carried out by humans. These tasks are often repetitive, tedious, dangerous, very precise or even impossible for people to undertake.
Robots have the advantage of never getting tired, being able to work with much higher accuracy than humans, and even being able to do things that humans can’t do, such as working in extreme temperatures. When robots perform boring, repetitive tasks in place of human workers, employees can spend more time performing creative, less tedious tasks.
Early and Modern Robots
The earliest robots were built specifically to perform simple tasks on an assembly line. These types of robots are still widely used in manufacturing. Modern robots usually have sensors to accept data from the environment and are increasingly found in the area of artificial intelligence.
Intelligent robots are designed to imitate human behaviour and thought processes. Their inputs may include the senses of vision, touch, hearing and smell. An intelligent robot must be able to do two things:
- obtain information from its surrounding
- carry out physical tasks.
Modern robots possess three characteristics:
- programmability—they can be programmed to perform tasks like a computer
- mechanical capability—they can perform tasks in the environment like a machine
- flexibility—they can perform a variety of tasks by being reprogrammed or by responding to
The word ‘robot’ comes from the Czech word ‘robota’, which means drudgery or work.
Asimov's Laws of Robotics
Isaac Asimov (1920–1992) took a different view of robots from those writers before him. He was the first to give robots characteristics which showed respect for humans. Asimov thought robots should be regarded as a very important technological innovation. In 1942, he wrote a story about robots, ‘Runaround’, which contained his Three Laws of Robotics. He later added a fourth law and called it the zeroth law. These laws are:
- Zeroth Law: a robot may not injure humanity or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
- First Law: a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm, unless this would violate the Zeroth Law.
- Second Law: a robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the Zeroth or First Law.
- Third Law: a robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the Zeroth, First or Second Law.