Introduction to robots and android humanoids
nanotechnology, robotics is the use of technology to design and manufacture (intelligent) machines, built for specific purposes,
programmed to perform specific tasks.
However, unlike nanomachines, robots are very visible
machines, ranging from small, miniature machines, to large crane size
constructions with intelligence varying from simple programming to
perform mechanical tasks, such as painting a car or lifting cargo, to
highly complex reasoning algorithms mimicking human thought. (See also
Industry and military robots
Most robots are used in industry today, manufacturing
cars, appliances, and serving in places which are hazardous to people,
for example nuclear plants and chemical factories. The military has
seen a marked increase since 2000 in their use of semi-autonomous robots
such as surveillance drones, mine sweepers and deep sea reconnaissance.
In these areas robots excel where humans have -severe- difficulty.
Domestic robot helpers
More mundane applications are robot cleaners, such as vacuum
cleaners, which are now seeing its appearance in the market place. They
are still too expensive, costing between US$3000 and US$5000, but once
other manufacturers start selling their own versions and the technology
becomes commonplace prices will come down.
A robot vacuum cleaner
And so there are many uses for robots around the house and
garden. However, the idea of a toaster telling you you cannot have your
toast because it is not toasted to specifications may not appeal to
everyone, so a fully robotic kitchen may not be everyone's dream of
convenience, at least not if you have to argue with it every day.
Honda - ASIMO,
But that doesn't mean my kitchen oven can't be autonomous in ordering
and preparing the food you select, or that the house warms up on cold
mornings, draws a bath and makes coffee and breakfast for you while you
do your morning exercises or other more important things - like staying
in bed another half hour. Robots should be here to serve us.
Agricultural robot helpers
The debate whether to employ robots on farms and orchards is
ethical, growers have now reached a point where the security of having
labor available to do the picking whenever it is needed has outweighed
the insecurity of relying on (il)legal migrant labor.
Some have now invested in the development of robot fruit pickers to
ensure picking is done.
A concept robotic vine trimmer by
Labor unions protest these developments but farming robots are a logical
development in today's uncertain climate of migrant labor and its
Moral and Ethical Issues of Robots and
The integration of robots in society is well on its way, however,
with many robots already in use. While the mechanical advances of robots
is fairly well developed the main focus is now on robot control software
- the brain of the robot.
Before robots can be freely integrated in society the infrastructure
for them needs to be developed as well. No robot can be fully autonomous
without a facility somewhere where it can go to recharge or repair
On a recreational level, robots are fun to build and there
are already plenty of kits out there. It's a growing hobby and possibilities
are endless, so don't wait for the big industries to come up with
all the ideas, make your own robots.
The popular Robot Wars are another sample of hobby robots built for a
Especially in the Star Wars series are robots (droids) prevalent and
fully integrated in all levels of society - as scientists, mechanics,
waiters, guards and soldiers, servants and so on.
It will be a long time before robots will be as much part of our
society as it is in the Star Wars universe but the usefulness of robots
in various situations is becoming clearer and more pronounced. As they
prove their usefulness to us by doing work humans refuse or find too
hazardous, acceptance of robots in society will also broaden.
On television and in the movies there have been a number of robots
which have become widely known to a large audience.
We name but a few here, such as the robot in the in the 1960's series "Lost
in space", Commander "Data" in the "Star Trek: New generation" series,
and R2D2 and C3PO in the Hollywood productions of "Star Wars".
"Danger, Will Robinson!" B9 - The robot from the popular 1960's
television series "Lost in space" (c)
Lt. Data of Star Trek fame. The android that wants to be human.
C3PO - a protocol droid for interaction between humans and droids.
StarWars.com Droid Archive
R2D2 - an astromech droid.
StarWars.com Droid Archive
Daleks, robot villains in the immensely popular Dr. Who television
Yul Brynner as the robot gone berserk in the film "Westworld" (c)
"Sonny", the NS5 series robot with feelings from the movie "I,
Robot" of the book by Isaac Asimov. (c)
The early robot popularity reached a peak in the 1950's and
early 1960's American movies with robots landing from outer
space to invade the Earth or to do the opposite - make friendly
contact. Other robots accompanied humans to Mars and other
planets in series and films.
Comic strips featured robots as good-natured and extremely handy
companions to have on your side when fighting evil as well as evil
robots built by mad scientists bent on destroying cities or the world.
"Archie" the heroic robot
in the 1950's popular
comic book series.
Science fiction writers, most notably Isaac Asimov, made robots a
specialty, incorporating them into many of his stories, even
accrediting them with the future destiny of mankind as a whole in his
"Foundation" series. Isaac Asimov also wrote the three laws of
robotics which are to prevent humanoid robots from turning on their
masters. (See also Android Robots.)
As such the robot has "enjoyed" a reasonably high profile to the
general audience with few people in the West not being familiar with
this man-made machine.
The fact that we are now entering an age where these robots are
becoming a reality makes many of us question the direction robot
technology should take.
Whether in books, the movies or in television series, robots have
either been portrayed as beneficial to humans or enemies of. As such
they are obviously built in the image of their creators, showing much
of the same characteristics. Cause to worry? Perhaps.
Moral and Ethical
Issues of Artificial Intelligence and
Robots in manufacturing
Many robots have been built for manufacturing purposes and can be found
in factories around the world.
Japan and the United States lead the world in the development of
these robots, generally called industrial robots.
Robots in manufacturing can be divided into three categories, namely
1) material handling, 2) processing operations, and 3) assembly and
Material handling robots are usually employed in the transport of
goods, parts or cargo from one destination to another, most often within
the same factory or plant. Automated warehouses are an example of this.
In processing operations robots generally perform a specific task
such as spot welding or spray painting. These robots are outfitted with
a specialized tool to perform the programmed task.
Assembly line robots are similar to process automatons in that they
usually perform a single task in the assembly line process.
Inspection robots are widely used to examine a finished part or product
for defects or irregularities, for example, utilizing any number of
tools, such as lenses and scanners.
There is some debate whether some of these industrial robots can be
called robots. Many are little or no more than machines built to perform
a task, such as humanity has been building them for thousands of years
and calling them robots is stretching the concept too far.
A common denominator in manufacturing robots is that they perform
monotonous or repetitive and often dangerous work involving heavy
machinery, industrial pollutants, poisonous chemicals or other hazardous
So, yes, they have taken away jobs of human workers. However, one
needs to consider the effects of (heavy) monotonous, repetitive or
hazardous work that is done year after year on the human body and mind.
In this light, by all means, let machines do the work. (See also
Moral and Ethical Issues of Robots and
One area where robots are beginning to excel in, and which causes less
controversial debate on their usefulness, is as explorers. The only real
debate here is their cost.
With China poised to join the elite club of sending humans into
space, it is robots that have paved the way so far. (See also
Robot space explorers
The number of nations that are now involved in robotic space
exploration is steadily growing, with the NASA (USA) and the ESA (EU)
organizations taking the lead so far.
For the future of humankind it seems essential that we get off this
rock with its limited resources and room to grow and into that final
frontier - our universe at large, starting with our own solar system.
Earth is not the only planetary body in our solar system. There are
nine planets, dozens of moons, countless asteroids and other bodies out
there, many of which contain material that we need to feed our growing
With our own moon and Mars as the nearest planetary bodies being
first in line for serious exploration - or exploitation - we need to
establish whether these worlds contain life before we contaminate it
with Earth life. So far the answer is "No" but this may differ on other
worlds we explore.
Robots with scientific payloads are eminently suited for this task as
the cost and problems involved for sending out humans at this stage is
not only prohibitive but also somewhat irresponsible. (Not that that
ever stopped us before...) There is plenty of time for humans to take to
space once robot explorers have set up bases or sent back information (see also Space
Meanwhile a number of robots have been sent out as explorers,
with many more on the drawing boards. (See
Robots in Space.)
While shooting robot explorers into space is a highly satisfying and
lucrative pastime for many professionals and their companies around the
globe, other robots are designed to explore areas on or inside our
There are many areas of our Earth that need further exploration. The
oceans being a prime example. Here, as in space, the environment is
hostile to humans and machines would be better suited to do the
Our atmosphere, which protects us from harmful radiation as well as
keeps us alive, needs better monitoring, and our ecosystems, which are
disappearing at an alarming rate need careful checking.
And then we have still only scratched the surface of our planet. We
know very little what goes on deep inside it.
In all these areas robots can help us to explore and monitor
developments, provide statistical information on a wide range of issues
and warn us of impending trouble.
As such robots are set to become an integral part of our global
control system (see also Cybernetics)
which in turn should give us a better idea of the complete and highly complex system we are a part
of, how we affect it and how it affects us.
Military reconnaissance flying robots aka Unmanned Aerial
Vehicles (UAV) are now widely used. (c)
The UAV CyberScout is loaded with sensor equipment such as
cameras for remote reconnaissance missions.
And there are also the military robots, such as mine clearers and the
flying drones, used in surveillance and targeting.
Moving right along from the outer to the
inner universe, the smallest robots of all, nanobots, will be
exploring the human body, as well as other organisms, repairing and
correcting, providing information on how we work on the inside.
Already this field of technology - nanotechnology - is expanding
rapidly. Although there are no nanobots as yet, there have been advances
in manufacturing nanoparts, such as engines. Nanotechnology is also used
in various industrial and medical applications. (See our
Nanotechnology section for
So for those of us who think that robots are still only science
fiction, think again. We are already living in our future and robots
are increasingly becoming a daily aspect of this current future.
An example of how nanotechnology robots might
interact with our bodies in the future, repairing and
maintaining red blood cells.
Function: noun Date: 1923
Etymology: Czech, from robota compulsory labor; akin to Old
High German arabeit trouble, Latin orbus orphaned --
1 a : a machine that looks like a human being and
performs various complex acts (as walking or talking) of a human
being; also : a similar but fictional machine whose
lack of capacity for human emotions is often emphasized b
: an efficient insensitive person who functions
2 : a device that automatically performs complicated
often repetitive tasks
3 : a mechanism guided by automatic controls
Source: Merriam Webster