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Robot

robot is a virtual or mechanical artificial agent. In practice, it is usually an electro-mechanical machine which is guided by computer or electronic programming, and is thus able to do tasks on its own. Another common characteristic is that by its appearance or movements, a robot often conveys a sense that it has intent or agency of its own..

Modern robots

A laparoscopic robotic surgery machine

Mobile robot

Mobile robots have the capability to move around in their environment and are not fixed to one physical location. An example of a mobile robot that is in common use today is the automated guided vehicle or automatic guided vehicle (AGV). An AGV is a mobile robot that follows markers or wires in the floor, or uses vision or lasers. AGVs are discussed later in this article.

Mobile robots are also found in industry, military and security environments. They also appear as consumer products, for entertainment or to perform certain tasks like vacuum cleaning. Mobile robots are the focus of a great deal of current research and almost every major university has one or more labs that focus on mobile robot research.

Modern robots are usually used in tightly controlled environments such as on assembly lines because they have difficulty responding to unexpected interference. Because of this most humans rarely encounter robots. However domestic robots for cleaning and maintenance are increasingly common in and around homes in developed countries. Robots can also be found in military applications.

Industrial robots (manipulating)

The International Organization for Standardization gives a definition of a manipulating industrial robot in ISO 8373:

"an automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose, manipulator programmable in three or more axes, which may be either fixed in place or mobile for use in industrial automation applications."[33]

This definition is used by the International Federation of Robotics, the European Robotics Research Network (EURON) and many national standards committees.[34]

A Pick and Place robot in a factory

Service robot

Most commonly industrial robots are fixed robotic arms and manipulators used primarily for production and distribution of goods. The term "service robot" is less well-defined. IFR has proposed a tentative definition, "A service robot is a robot which operates semi- or fully- autonomously to perform services useful to the well-being of humans and equipment, excluding manufacturing operations."

In South Africa robot is an informal and commonly used term for a set of traffic lights.

Social impact

Roughly half of all the robots in the world are in Asia, 32% in Europe, and 16% in North America, 1% in Australasia and 1% in Africa.[35] 30% of all the robots in the world are in Japan,[36] making Japan the country with the highest number of robots.

Regional perspectives

In Japan and South Korea, ideas of future robots have been mainly positive, and the start of the pro-robotic society there is thought to be possibly due to the famous 'Astro Boy'. Asian societies such as Japan, South Korea, and more recently, China, believe robots to be more equal to humans, having them care for old people, play with or teach children, or replace pets etc.[37] The general view in Asian cultures is that the more robots advance, the better.

"This is the opening of an era in which human beings and robots can co-exist," says Japanese firm Mitsubishi about one of the many humanistic robots in Japan.[38] South Korea aims to put a robot in every house there by 2015-2020 in order to help catch up technologically with Japan.[39][40]

Western societies are more likely to be against, or even fear the development of robotics, through much media output in movies and literature that they will replace humans. Some believe that the West regards robots as a 'threat' to the future of humans, partly due to religious beliefs about the role of humans and society.[41][42] Obviously, these boundaries are not clear, but there is a significant difference between the two cultural viewpoints.

Autonomy and ethical questions

As robots have become more advanced and sophisticated, experts and academics have increasingly explored the questions of what ethics might govern robots' behavior,[43] and whether robots might be able to claim any kind of social, cultural, ethical or legal rights.[44] One scientific team has said that it is possible that a robot brain will exist by 2019.[45] Others predict robot intelligence breakthroughs by 2050.[46] Recent advances have made robotic behavior more sophisticated.[47]

Vernor Vinge has suggested that a moment may come when computers and robots are smarter than humans. He calls this "the Singularity".[48] He suggests that it may be somewhat or possibly very dangerous for humans.[49] This is discussed by a philosophy called Singularitarianism.

In 2009, experts attended a conference hosted by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) to discuss whether computers and robots might be able to acquire any autonomy, and how much these abilities might pose a threat or hazard. They noted that some robots have acquired various forms of semi-autonomy, including being able to find power sources on their own and being able to independently choose targets to attack with weapons. They also noted that some computer viruses can evade elimination and have achieved "cockroach intelligence." They noted that self-awareness as depicted in science-fiction is probably unlikely, but that there were other potential hazards and pitfalls.[48] Various media sources and scientific groups have noted separate trends in differing areas which might together result in greater robotic functionalities and autonomy, and which pose some inherent concerns.[50][51][52]

Military robots

Some experts and academics have questioned the use of robots for military combat, especially when such robots are given some degree of autonomous functions.[53] There are also concerns about technology which might allow some armed robots to be controlled mainly by other robots.[54] The US Navy has funded a report which indicates that as military robots become more complex, there should be greater attention to implications of their ability to make autonomous decisions.[55][56] One researcher states that autonomous robots might be more humane, as they could make decisions more effectively. However, other experts question this.[57]

Some public concerns about autonomous robots have received media attention.[58] One robot in particular, the EATR, has generated concerns over its fuel source as it can continually refuel itself using organic substances.[59] Although the engine for the EATR is designed to run on biomass and vegetation[60] specifically selected by its sensors which can find on battlefields or other local environments the project has stated that chicken fat can also be used.[61] The BAE Taranis is a UCAV built by Great Britain which can fly across continents without a pilot and has new means to avoid detection.[62] Flight trials are expected to begin in 2011.[63][64]

Contemporary uses

At present there are 2 main types of robots, based on their use: general-purpose autonomous robots and dedicated robots.

Robots can be classified by their specificity of purpose. A robot might be designed to perform one particular task extremely well, or a range of tasks less well. Of course, all robots by their nature can be re-programmed to behave differently, but some are limited by their physical form. For example, a factory robot arm can perform jobs such as cutting, welding, gluing, or acting as a fairground ride, while a pick-and-place robot can only populate printed circuit boards.

General-purpose autonomous robots

General-purpose autonomous robots are robots that can perform a variety of functions independently. General-purpose autonomous robots typically can navigate independently in known spaces, handle their own re-charging needs, interface with electronic doors and elevators and perform other basic tasks. Like computers, general-purpose robots can link with networks, software and accessories that increase their usefulness. They may recognize people or objects, talk, provide companionship, monitor environmental quality, respond to alarms, pick up supplies and perform other useful tasks. General-purpose robots may perform a variety of functions simultaneously or they may take on different roles at different times of day. Some such robots try to mimic human beings and may even resemble people in appearance; this type of robot is called a humanoid robot.

A general-purpose robot acts as a guide during the day and a security guard at night

Factory robots

Car production

Over the last three decades automobile factories have become dominated by robots. A typical factory contains hundreds of industrial robots working on fully automated production lines, with one robot for every ten human workers. On an automated production line, a vehicle chassis on a conveyor is welded, glued, painted and finally assembled at a sequence of robot stations.

An intelligent AGV drops-off goods without needing lines or beacons in the workspace
Packaging

Industrial robots are also used extensively for palletizing and packaging of manufactured goods, for example for rapidly taking drink cartons from the end of a conveyor belt and placing them into boxes, or for loading and unloading machining centers.

Electronics

Mass-produced printed circuit boards (PCBs) are almost exclusively manufactured by pick-and-place robots, typically with SCARA manipulators, which remove tiny electronic components from strips or trays, and place them on to PCBs with great accuracy.[65] Such robots can place hundreds of thousands of components per hour, far out-performing a human in speed, accuracy, and reliability.[66]

Automated guided vehicles (AGVs)

Mobile robots, following markers or wires in the floor, or using vision[67] or lasers, are used to transport goods around large facilities, such as warehouses, container ports, or hospitals.[68]

Early AGV-Style Robots
Limited to tasks that could be accurately defined and had to be performed the same way every time. Very little feedback or intelligence was required, and the robots needed only the most basic exteroceptors (sensors). The limitations of these AGVs are that their paths are not easily altered and they cannot alter their paths if obstacles block them. If one AGV breaks down, it may stop the entire operation.
Interim AGV-Technologies
Developed to deploy triangulation from beacons or bar code grids for scanning on the floor or ceiling. In most factories, triangulation systems tend to require moderate to high maintenance, such as daily cleaning of all beacons or bar codes. Also, if a tall pallet or large vehicle blocks beacons or a bar code is marred, AGVs may become lost. Often such AGVs are designed to be used in human-free environments.
Intelligent AGVs (i-AGVs)
A U.S. Marine Corps technician prepares to use a telerobot to detonate a buriedimprovised explosive device near Camp Fallujah, Iraq
Such as SpeciMinder,[69] ADAM,[70] Tug[71] and MT 400 with Motivity[72] are designed for people-friendly workspaces. They navigate by recognizing natural features. 3D scanners or other means of sensing the environment in two or three dimensions help to eliminate cumulative errors in dead-reckoning calculations of the AGV's current position. Some AGVs can create maps of their environment using scanning lasers with simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) and use those maps to navigate in real time with other path planning and obstacle avoidance algorithms. They are able to operate in complex environments and perform non-repetitive and non-sequential tasks such as transporting photomasks in a semiconductor lab, specimens in hospitals and goods in warehouses. For dynamic areas, such as warehouses full of pallets, AGVs require additional strategies using three-dimensional sensors such as time-of-flight or stereovision cameras.

Dirty, dangerous, dull or inaccessible tasks

There are many jobs which humans would rather leave to robots. The job may be boring, such as domestic cleaning, or dangerous, such as exploring inside a volcano.[73] Other jobs are physically inaccessible, such as exploring another planet,[74] cleaning the inside of a long pipe, or performing laparoscopic surgery.[75]

Space probes

Almost every unmanned space probe ever launched was a robot. Some were launched in the 1960s with more limited abilities, but their ability to fly and to land (in the case of Luna 9) is an indication of their status as a robot. This includes the Voyager probes and the Galileo probes, as well as other probes.

Telerobots

When a human cannot be present on site to perform a job because it is dangerous, far away, or inaccessible, teleoperated robots, or telerobots are used. Rather than following a predetermined sequence of movements, a telerobot is controlled from a distance by a human operator. The robot may be in another room or another country, or may be on a very different scale to the operator. For instance, a laparoscopic surgery robot allows the surgeon to work inside a human patient on a relatively small scale compared to open surgery, significantly shortening recovery time.[75] When disabling a bomb, the operator sends a small robot to disable it. Several authors have been using a device called the Longpen to sign books remotely.[76] Teleoperated robot aircraft, like the Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, are increasingly being used by the military. These pilotless drones can search terrain and fire on targets.[77][78] Hundreds of robots such as iRobot's Packbot and the Foster-Miller TALON are being used inIraq and Afghanistan by the U.S. military to defuse roadside bombs or Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in an activity known as explosive ordnance disposal (EOD).[79]

Automated fruit harvesting machines
The Roomba domestic vacuum cleanerrobot does a single, menial job

Used to pick fruit on orchards at a cost lower than that of human pickers.

In the home

As prices fall and robots become smarter and more autonomous, simple robots dedicated to a single task work in over a million homes. They are taking on simple but unwanted jobs, such as vacuum cleaning and floor washing, and lawn mowing. Some find these robots to be cute and entertaining, which is one reason that they can sell very well.

Home automation for the elderly and disabled

The population is aging in many countries, especially Japan, meaning that there are increasing numbers of elderly people to care for, but relatively fewer young people to care for them.[80][81] Humans make the best carers, but where they are unavailable, robots are gradually being introduced.[82]

The Care-Providing robot FRIEND. (Photo: IAT)

The Care-Providing robot FRIEND is a semi-autonomous robot designed to support disabled and elderly people in their daily life activities, like preparing and serving a meal, or reintegration in professional life. FRIEND make it possible for such people, e.g. patients which are paraplegic, have muscle diseases or serious paralysis, e.g. due to strokes, to perform special tasks in daily life self-determined and without help from other people like therapists or nursing staff. The robot FRIEND is the third generation of such robots developed at the Institute of Automation (IAT) of University of Bremen within different research projects.[83][84] Within the last project, AMaRob (AMaRob web page), an interdisciplinary consortium, consisting of technicians, designers as well as therapists and further representatives of various interest groups, influences the development of FRIEND. Besides covering the various technical aspects, also design aspects were included as well as requirements from daily practice given by therapists, in order to develop a care-providing robot that is suitable for daily life activities. The AMaRob project was founded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF – Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung) within the “Leitinnovation Servicerobotik”.

Duct Cleaning
The ANATROLLER ARI-100 is a modular mobile robot used for cleaning hazardous environments

In the hazardous and tight spaces of a building's duct work, many hours can be spent cleaning relatively small areas if a manual brush is used. Robots have been used by many duct cleaners primarily in the industrial and institutional cleaning markets, as they allow the job to be done faster, without exposing workers to the harmful enzymes released by dust mites. For cleaning high-security institutions such as embassies and prisons, duct cleaning robots are vital, as they allow the job to be completed without compromising the security of the institution. Hospitals and other government buildings with hazardous and cancerogenic environments such as nuclear reactors legally must be cleaned using duct cleaning robots, in countries such as Canada, in an effort to improve workplace safety in duct cleaning.

Military robots

Military robots include the SWORDS robot which is currently used in ground-based combat. It can use a variety of weapons and there is some discussion of giving it some degree of autonomy in battleground situations.[85][86][87]

Unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs), which are an upgraded form of UAVs, can do a wide variety of missions, including combat. UCAVs are being designed such as the Mantis UCAV which would have the ability to fly themselves, to pick their own course and target, and to make most decisions on their own.[88]

The AAAI has studied this topic in depth[43] and its president has commissioned a study to look at this issue.[89]

Some have suggested a need to build "Friendly AI", meaning that the advances which are already occurring with AI should also include an effort to make AI intrinsically friendly and humane.[90] Several such measures reportedly already exist, with robot-heavy countries such as Japan and South Korea[39] having begun to pass regulations requiring robots to be equipped with safety systems, and possibly sets of 'laws' akin to Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.[91][92] An official report was issued in 2009 by the Japanese government's Robot Industry Policy Committee.[93] Chinese officials and researchers have issued a report suggesting a set of ethical rules, as well as a set of new legal guidelines referred to as "Robot Legal Studies."[94] Some concern has been expressed over a possible occurrence of robots telling apparent falsehoods.[95]

Schools

Robotics have also been introduced into the lives of elementary and high school students with the company FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). The organization is the foundation for the FIRST Robotics Competition, FIRST LEGO League, Junior FIRST LEGO League, and FIRST Tech Challengecompetitions.

Research robots

While most robots today are installed in factories or homes, performing labour or life saving jobs, many new types of robot are being developed in laboratories around the world. Much of the research in robotics focuses not on specific industrial tasks, but on investigations into new types of robot, alternative ways to think about or design robots, and new ways to manufacture them. It is expected that these new types of robot will be able to solve real world problems when they are finally realized.[citation needed]

Nanorobots
A microfabricated electrostatic gripper holding some silicon nanowires.[96]

Nanorobotics is the still largely hypothetical technology of creating machines or robots at or close to the scale of a nanometer (10−9 meters). Also known as nanobots ornanites, they would be constructed from molecular machines. So far, researchers have mostly produced only parts of these complex systems, such as bearings, sensors, and Synthetic molecular motors, but functioning robots have also been made such as the entrants to the Nanobot Robocup contest.[97] Researchers also hope to be able to create entire robots as small as viruses or bacteria, which could perform tasks on a tiny scale. Possible applications include micro surgery (on the level of individual cells), utility fog,[98] manufacturing, weaponry and cleaning.[99] Some people have suggested that if there were nanobots which could reproduce, the earth would turn into "grey goo", while others argue that this hypothetical outcome is nonsense.[100][101]

Reconfigurable Robots

A few researchers have investigated the possibility of creating robots which can alter their physical form to suit a particular task,[102] like the fictional T-1000. Real robots are nowhere near that sophisticated however, and mostly consist of a small number of cube shaped units, which can move relative to their neighbours, for example SuperBot. Algorithms have been designed in case any such robots become a reality.[103]

Soft Robots

Robots with silicone bodies and flexible actuators (air muscles, electroactive polymers, and ferrofluids), controlled using fuzzy logic and neural networks, look and feel different from robots with rigid skeletons, and are capable of different behaviors.[104]

Swarm robots

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