Robotics is a science that has vast interdisciplinary manifestations and includes various branches of engineering and science – electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science and artificial intelligence. . The engineering branches deal with design, construction and operational use of robots while the computer systems handle sensory feedbacks, information processing and control. The fundamentals behind creation and development of robots are to have machines that can replicate human actions and be a substitute for them.
Contrary to popular belief, a robot might be a machine designed to replicate human activity but they do not always look like one. Robots can be any machine that is restricted by a computer programme and is directly controlled by a human being. Since some robots are designed to look like humans their actions may suggest that they have the power of thought and intelligence. But that is only so far as appearances are concerned.
The concept of robots and Robotics is not new. It has been mentioned in many works of fiction long before it became a reality in the modern world. However, in fiction they have always been given a life of their own. Isaac Asimov’s great work of fiction lays down three rules for robots so that human beings are not affected by monstrous robots if ever they go out of control. Asimov’s three laws are –
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Even though these laws are a part of fiction, robots have today been embedded with Artificial Intelligence4 with abilities of cognitive learning just like human beings. Hence, the day might not be far off when laws have indeed to be framed for their control. Incidentally, South Korea already has laws governing use and deployment of robots.
Till ages, people have always wanted to build machines that looked and worked like human beings. An example is the prototype that Leonardo da Vinci built in 1464 of a man-shaped machine that looked like a knight and could be controlled with pulleys, ropes and wheels. However, the most successful robot designs of the 20th century were not made to resemble people. George Devol in 1954 made the “Unimate” robot that had one arm and one hand. General Motors bought it in 1960 and installed it in their factory at New Jersey for lifting and stacking materials that were too hot to be handled by humans.
Some of the applications that are carried out by robots are as follows –
- Life threatening situations – Robots are programmed to find and get rid of bombs. Often robots do get damaged if one explodes but that is definitely better than a person losing life.
- Surgery – Delicate surgeries especially the key hole types in hard to reach places are done by robots controlled by surgeons. This eliminates the necessity of cutting open large sections of the body during surgery.
- Planet Rovers – These robots are used for interplanetary exploration. Since signals from earth take a long time to reach these far off planets, the robots do much of the work without any signals or commands from earth stations. They are instrumental in bringing back soil samples from the planets to back to earth.
These are some of the basic must-know from the world of robots.