Robot Origins and the Characteristics of Robots

(a Czech word, robota meaning "serf" or "slave" or "forced work" which is now applied to any manufactured device that is capable of doing work ordinarily done by human beings)

Throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1514 to 1789, a system of robota was installed to extract labor from peasants, similar to obligatory work systems elsewhere in Europe.

The term robot was invented by the Czech playwright Karel Capek (1890-1938) in his play R.U.R. an abbreviation of Rosaum's Universal Robots which was first staged in Europe in 1920

Since Capek's time, robot, or robotics, has gone from fiction to science in the 1960's and developed into the science of designing, building, and applying robots.

  • Although robots were often used in science fiction, the first patent wasn't taken out on a robotic device in real life until 1954.
  • It was the work of an American inventor, George C. Devol, Jr., who worked afterward with the American entrepreneur Joseph F. Engelberger, who became interested in robots as a result of reading, I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.
  • For twenty years they continued to develop patents, but the manufacture of robots which were sufficiently less expensive and compact enough to be used for industrial applications did not take place until further advances in computer science.
  • The Robotic Industries Association has defined an industrial robot as "a programmable multifunctional machine designed to both manipulate and transport parts, tools, or specialized implements through variable programmed paths for the performance of specific manufacturing tasks."
  • Manufacturers have been investing more funds in new forms of automation, including robots, to increase productivity, reduce product cost, and to improve product quality and reliability so they can improve their competitive positions.
  • Since robots don't suffer from fatigue or become distracted, researchers in robotics are striving to produce robots that can carry out sophisticated tasks more efficiently than human beings can.

  • Advancements in visual, tactile, acoustic, and magnetic sensing functions have provided robots with the ability to perform many of the basic manufacturing operations, including visual inspection and intricate welding performances.
  • Robot technology has proven to be important now and into the future as one of the tools manufacturers can use to enhance their productions.
  • In 1980, it is estimated that there were nearly 5,000 industrial robots in the United State, and by 1993, there were nearly 500,000 worldwide.
  • One of the major goals of early industrial robot designers was to imitate some of the many complex functions of the human hand and arm.
  • From the elbow through the fingertips, the human hand can make thirty-six articulations or movement in independent directions; so far it is estimated that accomplished robots achieve up to about ten articulations.
  • An industrial robot may have a two-position gripper, either open or closed, set to the size of the part being moved.
  • Robotics refers to any computer-controlled machine that can be programmed to move or to carry out work.
  • Robots are often used in industry to transport materials or to perform repetitive tasks.
  • Robotic arms are fixed to a floor or a workbench, and may be used to paint machine parts or to assemble electronic circuits.
  • Other robots are designed to work in situations that would be dangerous to humans; such as, in defusing bombs or in space and deep-sea explorations.
  • There are also robots equipped with sensors; such as, touch sensors and video cameras, and can be programmed to make simple decisions based on the sensory data received.
  • The future of robotics may exist in telepresence, the use of robots as skilled hands for remote human operators.
  • This aspect of robotic telepresence is connected to the developing science of virtual reality, in which a human operator equipped with a video headset and remote manipulation tools can achieve the goal of the ancients, "action at a distance".

Compiled from information presented in the following sources:

Asimov's Chronology of Science & Discovery by Isaac Asimov;
Harper & Row, Publishers; New York: 1989; page 586;

"Numerical Controlled Machines" by Rodney Carlisle;
Scientific American Inventions and Discoveries;
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; New York; 2004; pages 451-452.

"Robotics", Encyclopedia of Science and Technology;
General Editor, James Trefil; Routledge;
New York; 2001; page 430.

"Robotics" by V. Daniel Hunt, President, Technology Research Corporation;
Academic Press Dictionary of Science and Technology;
Edited by Christopher Morris; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers;
New York; 1992; page 1872.

Scientific American Science Desk Reference;
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; New York; 1999; page 577.

Directory of links to other robotic articles.