Introduction to Robotics
The robots of the movies, such as C-3PO and the Terminator are portrayed as fantastic,
intelligent, even dangerous forms of artificial life. However, robots of today are not exactly the
walking, talking intelligent machines of movies, stories and our dreams. Today, we find most
robots working for people in factories, warehouses, and laboratories. In the future, robots may
show up in other places: our schools, our homes, even our bodies.
Robots have the potential to change our economy, our health, our standard of living, our
knowledge and the world in which we live. As the technology progresses, we are finding new
ways to use robots. Each new use brings new hope and possibilities, but also potential dangers
History of Robots
When did the first robot appear?
In the 1920's, Karl Capek from Czechoslovakia introduced the world's first robot on stage. His
play was entitled "Rossum's Universal Robots." The theme of the play was robots controlling
humans in society. Although he introduced the idea of robots, Karl Capek was skeptical about
how much of an impact robots could have. He rejected all suggestions that a robot could ever
replace a human being, or have feelings such as love or rebellion.
Where did the word robot come from?
The word "robot," a Czech term for forced labor or serf, was also introduced by a Capek. Karl
was wondering what to call the "artificial workers" in his play, and he thought they should be
called "labori." His brother didn't like that idea, and muttered that they should be called "robots."
Then, the term "robot" was born.
What is a Robot?
Simply, a robot is any machine that does work on its own, after being programmed by a human.
Some examples of common robots are an alarm clock and a photocopier. (Ask the Mission
Team members how an alarm clock and a photocopier could be considered robots. Ask them to
come up with other examples of robots.) Ninety percent of robots in use today are industrial
robots. That means they are used to assemble products; handle dangerous material; spray
finishes on products; and even inspect parts, produce, and livestock. Robots can be found in
factories, warehouses, laboratories, energy plants, hospitals, and even on the space shuttle.
What is the hardest thing for a robot to do?
The hardest thing for a robot to do is to walk. This is hard for the creators of the robot as well,
since the act of walking involves hundreds of specific motions. Also, a large part of walking time
is spent on one leg, so it is important for the robot to have good balance, just like a child learning
to walk! Some real robots must walk on uneven surfaces, like the surface of Mars, so
these robots need sensors in their legs to find good footholds!
Why Use Robots?
There are many benefits to using robots instead of humans. Can you imagine working in a
factory all day, every day, doing the exact same thing over and over again? The good thing about
robots is that they will never get bored, and they will do things more efficiently than people.
Also, robots never get sick, or need to rest. This means they can work for 24 hours a day, 7 days
a week. They will never need time off, or lunch breaks. Sometimes, when a task is too dangerous
or difficult for a human, a robot will be able to do it without any risks or problems. Some
interesting places robots have travelled include space, the depths of the ocean, inside volcanoes,
into buildings containing bombs, and others. Robots are sent out when the "mission" may be too
dangerous for a human. Robots are regularly used by police forces around the world to disarm
bombs, and by scientists to venture inside volcanoes to gather important data. A robot-camera
named Jason was also involved in the discovery and exploration of the Titanic shipwreck in
1986. Jason was attached to a mini-submarine, and the crew up above directed the minisubmarine
throughout the wreck, obtaining some great pictures!
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