What does one visualize while thinking of a Robot? Does a robot roll as R2D2 (from Star Wars) or walk upright as C3P0? Does it have expressionistic face or a mechanical one? Does it function as vacuum or picks objects for you? As there are many uses of Robotics, it is reasonable to think that there are various designs too. To know how these complex yet intelligent machines move, one needs to look at their engineering, physics closely.
Fig. 1: A Representation Image Of Robotic Arm
Other than the sci-fi movies, the Robots can be seen around us assembling the cars, in bottling factory etc. The robots have been in the industry for last two decades because of their continuous working ability in an atmosphere, where humans are not even able to stand for minutes, without any supporting equipment, like space.
Since recent years, the researchers are continuously trying to develop more intelligent and self-reliant robots for various applications. The Honda’s ASIMO is the best example of such intelligent robots. The human (Homo sapiens) is the most intelligent creature in the world because he has senses like vision, touch etc. The researchers are trying to emulate human capabilities by creating “Robo sapiens” having all these senses.
Basic structure of robots is very much similar to humans. How do humans sense? For example a human sees something and sends neural signals to the brain via neurons and reacts accordingly. The development of all these senses artificially is achieved through ‘Sensors‘. Sensors are the transducers which receive the physical changes of the environment and convert them into electrical or electronic signals. These analog signals are converted into digital by using analog-to-digital convertors.Control system functions as a brain in robotic systems.
Fig. 2: Simple Block Diagram Showing Diffrent Functions Of Control System In Rototics
PID controller is a popular method for controlling robots. Point of the control system is to get robot actuators do what one wishes to. An encoder on actuator, basically a sensor, determines what all is changing. Program that one writes, defines final results and actuators make changes. Other sensor senses environment, providing robot a better sense of working.
Among different components, actuators are the most important for robotic automation. This component helps in conversion of stored energy in movement. Usually, these are the electric motors, although compressed air and chemical actuators are also available for use. Stepper motor rotates in controllable motions and are commanded by controllers. Ultrasonic motor uses fast vibrating piezo-ceramic element for causing motion. With the help of compressed air, air muscles work exactly like human muscles, contracting and expanding.
Robots are made from an assortment of materials and are driven in many ways too. These can be constructed from sturdy, heavy steel or light weighted plastics. Surgical robots and Robotic arms have uncomplicated rotational joints. These are driven by hydraulics and electrical motors along with longitudinal joints that are moved with rotating screws. Some mobile robots have various wheels that can operate on various planes while others can walk on different terrains with multiple legs. You can find robots with sensing mechanisms like cameras operating as eyes and touch sensors for feeling the environment.
History of Robotics & early Robots
Idea of robots have appeared all through human civilization, from robots of ancient world, to the contemporary humanoid robots and automated tools for weave production improvement for industrial revolution. While it is not clear of how many designs were attempted in past but humans have always dreamt of the automated machines.
Word robot was invented by Czech playwright in one of his plays. Author named Isaac Asimov made this idea even popular by science fiction. With invention of computers in 1950s, robots became complex. Unimate, first ever industrial robot was invented in 1962 for performing repetitive tasks. Stanford institute of research introduced Shakey, first ever automatic mobile robot. Robot toys like HERO series and RB5X series came to the fore in 1980s. Since then innovations have made them complex, leading to Sony Aibo, Lego Mindstorms and Furby.
Interesting Robots developed lately
Fig.3: Image Of Simon Robot Developed At Socially Intelligent Machines Lab At Georgia Institute Of Technology That Can Learn And Adapt To Humans
Socialization of the robots has been important research area lately. Researchers have been trying to provide robots with the social skills so that they can become much better with assistance at offices, schools, homes and other places. TR35 innovator, Andrea Thomaz invented robots that can grasp tasks from the human instructions with use of verbal instructions, expressions and gestures. University of Carnegie Mellon invented a robot that guides interactions with the help of eye contacts for suggesting its time for speaking.
Researchers at Californian University invented machine learning programs that allow robotic head to build up better face expressions. By checking itself out in a mirror, this type of robot can study the way in which its body parts move and can develop new expressions.
Types of Robots
From popular droids in the movies StarWars, C3PO and R2D2, to robot maid in Jetsons, to Schwarzenegger in Cyborg’s role in Terminator to Robocop, Matrix, IRobot, humans have always been fascinated by robots. While earlier humans were just fascinated by these robots, now they have them for real. Various types of robots have come into existence.
Industrial robots are getting popular by the day for their improved productivity as compared to humans. These robots are being used in a variety of industrial tasks. Jobs that involve speed, reliability, repetitiveness, and accuracy can be tackled finely by robots. In last 30 years, robots have been handling automatic production lines of automobile industry. Framework of vehicles is transported with the conveyor belt and is affixed, wielded, painted, assembled with the help of various robot stations. Other jobs that industrial robots handle are packaging and palletizing goods, laboratory applications, dispensing jobs, and others in electronic industry.
Fig. 4: An Image Showing Typical Industrial Robots In Factories
Mobile robots, called Automated Guided Vehicle are being used for transportation of materials in a range of places like container ports, hospitals, warehouses, using markers placed in lasers, floor, and vision. Such robots can perform tasks that are non repetitive and non sequential in complex environments. Hence these are also called intelligent robots.
Idea of the robots doing the agriculture work may seem out of fiction book but many robots are in experimental stage of being used for work of ploughing fields, harvesting and gathering. Telerobots on the other hand, are used in the places that prove to be harmful for humans and are inaccessible too. These robots are controlled by human operators at distance. Some of these robots are also used in laparoscopic surgery. These robots being used in nuclear power plant where they tackle hazardous materials. Mobile robots are also proving to be useful in space exploration.
Japanese are using more of service robots. This category involves robots that are used outside industrial facility and can be categorized into ones used for professional and others for personal use. Robots for personal use are getting popular because of their advanced sophistication in the Artificial Intelligence.
Problems & Future
Problems and concerns with Robots
Concerns and fears about the robots have been constantly expressed in a range of films and books. Common theme for the concern is development of master piece that is intelligent and conscious enough to destroy humans. With technology growing at a fast pace, Artificial Intelligence is not a surreal concept. If robots have artificial intelligence, they would make the common sense just like humans.
Though robotics requires programming and instructions, they are prone to errors. Even if there is slightest of inconsistency in programming sub routines, companies using them have to bear huge costs. Right now, the problem robots face is that they lack logic, which takes away sense of recognizing mistakes away from them. One of the biggest limitations is that these robots are limited to commands. If they have to face any situation outside programming, they are of no use.
Future of Robotics
Robots are being used for a range of tasks including the ones that are repetitive, dirty and dangerous for humans. Robots are being used for searching and mapping out areas that are unreachable to humans including other planets and battlefields. On the pace with which robots are progressing, soon there would be more advancement in three main fields including battery size, life and weight, swarm robotics and artificial intelligence.
Future robotics would be long lasting as well smaller. And these robots would prove useful in the tasks of exploration and clear up operation. Right now, the artificial intelligence is very basic in robots but it is expected to get better with ability to act and think in future. This would let them do almost everything that a human can do. Swarm robotics would also be an imperative development in robotics in near future. These robots would control various cooperating robots. Future robots might not need human control for performing various tasks.
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