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Robots, A Brief Look At This Emerging Technology

Robots, A Brief Look At This Emerging Technology
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Robots, A Brief Look At This Emerging Technology

We all have certainly heard of robots. We have seen so many of them being heroes and super villains in movies. Many of us might even have seen one in real life whether it be just a tiny vacuum cleaner or some creepy humanoid in an exhibition. Some of us like them while some of us don’t. Some people are firm supporters of moving towards an automated world while others think taking that direction will only bring the Terminators story into reality.

All-in-all we are still struggling with producing robots that are even close to the advancements we dream of every day. In another article named Robotics, The Abyss of Technology we have deeply discussed how robots are created by humans and what all the bells and whistles around the field of Robotics are all about. In this article, we are going to take a look at some basic concepts about a robot itself. Let’s get started!

What Is A Robot?

Robots, A Brief Look At This Emerging Technology

We all have some sort of an idea about what a robot is; at least visually. Let’s think about it for a second. When we hear the word robot, we think about those that walk just like us on two legs, those that fly, the underwater explorers, the Mars Explorers with wheels, the firefighters, the line followers, the mighty Optimus Prime, and the list would go on and on and on forever and ever. This sometimes brings us to the doorsteps of wrong ideas about what a robot actually is.

What this essentially means is that the image we currently have from this technology is super diverse. This makes allocating a comprehensive definition that is inclusive and robust while being accurate for the word Robot a near-impossible task. According to some experts, even the ancient mechanical traps that were present in tombs and other monuments are kind of robotics structures too.

The almighty IEEE defines a robot as “an autonomous machine capable of sensing its environment, carrying out computations to make decisions, and performing actions in the real world.” This definition is neither too specific nor too general as they say.

Now let’s think about it for a second! Let’s bring one of them into the equation. Take the tiny vacuum cleaner robot as an example. It is able to locate and identify its environment whether through an app or just by itself. Then it would identify where to clean and once the decision is made, it would carry on to the task! He is essentially following the definition IEEE established for us earlier!

This brings us to the three main features of a robot. Following the definition above, a machine with such qualities must have three major capabilities. These are sensing, decision making, and executing the decision previously made. Let’s first take a look at each of those in more detail and then see a couple of examples.

Sensing

Sensing is the mechanism that we use to observe different elements from our surroundings in order to get an accurate image of what is going on in the environment around us. These include seeing, hearing, and smell. In the world of electronics, if there is something out there that is to be perceived, there must be a “THING” for it that is able to perceive it and turn it into an electric current or signal. That “THING” is what is known as a Sensor.

For us, it seems pretty simple. For example, we humans manage to get a colored image of the surrounding through a sensor known as the Eye. It has been around for such a long long time and most of us use it unconsciously without even thinking about it, but the truth is that it works just like a sensor in a robot. They help us get visual data regarding our surroundings. Similarly, the nose helps us to realize something is burning in the kitchen without seeing it and so the nose is another kind of sensor we have in our body.

The same concept needs to be applied to a robot if it is to sense its environment. That’s where electrical sensors come into play. They help the robot to acquire the necessary data for the decision it is going to make later.

Robots, A Brief Look At This Emerging Technology

Decision Making

Ok so now that we know what is going on around us, it is time to make a decision! Let’s get back to our kitchen scenario. So we are now aware of the fact that something may be burning in the kitchen. The question is what are we going to do with that information? Are we going to act cool and hope the house doesn’t burn down? Are we going to call 911? Are we going to get up and go take a look? All of these are decisions that have to be made by the person who is receiving the data.

Decision-making is basically considering all the possibilities available in order to take the appropriate action necessary for the situation to either move forward or to resolve. This is where programming comes into place. The programmers will have to define rules and courses of action that would determine what decision must be made when a specific sensor has detected a specific signal. Head over to our article “Coding; What It Is and What It Isn’t to learn more about how coding actually works. 

This part of the work is often done through a central processing unit. This can be a very simple microcontroller such as an Arduino (Check out our Smart Car Project course that is based on Arduino while you are at it by clicking here) or a very complex computing unit that is hand-built. The point is that all the thinking and the decision-making process happens here! 

Let’s take a look at an example. As we have already established previously, your automatic garage door is very similar to a robot. Let’s assume that the door is closing and someone suddenly gets in the way and so the door stops and opens again!

What is actually happening here is that the Lidar sensor detects a break in the invisible signal light in the middle of the door while the door is closing. So it sends a signal to the processing unit saying “hey the light is out!” The processing unit will then take a look at the rules and see the one regarding the situation when an object detected during the closure, stops the process and opens the door again; and so the appropriate decision is made.

Execution

Once the central unit has made the decision, it will then direct the orders to the corresponding units to take the necessary action. In our case of the garage door, the course of action is to stop and re-open the gates. While the execution may seem like an easy last step to take, it really is not. In most cases, the design and optimization of the system for the most efficient response and execution becomes a challenge on its own and takes a massive amount of time in bigger projects.

Types of Robots

Robots, A Brief Look At This Emerging Technology

There are a number of categorization methodologies when it comes to categorizing robots. They can be divided into groups depending on their shape, size, technology, intended use, intelligence, and so many other factors. In this section, we have used a very common categorization and are going to take a look at some of the more popular types of robots.

Mobile Robots

Mobile robots are the first and most basic types. Don’t take this the wrong way though, they can be pretty sophisticated as well. These are basically robots that are able to move around and are not limited to a specific location. An example of mobile robots is Automatic Guided Vehicles also known as AGVs. The AGV is a moving robot that follows signals or wires on the ground or moves from point A to B point with the help of sight or the use of lasers. These can vary from simple line-flowers and firefighter robots and go all the way to Teslas!

Mobile robots are also used in industries, military, and security environments. In other cases, these robots are produced as consumer goods or for entertainment purposes. They may even be out there to perform certain tasks such as sweeping the house. Mobile robots have been the main subject of much research in the past decade or so, and almost every major university has dedicated one or two laboratories to research this emerging field of technology.

Industrial Robots

Industrial robots often consist of a hinged arm like a clamp or a welding gear attached to a fixed surface.

The International Organization for Standardization has defined an industrial robot (mechanical arm) in ISO 8373 as: “Automatically controlled, reprogrammable multipurpose manipulator programmable in three or more axes”. You can read more about this definition here.

This definition has been accepted by the International Robotics Federation, the European Robotics Research Network (Euron), and many standard committees in different countries.

Industrial robots are the ones we see on TV every time there is a report about car manufacturers!

Service Robot

A service robot is what it exactly sounds like it is! These are robots that provide a service to humans in order to make their lives easier or to carry out a task that is too taxing or even impossible for a human.

These are fairly new robots and are not as popular or in abundance as the rest of them. You might have seen a waiter robot in a restaurant or one that comes to your table and takes your order. Vacuum cleaner robots can also fall into this category.

Quite a few countries have been experimenting with the use of this technology in warehouses and drugstores in order to make various processes more efficient and cut costs by only making an initial investment in the technology.

Military Robots

With such emerging technology, it is no surprise that robots have also found their way into the military! The major players in this field are Boston Dynamics and a government organization that works under US Pentagon called the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (AKA DARPA). The number of projects they have worked on is countless. Some of the most famous and most advanced such military projects are the Avatar III which is a tactical robot designed for SWAT teams and first-responders and the Doggo which is used for recon and is equipped with a 9mm pistol.

The controversy around the morality and dangers of using such advanced technology in the field has been raising many questions among international committees. Some of these while being groundbreaking and creating more safety for the troops of their country of origin, can bring massive damage and destruction to the opposing soldiers especially since many of them are now fully automated and function without an operator.

Soft Robots

These are, as their name implies, well, soft! This is an extremely new technology that has been developed for quite some time already in order to take care of tasks that need extra care such as moving body organs or fragile material such as glass.

The technology on the design of these robots is not just research for the right material, but also on the overall mechanical design of the arms and clamps. The control systems must also be designed and executed in a way that reduces the risks of damaging the intended material being worked on!

Final Thoughts

Robots, A Brief Look At This Emerging Technology

Robots are becoming an integral part of our lives and they are doing so at a very high speed! If one is to be realistic about the future, they would know that jobs and careers will be moving towards new science such as programming and robotics. At GeniusCamp we do our best to facilitate learning for our children so they will have a say in the future job markets. We do so by creating a fun, diverse, and enjoyable environment that makes them feel safe and drives them towards wanting to learn more.

They will also have the chance to make like-minded friends while carrying out projects and making progress along the way. Check out our robotics and other courses in the courses section on the top of the page to learn more about what we offer so we can help our children together and direct them towards a better future.  

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