Robotics is a branch of science and engineering that also includes electronic engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science, information engineering, and others. Robotics is all about the design, the construction, and operation of robots along with their control systems, information processing, and sensory feedback.
All of those technologies are used for developing machines that can act as substitutes for human beings, replicating their actions. We see robots being used in many different scenarios and situations. But perhaps the most common uses today are dangerous situations such as detection and deactivation of bombs, manufacturing, or in places that humans simply cannot survive, such as underwater, in space, with hazardous materials, and in high heat.
We can date the concept of creating autonomous machines back many centuries. But it wasn’t until the 20th century that we began to see proper research into how robots actually function, and how they could potentially be used. Throughout history, inventors, scholars, technicians, and engineers have always assumed that, one day, robots would be capable of mimicking human behaviors and would be able to do some tasks in the same way that humans do them.
Today, robotics is one of the fastest-growing fields as technological advances into research, design and construction of robots continues in military, commercial and domestic areas.
There are many different types of robot now, used in differing environments, for all different uses. However, despite the diversity of form and application, all share three basic construction similarities:
- They all have a mechanical construction, which is a form or a frame specifically designed for a certain task. For example, robots that are designed for traveling over muddy or heavy terrains could be designed with caterpillar or tank tracks. The mechanical aspect of any robot will almost always be the solution from the creator for the specific task the robot is constructed for, as well as a reaction to the environmental physics. Remember, form always follows function.
- All robots have electrical components of some kind, used for powering and for controlling the robot. Take the robot with the caterpillar tracks, for example. It would need a power source or mechanism that controls the tracker treads and that source is electricity, traveling from a battery through a wire — the most basic of electrical circuits. Even a robot powered by petrol requires some form of electrical current for the combustion process to begin which is why you see batteries on most machines, like cars that are powered by petrol. The electrical aspect is used for controlling movement via motors, sensing via electrical signals (the measurement of sound heat, energy, position, etc.), and operation via electrical energy supplied to the sensors and motors.
- Lastly, every robot has a computer code of some kind to program it. This computer program is the way that a robot determines when to do something and how to do it. Back to the caterpillar track example, if a robot needs to move over muddy terrain, it may be constructed correctly and it may have the right amount of power coming from the battery. But unless it is programmed, it cannot move. Computer programs are at the core of any robot. Electrical and mechanical construction may be perfect, but poor programming will only result in poor or no performance. Robotic programs fall into three categories: Remote control, AI, and hybrid. Remote control robots are programmed with a set of commands that they will perform only when a control source sends a signal, normally a human being operating a remote control. These robots tend to fall under automation rather than robotics. A robot using artificial intelligence can interact with its environment without needing any type of control source. They can also determine any reaction to problems or objects they come across using their programming. A hybrid uses both RC and AI controls.