Most people have watched at least one movie in their lifetime featuring robots, be it IRobot, Robocop, Star Wars, Transformers, Pacific Rim, or any number of other shows. Although society today does not as yet display the amount of technological efficiency or depth in most of these shows, a robot delivering pizza or painting someone’s nails might not be far on the horizon. Recently Amazon announced that it plans to use flying drones, called Octocopters, to deliver mail in the near future. Scientists also lately developed machines called termites that build things instead of tearing and devouring them. Increasing robot inventions could hold the power to shape the world.
In a general sense, a robot is made up of the same things as a human: a physical structure that moves, a motor, a system of sensors, some kind of power supply, and a computer brain-like object that controls all of the latter elements. The re-programmable brain that controls an automaton is what separates it from other machines like printers and cars. And unlike normal computers, these machines have some kind of body that can move. Basically, robots are machines that mimic human and animal life, usually without the more intangible components like intelligence and morality.
Robotics, the science of robots, came into existence in the 20th century and the science-fiction author, Isaac Asimov, created the word in 1941. But people have been playing around with creating moveable machines far longer than that. Many people in ancient Greece, Rome, and during the medieval times used androids for varying purposes like tools, toys, and religious ceremonies. According to Greek myth, the Greek god Hephaestus is said to have created automatons to help in his workshop. And in the Industrial Revolution citizens poured greater effort and focus into developing more efficient machines to produce items faster, mainly relying on steam for fuel.
Karel Capek’s play, Rossum’s Universal Robots, introduced the actual word ‘robot’ to the world in 1920. Thirty years later the first industrial robot started working, and the climb to shape the world with robots has continued ever since then with new robotic inventions.
Some automata that are used fairly frequently today are robots that can defuse bombs, the ever-helpful NASA Mars rovers, the robomower which is a lawn-mowing robot, and industrial automata that work on assembly lines. Of course, there are always scientists working on machines that resemble humans. A group of scientists may have the most lifelike robot yet that they named Reginald, which is what they call a Robothespian. This automaton sings, talks, and interacts with people in a fairly natural way. It contains cameras to take in its surroundings and possesses facial and voice recognition technology. Each Reginald robot costs about $90,000 and inventors are attempting to expand the robot’s skills. Inventors dream of the automata working at store checkouts, airports, or sports stadiums in the future.
Honda has also crafted a human-like machine called ASIMO, which they deem as: “the world’s most advanced humanoid robot.” They began the project in 1986 focusing on legs that had the ability to walk steadily. It took them two decades of hard work, robotics research, and determination to perfect the creation. Now ASIMO can run, walk, climb stairs, understand and respond to certain voice commands, recognize the faces of specific individuals, and avoid touching obstacles as it moves. Honda uses ASIMO to inspire students to study science and hope this robot will see and hear for those who cannot, help the elderly and those in wheelchairs, and possibly perform dangerous tasks such as fighting fires and cleaning noxious spills. Part of the value of automata lies in their ability to go where humans cannot and perform tasks that are too dangerous for the average person; some robotic scientists even hope that robots will fight in the place of human soldiers. Soon the world might not look so different than that in a science-fiction movie as scientists continue to create robot inventions that could shape the world.
By Rachel Fike