Basics of Robotics: definition, types and use

A few decades ago, robots were pure science fiction, but today a life without them is hard to imagine. Whether as a small everyday helper for vacuum cleaning, for manufacturing cars in industry or for exploring foreign planets – robots have taken on a variety of different tasks. In this article, we explain how robots work and how these small, programmed machines can help you with difficult or dangerous tasks.

The history of robotics

Controllable machines have fascinated people since ancient times. But where does robotics have its roots? The term ‘robot’ comes from the Czech language and means something like ‘hard labour’. In a Czech science fiction drama, these artificial humans were created as early as the 1920s as workers who perform tasks instead of humans in industry. In the 1950s, fiction became reality: George Devol and Joseph F. Engelberger invented the world’s first program-controlled machine in the USA. Today, robots also play an important role outside of industrial applications. The key to the further development of intelligent machines lies in digital transformation. Key technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence have meant that robots can now work autonomously and complete tasks quickly and precisely. But what exactly can you understand by the term robotics?

Definition of robotics: A machine with many faces

Robotics as a scientific discipline deals with programmable and versatile machines. Whether gripping, drilling or assembling – robots can be equipped with various tools to perform tasks automatically for you. So is every automatic machine a robot? No. An automaton is a machine that can perform one – but only one – specific task automatically. A robot, on the other hand, can be programmed and retooled. This makes it flexible and usable for a large number of tasks. Where an automaton can only repeat the predefined work process, you can reprogram a robot so that it grips or assembles, but also so that it welds, drills or glues.

For robots to do all these different tasks, they need three components:

  1. Sensores
  2. Processing systems
  3. Actuators
Image 1: Components of a robot

The sensors are the so-called sensory organs of a robot. Robots perceive their environment via GPS, microphones or distance meters, for example, and can pick up on influences or stimuli. The processing systems such as circuits, microprocessors or cloud connections, on the other hand, form the brain of the robot. This records the sensor information and issues instructions. These instructions are in turn passed on to the actuators – which can be motors, speakers or lasers, for example. These form the robot’s muscles and allow it to interact with its environment.

The branches of robotics: What can robots do?

Due to the wide range of applications, various branches of robotics have developed:

  • Industrial robots are the classic robotic arms for producting goods. They are the workhorses of today’s manufacturing industry. Among other things, they are used as welding robots in the construction of cars. They are usually large, very heavy machines that operate at high speeds. They’re designed to support us humans. In this way, your learning ability and expertise are combined with the strength and precision of the robot.
  • Service robots, on the other hand, perform services for us. This category also includes robot vacuum cleaners or robots that are used in care. Unlike collaborative robots, these are designed to interact directly with humans. They usually have voice controls or facial recognition to communicate with you.
  • Humanoid robots form another branch. They are externally modeled on humans and are primarily developed for use together with humans. In this way, humanoid robots can learn how to use and apply other tools by observing our movements or actions – without us directly showing them or programming them.
Image 2: Branches of robotics

Are robots the workers of the future?

Robots have numerous advantages over manual labor or simple machines: they work faster, are more powerful and perform tasks more precisely than humans. They don’t get tired and can operate 24/7. Unlike a regular manufacturing machine, robots can always be reprogrammed and are therefore much more flexible in their tasks and use. In addition, robots are robust when faced with hostile environmental conditions and can be deployed where we humans, depend on their support. They explore the depths of the oceans, defuse bombs or repair defective satellites in space.

The field of robotics is constantly evolving and taking on more and more complex tasks. But what can’t these small, intelligent machines do (yet)? Emotional skills and creativity will continue to play an important role in the future. Robots are good at imitating and copying, but so far, they have not been able to develop anything completely new. You are also far superior to robots when it comes to critical thinking – i.e. skills such as taking responsibility or questioning things. And last but not least, communication and empathy are also human strengths. You’re capable of exchanging ideas with your fellow human beings and working together to develop joint solutions. Robots lack this competence as well.

Robotics aims to develop machines that are able to perform tasks automatically and independently. By taking difficult or repetitive tasks off our hands, robots assist humans. They can either learn the interactions through technologies like artificial intelligence or be programmed by humans. Want to learn how to program machines intelligently now too? Contact us and we’ll help you to hopefully soon have robots perform the more tedious everyday tasks for you.

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Rebecca Marzahn
Rebecca Marzahn
Rebecca is a StackFuel veteran. She has been on board for more than 2 years now, assisting our marketing and sales department. When she’s not writing social media or blog posts, she skillfully juggles between tasks for the two departments. As the real power woman that she is, she’s also in the final stages of her Master's degree. In her free time, Rebecca has a passion for dog sports and enters contests with her two dogs.

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