The image usually thought of by the word robot is that of a mechanical being, somewhat human in shape. Common in science fiction, robots are generally depicted as working in the service of people, but often escaping the control of the people and doing them harm. The word robot comes from the Czech writer Karel Capek's 1921 play? R.U.R.? (Which stands for "Rossum's Universal Robots"), in which mechanical beings made to be slaves for humanity rebel and kill their creators. From this, the fictional image of robots is sometimes troubling, expressing the fears that people may have of a robotized world over which they cannot keep control.
The history of real robots is rarely as ...view middle of the document...
For several centuries, automatons were as close as people came to constructing true robots. European church towers provide fascinating examples of clockwork figures from medieval times, and automatons were also devised in China. By the 18th century, a number of extremely clever automatons became famous for a while. Swiss craftsman Pierre Jacquet-Droz, for example, built mechanical dolls that could draw a simple figure or play music on a miniature organ
Clockwork figures of this sort are rarely made any longer, but many of the so called robots built today for promotional or other purposes are still basically automatons. They may include technological advances such as radio control, but for the most part they can only perform a set routine of entertaining but otherwise useless actions.
Modern Robots used in workplaces arose more directly from the Industrial Revolution and the systems for mass production to which it led. As factories developed, more and more machine tools were built that could perform some simple, precise routine over and over again on an assembly line. The trend toward increasing automation of production processes proceeded through the development of machines that were more versatile and needed less tending. One basic principle involved in this development was what is known as feedback, in which part of a machine's output is used as input to the machine as well, so that it can make appropriate adjustments to changing operating conditions.
The most important 20th-century development, for automation and for robots in particular, was the invention of the computer. When the transistor made tiny computers possible, they could be put in individual machine tools. Modern industrial robots arose from this linking of computer with machine. By means of a computer, a correctly designed machine tool can be programmed to perform more than one kind of task. If it is given a complex manipulator arm, its abilities can be enormously increased. The first such robot was designed by Victor Scheinman, a researcher at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. It was followed in the mid-1970s by the production of so called programmable universal manipulators for assembly (PUMAs) by General Motors and then by other manufacturers in the United States.
The nation that has used this new field most successfully, however, is Japan. It has done so by making robot manipulators without trying to duplicate all of the motions of which the human arm and hand are capable. The robots are also easily reprogrammed and this makes them more adaptable to changing tasks on an assembly line. The majority of the industrial robots in use in the world today are found in Japan. Except for firms that were designed from the start around robots, such as several of those in Japan, industrial robots are still only slowly being placed in production lines. Most of the robots in large automobile and...