When looking at the dictionary or in some books, the official definition of a robot might seem a little bit confusing. Here is how a robot is defined:
One of the definitions
A Robot is a Mechatronic device which is made of a combination of mechanics, electronics and software components in order to automatically perform different tasks which are usually dangerous/painful/repetitive and/or impossible for a human operator. In general, robots are very good in performing those tasks compared to humans.
Hum… you might think! Well that’s a little bit broad and I don’t quite see what a robot might look like or what it might do, or just if a specific device can be qualified as a robot. Don’t worry, here is a Q/A about robotics that can help you have a better understanding.
What are the different types of robots?
Science fictions robots
While they look impressive and pretty realistic or sometime even really scary, those robots with the kind of capabilities shown in the movies are not yet available to the general public. Today, it is possible to emulate certain functionalities which are seen in the movies like Autonomy/Intelligence using machine learning algorithms (Deep Learning, Reinforcement learning and so on) or even speed, reactivity, strength by using the correct mechanical and electronic hardware.
They are still some major issues which will need to be solved before having those futuristic robots in our neighbourhood. One of which is providing the energy to power the system. Today the available power supplies on the market are costly and heavy which reduces drastically the autonomy time of the robotic systems.
Those robots are the ones which are currently heavily used, especially in the manufacturing industry (car, planes, … ). They are really reliable, powerful and robust. Most of them are programmed in position. Basically the program is made of different Waypoints that the robot will follow with a repeatability which can be less than 0,05 mm.
They are really good in executing orders like “goto position x,y,z and orientation R” or “goto joint angles q1,q2,…,qn” but one of the drawbacks is the fact that they hardly can sense their environment, meaning that if there is an obstacle in the way, they will crash into it. Some of them monitor the current on each of their joints to check for a potential collision with the environment, but still the sensitivity is not there when it comes to detecting fine contacts. For those reasons they are kept in a cage and any direct human interaction is forbidden for safety reasons when they are powered on.
The Mecha robots
Yes, they are real! They are few of them in the world but it is possible to make those robots using hydraulic actuators. When you think about it, excavators can actually be considered as robots as well and it is possible to find very big ones, especially mining excavators which can weight up to 800.000 Kg. By using the same technology as excavators , it is possible to make such humanoid looking like robots.
But also The smaller ones….
Those are the smallest ones, but also the most intelligent. Compared to the previous type of robots except the ones from science fiction, they are equipped of many different sensors (cameras, inertial measurement, proximity sensor, humidity sensor, and even sometime laser scanners) which enable them to perform more clever actions than only displacement to a specific location. Thanks to all the embedded sensors, one can implement clever algorithms that combines the sensors to provide a better and robust representation of the world. We will see some of these algorithms in a different tutorial on makersecrets.
From dumb to super intelligent robots!
Alright, now that we have an overview of the different robotic systems, we will have to refine the definition of a robot.
A robot is a Mechatronic device… but much more! Today the state of the art of the capabilities of a robot are limited compared to what we are seeing in science fiction, but in a very near future robots will become more and more intelligent and be able to communicate and interact safely with humans. We are already seeing this transition as some technologies which start to be mature in the car industry for example can be used in robotics as well (Self driving cars are on the way…).
The universe of robotic and all the knowledge required
Robotics include various domain of expertise which needs to be combined together and work in a coherent way in order to have a complete working system.
But that’s not all, it is just scratching the surface and it is just a taste of all the fields involved in robotic. In reality the above picture will be much messier and will look like this:
It might look a little bit overwhelming at first, but with the correct knowledge and the best practices it becomes actually easy to understand all those interactions and to create very interesting but complex systems.