Sunday, September 21, 2008


A robot is a mechanical or virtual artificial agent. In practice, it is usually an electro-mechanical system which, by its appearance or movements, conveys a sense that it has intent or agency of its own. The word robot can refer to both physical robots and virtual software agents, but the latter are usually referred to as bots.[1] There is no consensus on which machines qualify as robots, but there is general agreement among experts and the public that robots tend to do some or all of the following: move around, operate a mechanical arm, sense and manipulate their environment, and exhibit intelligent behavior, especially behavior which mimics humans or animals.

Stories of artificial helpers and companions and attempts to create them have a long history, but fully autonomous machines only appeared in the 20th century. The first digitally operated and programmable robot, the Unimate, was installed in 1961 to lift hot pieces of metal from a die casting machine and stack them. Today, commercial and industrial robots are in widespread use performing jobs more cheaply or with greater accuracy and reliability than humans. They are also employed for jobs which are too dirty, dangerous or dull to be suitable for humans. Robots are widely used in manufacturing, assembly and packing, transport, earth and space exploration, surgery, weaponry, laboratory research, and mass production of consumer and industrial goods.[2]

People have a generally positive perception of the robots they actually encounter. Robotic competitions are popular, and provide training as well as entertainment for technically-inclined students. Domestic robots for cleaning and maintenance and robotic toys are increasingly common in and around homes. Asians and Westerners have different expectations for the future of consumer robotics, but these expectations are generally positive. There is anxiety, however, over the economic impact of automation and the threat of robotic weaponry, anxiety which is not helped by the many villainous, intelligent, acrobatic robots in popular entertainment. Compared with their fictional counterparts, real robots are still benign, dim-witted and clumsy.



[edit] Defining characteristics

While there is no single correct definition of robot,[3] a typical robot will have several or possibly all of the following properties.

The last property, the appearance of agency, is important when people are considering whether to call a machine a robot, or just a machine. (See anthropomorphism for examples of ascribing intent to inanimate objects.)[4]

KITT is mentally anthropomorphic.
KITT is mentally anthropomorphic.

Mental agency
For robotic engineers, the physical appearance of a machine is less important than the way its actions are controlled. The more the control system seems to have agency of its own, the more likely the machine is to be called a robot. An important feature of agency is the ability to make choices. So the more a machine could feasibly choose to do something different, the more agency it has.

  • A clockwork car is never considered a robot.
  • A remotely operated vehicle is sometimes considered a robot (or telerobot).[5]
  • A car with an onboard computer, like Bigtrak, which could drive in a programmable sequence, might be called a robot.
  • A self-controlled car which could sense its environment and make driving decisions based on this information, such as the 1990s driverless cars of Ernst Dickmanns or the entries in the DARPA Grand Challenge, would quite likely be called a robot.
  • A sentient car, like the fictional KITT, which can make decisions, navigate freely and converse fluently with a human, is usually considered a robot.
ASIMO is physically anthropomorphic.
ASIMO is physically anthropomorphic.

Physical agency
However, for many laymen, if a machine looks anthropomorphic or zoomorphic (e.g. ASIMO or Aibo), especially if it is limb-like (e.g. a simple robot arm), or has limbs, or can move around, it would be called a robot.

  • A player piano is rarely characterized as a robot.[6]
  • A CNC milling machine is very occasionally characterized as a robot.
  • A factory automation arm is almost always characterized as a robot or an industrial robot.
  • An autonomous wheeled or tracked device, such as a self-guided rover or self-guided vehicle, is almost always characterized as a robot, a mobile robot or a service robot.
  • A zoomorphic mechanical toy, like Roboraptor, is usually characterized as a robot.[7]
  • A humanoid, like ASIMO, is almost always characterized as a robot or a service robot.

Interestingly, while a 3-axis CNC milling machine may have a very similar or identical control system to a robot arm, it is the arm which is almost always called a robot, while the CNC machine is usually just a machine. Having a limb can make all the difference. Having eyes too gives people a sense that a machine is aware ("the eyes are the windows of the soul"). However, simply being anthropomorphic is not sufficient for something to be called a robot. A robot must do something, whether it is useful work or not. So, for example, a dog's rubber chew toy, shaped like ASIMO, would not be considered a robot.

[edit] Official definitions and classifications of robots

It is difficult to compare numbers of robots in different countries, since there are different definitions of what a "robot" is. The International Organisation for Standardisation gives a definition of robot in ISO 8373: "an automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose, manipulator programmable in three or more axes, which may be either fixed in place or mobile for use in industrial automation applications."[8] This definition used by the International Federation of Robotics, Euron, and many national standards committees.[9]

The Robotics Institute of America (RIA) uses a broader definition: a robot is a "re-programmable multi-functional manipulator designed to move materials, parts, tools, or specialized devices through variable programmed motions for the performance of a variety of tasks."[10] The RIA subdivides robots into four classes: handling devices with manual control, automated handling devices with predetermined cycles, programmable and servo-controlled robots with continuous of point-to-point trajectories, and robots capable of "Type C" specifications which also acquire information from the environment for intelligent motion.

[edit] Other definitions of robot

There is no one definition of robot which satisfies everyone, and many people have their own.[11] For example, Joseph Engelberger, a pioneer in industrial robotics, once remarked: "I can't define a robot, but I know one when I see one."[12] Two notable definitions include Encyclopaedia Britannica:

A "Robot" is any automatically operated machine that replaces human effort, though it may not resemble human beings in appearance or perform functions in a humanlike manner. By extension, robotics is the engineering discipline dealing with the design, construction, and operation of robots.[13]

and Merriam-Webster:

  • 1. a: a machine that looks like a human being and performs various complex acts (as walking or talking) of a human being; also : a similar but fictional machine whose lack of capacity for human emotions is often emphasized. b: an efficient insensitive person who functions automatically
  • 2. a device that automatically performs complicated often repetitive tasks
  • 3. a mechanism guided by automatic controls[14]

[edit] Etymology

See also: Robots in literature
A scene from Karel Čapek's 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), showing three robots
A scene from Karel Čapek's 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), showing three robots

The word robot was introduced to the public by Czech writer Karel Čapek in his play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), which premiered in 1921.[15] The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people called robots, but they are closer to the modern ideas of androids and clones, creatures who can be mistaken for humans. They can plainly think for themselves, though they seem happy to serve. At issue is whether the robots are being exploited and the consequences of their treatment.

However, Karel Čapek himself did not coin the word; he wrote a short letter in reference to an etymology in the Oxford English Dictionary in which he named his brother, the painter and writer Josef Čapek, as its actual originator.[15] In an article in the Czech journal Lidové noviny in 1933, he explained that he had originally wanted to call the creatures laboři (from Latin labor, work). However, he did not like the word, and sought advice from his brother Josef, who suggested "roboti". The word robota means literally work, labor or serf labor, and figuratively "drudgery" or "hard work" in Czech and many Slavic languages.[16] Serfdom was outlawed in 1848 in Bohemia, so at the time Čapek wrote R.U.R., usage of the term robota had broadened to include various types of work, but the obsolete sense of "serfdom" would still have been known.[17][18]

[edit] History

Al-Jazari's programmable humanoid robots
Al-Jazari's programmable humanoid robots
Main article: History of robots

Many ancient mythologies include artificial people, such as the mechanical servants built by the Greek god Hephaestus[19] (Vulcan to the Romans), the clay golems of Jewish legend and clay giants of Norse legend, and Galatea, the mythical statue of Pygmalion that came to life.

In the 4th century BC, the Greek mathematician Archytas of Tarentum postulated a mechanical steam-operated bird he called "The Pigeon". Hero of Alexandria (10–70 AD) created numerous user-configurable automated devices, and described machines powered by air pressure, steam and water.[20] Su Song built a clock tower in China in 1088 featuring mechanical figurines that chimed the hours.[21]

Al-Jazari (1136–1206), a Muslim inventor during the Artuqid dynasty, designed and constructed a number of automated machines, including kitchen appliances, musical automata powered by water, and the first programmable humanoid robots in 1206. The robots appeared as four musicians on a boat in a lake, entertaining guests at royal drinking parties. His mechanism had a programmable drum machine with pegs (cams) that bumped into little levers that operated percussion instruments. The drummer could be made to play different rhythms and different drum patterns by moving the pegs to different locations.

[edit] Early modern developments

Tea-serving karakuri, with mechanism, 19th century. Tokyo National Science Museum.
Tea-serving karakuri, with mechanism, 19th century. Tokyo National Science Museum.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) sketched plans for a humanoid robot around 1495. Da Vinci's notebooks, rediscovered in the 1950s, contain detailed drawings of a mechanical knight now known as Leonardo's robot, able to sit up, wave its arms and move its head and jaw. The design was probably based on anatomical research recorded in his Vitruvian Man. It is not known whether he attempted to build it.

In 1738 and 1739, Jacques de Vaucanson exhibited several life-sized automatons: a flute player, a pipe player and a duck. The mechanical duck could flap its wings, crane its neck, and swallow food from the exhibitor's hand, and it gave the illusion of digesting its food by excreting matter stored in a hidden compartment.[22] Complex mechanical toys and animals built in Japan in the 1700s were described in the Karakuri zui (Illustrated Machinery, 1796).

[edit] Modern developments

The Japanese craftsman Hisashige Tanaka (1799–1881), known as "Japan's Edison", created an array of extremely complex mechanical toys, some of which served tea, fired arrows drawn from a quiver, and even painted a Japanese kanji character.[23] In 1898 Nikola Tesla publicly demonstrated a radio-controlled torpedo.[24] Based on patents for "teleautomation", Tesla hoped to develop it into a weapon system for the US Navy.[25]

George C. Devol circa 1982
George C. Devol circa 1982

In 1926, Westinghouse Electric Corporation created Televox, the first robot put to useful work. They followed Televox with a number of other simple robots, including one called Rastus, made in the crude image of a black man. In the 1930s, they created a humanoid robot known as Elektro for exhibition purposes, including the 1939 and 1940 World's Fairs. [26][27] In 1928, Japan's first robot, Gakutensoku, was designed and constructed by biologist Makoto Nishimura.

The first Unimate
The first Unimate

The first electronic autonomous robots were created by William Grey Walter of the Burden Neurological Institute at Bristol, England in 1948 and 1949. They were named Elmer and Elsie. These robots could sense light and contact with external objects, and use these stimuli to navigate. [28]

The first truly modern robot, digitally operated and programmable, was invented by George Devol in 1954 and was ultimately called the Unimate. Devol sold the first Unimate to General Motors in 1960, and it was installed in 1961 in a plant in Trenton, New Jersey to lift hot pieces of metal from a die casting machine and stack them.[29]

[edit] Timeline

Date Significance Robot Name Inventor
First century A.D. and earlier Descriptions of more than 100 machines and automata, including a fire engine, a wind organ, a coin-operated machine, and a steam-powered engine, in Pneumatica and Automata by Heron of Alexandria
Ctesibius of Alexandria, Philo of Byzantium, Heron of Alexandria, and others
1206 First programmable humanoid robots Boat with four robotic musicians Al-Jazari
c. 1495 Designs for a humanoid robot Mechanical knight Leonardo da Vinci
1738 Mechanical duck that was able to eat, flap its wings, and excrete Digesting Duck Jacques de Vaucanson
1800s Japanese mechanical toys that served tea, fired arrows, and painted Karakuri toys Hisashige Tanaka
1921 First fictional automatons called "robots" appear in the play R.U.R. Rossum's Universal Robots Karel Čapek
1930s Humanoid robot exhibited at the 1939 and 1940 World's Fairs Elektro Westinghouse Electric Corporation
1948 Simple robots exhibiting biological behaviors[30] Elsie and Elmer William Grey Walter
1956 First commercial robot, from the Unimation company founded by George Devol and Joseph Engelberger, based on Devol's patents[31] Unimate George Devol
1961 First installed industrial robot Unimate George Devol
1963 First palletizing robot[32] Palletizer Fuji Yusoki Kogyo
1973 First robot with six electromechanically driven axes Famulus KUKA Robot Group
1975 Programmable universal manipulation arm, a Unimation product PUMA Victor Scheinman

[edit] Contemporary uses

Main articles: Industrial robot and Domestic robot

Robots can be placed into roughly two classifications based on the type of job they do. The first category includes tasks which a robot can do with greater productivity, accuracy, or endurance than humans; the second category consists of dirty, dangerous or dull jobs which humans find undesirable.

[edit] Increased productivity, accuracy, and endurance

Pick and Place robot
Pick and Place robot

Many factory jobs are now performed by robots. This has led to cheaper mass-produced goods, including automobiles and electronics. Large stationary manipulators used in factories have become the largest market for robots. The number of installed robots has grown at an increasing pace, and today there are more than a million robots in operation worldwide. Half of the robots are located in Asia, one third in Europe, and 16% in North America. Australasia and Africa each account for 1%.[33]

Some examples of factory robots:

  • Car production: Over the last three decades automobile factories have become dominated by robots. A typical factory contains hundreds of industrial robots working on fully automated production lines, with one robot for every ten human workers. On an automated production line, a vehicle chassis on a conveyor is welded, glued, painted and finally assembled at a sequence of robot stations.
    German KUKA Industrial robots doing vehicle underbody assembly
    German KUKA Industrial robots doing vehicle underbody assembly
  • Packaging: Industrial robots are also used extensively for palletizing and packaging of manufactured goods, for example for rapidly taking drink cartons from the end of a conveyor belt and placing them into boxes, or for loading and unloading machining centers.
  • Electronics: Mass-produced printed circuit boards (PCBs) are almost exclusively manufactured by pick-and-place robots, typically with SCARA manipulators, which remove tiny electronic components from strips or trays, and place them on to PCBs with great accuracy.[34] Such robots can place hundreds of thousands of components per hour, far out-performing a human in speed, accuracy, and reliability.[35]
Automated guided vehicle carrying medical supplies and records
Automated guided vehicle carrying medical supplies and records
  • Automated guided vehicles (AGVs): Mobile robots, following markers or wires in the floor, or using vision[36] or lasers, are used to transport goods around large facilities, such as warehouses, container ports, or hospitals.[37] Early AGV-style robots were limited to tasks that could be accurately defined and had to be performed the same way every time. Very little feedback or intelligence was required, and the robots needed only the most basic exteroceptors (sensors). However, newer AGVs such as the Speci-Minder,[38] ADAM, [39] Tug[40] and PatrolBot Gofer[41] navigate by recognizing natural features. 3D scanners or other means of sensing the environment in two or three dimensions help to eliminate cumulative errors in dead-reckoning calculations of the AGV's current position. Some AGVs can create maps of their environment and use those maps to navigate in real time by simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM). They are able to operate in complex environments and perform non-repetitive and non-sequential tasks such as transporting photomasks in a semiconductor lab, specimens in hospitals and goods in warehouses.

[edit] Dirty, dangerous, dull or inaccessible tasks

The Roomba domestic vacuum cleaner robot does a menial job.
The Roomba domestic vacuum cleaner robot does a menial job.

There are many jobs which humans would rather leave to robots. The job may be boring, such as domestic cleaning, or dangerous, such as exploring inside a volcano.[42] Other jobs are physically inaccessible, such as exploring another planet,[43] cleaning the inside of a long pipe, or performing laparoscopic surgery.[44]

  • Domestic robots As prices fall and robots become smarter and more autonomous, robots are increasingly being seen in the home where they are taking on simple but unwanted jobs, such as floor cleaning and lawn mowing.
A laparoscopic robotic surgery machine
A laparoscopic robotic surgery machine
  • Telerobots: When a human cannot be present on site to perform a job because it is dangerous, far away, or inaccessible, teleoperated robots, or telerobots are used. Rather than following a predetermined sequence of movements a telerobot is controlled from a distance by a human operator. The robot may be in another room or another country, or may be on a very different scale to the operator. A laparoscopic surgery robot such as da Vinci allows the surgeon to work inside a human patient on a relatively small scale compared to open surgery, significantly shortening recovery time.[44] An interesting use of a telerobot is by the author Margaret Atwood, who has recently started using a robot pen (the Longpen) to sign books remotely. The Longpen is similar to the Autopen of the 1800s. This saves the financial cost and physical inconvenience of traveling to book signings around the world.[45] At the other end of the spectrum, iRobot ConnectR robot is designed to be used by anyone to stay in touch with family or friends from far away. One robot in use today, Intouchhealth's RP-7 remote presence robot, is being used by doctors to communicate with patients, allowing the doctor to be anywhere in the world. This increases the number of patients a doctor can monitor.
A U.S. Marine Corps technician prepares to deploy a device that will detonate a buried improvised explosive device near Camp Fallujah, Iraq.
A U.S. Marine Corps technician prepares to deploy a device that will detonate a buried improvised explosive device near Camp Fallujah, Iraq.
  • Military robots: Teleoperated robot aircraft, like the Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, are increasingly being used by the military. These robots can be controlled from anywhere in the world allowing an army to search terrain, and even fire on targets, without endangering those in control.[46] Many of these robots are teleoperated, but others are being developed that can make decisions automatically; choosing where to fly or selecting and engaging enemy targets.[47] Hundreds of robots such as iRobot's Packbot and the Foster-Miller TALON are being used in Iraq and Afghanistan by the U.S. military to defuse roadside bombs or Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in an activity known as Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD).[48] Autonomous robots such as MDARS and Seekur are being developed to perform security and surveillance tasks at military facilities to address manpower shortages as well as keeping troops out of harm's way. The Crusher Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) is being developed to perform military missions autonomously. [49]
  • Elder Care: The population is aging in many countries, especially Japan, meaning that there are increasing numbers of elderly people to care for but relatively fewer young people to care for them.[50][51] Humans make the best carers, but where they are unavailable, robots are gradually being introduced.[52]

[edit] Unconventional Robots

Much of the research in robotics focuses not on specific industrial tasks, but on investigations into new types of robot, alternative ways to think about or design robots, and new ways to manufacture them. It is expected that these new types of robot will be able to solve real world problems when they are finally realized.

A computer generated rendering of two Fullerene Nano-gears
A computer generated rendering of two Fullerene Nano-gears[53]
  • Nanorobots: Nanorobotics is the still largely hypothetical technology of creating machines or robots at or close to the scale of a nanometer (10-9 meters). Also known as nanobots or nanites, they would be constructed from molecular machines. So far, researchers have mostly produced only parts of these complex systems, such as bearings, sensors, and Synthetic molecular motors, but functioning robots have also been made such as the entrants to the Nanobot Robocup contest.[54] Researchers also hope to be able to create entire robots as small as viruses or bacteria, which could perform tasks on a tiny scale. Possible applications include micro surgery (on the level of individual cells), utility fog[55], manufacturing, weaponry and cleaning.[56] Some people have suggested that if there were nanobots which could reproduce, the earth would turn into "grey goo", while others argue that this hypothetical outcome is nonsense.[57][58]
  • Soft Robots: Robots with silicone bodies and flexible actuators (air muscles, electroactive polymers, and ferrofluids), controlled using fuzzy logic and neural networks, can look, feel, and behave differently from traditional hard robots.[59]
Molecubes in motion
Molecubes in motion
  • Reconfigurable Robots: A few researchers have investigated the possibility of creating robots which can alter their physical form to suit a particular task,[60] like the fictional T-1000. Real robots are nowhere near that sophisticated however, and mostly consist of a small number of cube shaped units, which can move relative to their neighbours, for example SuperBot. Algorithms have been designed in case any such robots become a reality.[61]
A swarm of robots from the Open-source micro-robotic project
A swarm of robots from the Open-source micro-robotic project[62]
  • Swarm robots: Inspired by colonies of insects such as ants and bees, researchers hope to create very large swarms (thousands) of tiny robots which together perform a useful task, such as finding something hidden, cleaning, or spying. Each robot would be quite simple, but the emergent behavior of the swarm would be more complex.[63] The whole set of robots can be considered as one single distributed system, in the same way an ant colony can be considered a superorganism. They would exhibit swarm intelligence. The largest swarms so far created include the iRobot swarm, and the Open-source micro-robotic project swarm, which are being used to research collective behaviors.[64] Swarms are also more resistant to failure. Whereas one large robot may fail and ruin the whole mission, the swarm can continue even if several robots fail. This makes them attractive for space exploration missions, where failure can be extremely costly.[65]
  • Evolutionary Robots: is a methodology that uses evolutionary computation to help design robots, especially the body form, or motion and behavior controllers. In a similar way to natural evolution, a large population of robots is allowed to compete in some way, or their ability to perform a task is measured using a fitness function. Those that perform worst are removed from the population, and replaced by a new set, which have new behaviors based on those of the winners. Over time the population improves, and eventually a satisfactory robot may appear. This happens without any direct programming of the robots by the researchers. Researchers use this method both to create better robots,[66] and to explore the nature of evolution.[67] Because the process often requires many generations of robots to be simulated, this technique may be run entirely or mostly in simulation, then tested on real robots once the evolved algorithms are good enough.[68]
  • Self-replicating robots: or "self-replicating machines" are a popular and rapidly developing field of robot engineering.
  • Virtual Reality: Robotics also has application in the design of virtual reality interfaces. Specialized robots are in widespread use in the haptic research community. These robots, called "haptic interfaces" allow touch-enabled user interaction with real and virtual environments. Robotic forces allow simulating the mechanical properties of "virtual" objects, which users can experience through their sense of touch.[69]

[edit] Eastern and Western Views

[edit] Eastern Thoughts on Robots

A Japanese Actroid is a robot which is intended to look as much like a human as possible.
A Japanese Actroid is a robot which is intended to look as much like a human as possible.

Roughly half of all the robots in the world are in Asia, 32% in Europe, 16% in North America, 1% in Australasia and 1% in Africa.[70] 40% of all the robots in the world are in Japan.[71][72][73]. Japan also has a thriving community of amateur robot builders.

Japanese, South Korean and Chinese popular expectations of the future impact of robots are generally positive, perhaps due in part to the popularity of fictional robots such as Astroboy. The East (Japan, South Korea, and more recently, China) believes robots to be more equal to humans, having them care for old people, play with or teach children, or replace pets etc. In fact, the religious influences in the area are conducive to the idea that robots even have souls.[74]

"This is the opening of an era in which human beings and robots can co-exist," says Japanese firm Mitsubishi about one of the many humanistic robots in Japan[75].

In this sense, people in the East are much more likely to be affected by Robosexuality, as they are much more exposed to robots in their society. South Korea aims to put a robot in every house there by 2015-2020.[76]

[edit] Western Thoughts on Robots

Western societies tend to have a less positive view of robots, and some people resent or even fear their development. This attitude is reflected in the story lines of films and literature, where robots replace or attack humans.

Some people in the West regard robots as a threat to the future of humans, which may be due to the influence of Abrahamic religions, in which creating machines that can think for themselves would almost be playing God[77][78]. While these boundaries are not clear, there is a significant difference between the two ideologies.

[edit] Dangers and fears

Although current robots are not believed to have developed to the stage where they pose any threat or danger to society,[79] fears and concerns about robots have been repeatedly expressed in a wide range of books and films. The principal theme is the robots' intelligence and ability to act could exceed that of humans, that they could develop a conscience and a motivation to take over or destroy the human race. (See The Terminator, Runaway, Bladerunner, Robocop, the Replicators in Stargate, the Cylons in BattleStar Galactica, The Matrix, and I, Robot.) Robots could be dangerous if they were programmed to kill or if they are programmed to be so smart that they make their own software, build their own hardware to upgrade themselves or if they change their own source code.

Frankenstein (1818), often called the first science fiction novel, has become synonymous with the theme of a robot or monster advancing beyond its creator. Probably the best known author to have worked in this area is Isaac Asimov, who placed robots and their interaction with society at the center of many of his works. Of particular interest are Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. Currently, malicious programming or unsafe use of robots may be the biggest danger. Although industrial robots may be smaller and less powerful than other industrial machines, they are just as capable of inflicting severe injury on humans. However, since a robot can be programmed to move in different trajectories depending on its task, its movement can be unpredictable for a person standing in its reach. Therefore, most industrial robots operate inside a security fence which separates them from human workers. Manuel De Landa has theorized that humans are at a critical and significant juncture where humans have allowed robots, "smart missiles," and autonomous bombs equipped with artificial perception to make decisions about killing us. He believes this represents an important and dangerous trend where humans are transferring more of our cognitive structures into our machines.[80] Even without malicious programming, a robot, especially a future model moving freely in a human environment, is potentially dangerous because of its large moving masses, powerful actuators and unpredictably complex behavior. A robot falling on someone or just stepping on his foot by mistake could cause much more damage to the victim than a human being of the same size. Designing and programming robots to be intrinsically safe and to exhibit safe behavior in a human environment is one of the great challenges in robotics. Some theorists, such as Eliezer Yudkowsky, have suggested that developing a robot with a powerful conscience may be the most prudent course of action in this regard.

Robert Williams was killed when struck by a robotic arm at a casting plant in Flat Rock, Michigan on January 25, 1979. [81] A better known case is that of 37-year-old Kenji Urada, a Japanese factory worker, in 1981. Urada was performing routine maintenance on the robot, but neglected to shut it down properly, and was accidentally pushed into a grinding machine.[82]

[edit] Literature

Main article: Robots in literature
See also: List of fictional robots and androids

Robots have frequently appeared as characters in works of literature. Isaac Asimov wrote many volumes of science fiction focusing on robots in numerous forms and guises, contributing greatly to reducing the Frankenstein complex, which dominated early works of fiction involving robots. His three laws of robotics have become particularly well known for codifying a simple set of behaviors for robots to remain at the service of their human creators.

The first reference in Western literature to mechanical servants appears in Homer's Iliad. In Book XVIII, Hephaestus, god of fire, creates new armour for the hero Achilles. He is assisted by robots.[83] According to the Rieu translation, "Golden maidservants hastened to help their master. They looked like real women and could not only speak and use their limbs but were endowed with intelligence and trained in handwork by the immortal gods." Of course, the words "robot" or "android" are not used to describe them, but they are nevertheless mechanical devices human in appearance.[83]

Numerous words for different types of robots are now used in literature. Robot has come to mean mechanical humans, while android is a generic term for artificial humans. Cyborg or "bionic man" is used for a human form that is a mixture of organic and mechanical parts. Organic artificial humans have also been referred to as "constructs" (or "biological constructs").

In science fiction, the Three Laws of Robotics are a set of three rules written by Isaac Asimov, which almost all positronic robots appearing in his fiction must obey. Introduced in his 1942 short story "Runaround", although foreshadowed in a few earlier stories, the Laws state the following:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Later, Asimov added the Zeroth Law: "A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm"; the rest of the laws are modified sequentially to acknowledge this.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first passage in Asimov's short story "Liar!" (1941) that mentions the First Law is the earliest recorded use of the word robotics. Asimov was not initially aware of this; he assumed the word already existed by analogy with mechanics, hydraulics, and other similar terms denoting branches of applied knowledge.[84]

Due in part to Asimov's Robot stories, robotic characters have since become a staple of science fiction, appearing in a variety of print and cinematic works including Star Trek, Star Wars, and Doctor Who.

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