So, what are the parameters by which a machine is considered to be a robot? The word robot has a variety of definitions. Perhaps the best way to think of it is as a being capable of performing complex functions of a human. This can either be through programmable technology or on command. Pop culture brought these machines to life in the form of R2-D2 and C-3PO in the movie franchise Star Wars and Rosie from the cartoon series the Jetsons. But robots weren’t always thought of in such a humanlike way.
One of the first robotic advances consisted of an Egyptian water clock built circa 3000 B.C.. It featured human figures to strike each hour. Achieving menial tasks was the main focus of the earliest creations, like the wooden robot from 1557. It was crafted for the sole purpose of fetching the emperor’s daily bread from the store. The 1800s saw the release of Edison’s talking doll. Regardless of how simple or how complex, each invention built over the course of history has played a role in the crafting of the first modern robot.
Isaac Asimov’s short story “Liar,” published in 1941, contains the first known usage of the word robotics. In this story, Asimov sets forth a list of three self-created rules – the Three Laws of Robotics; all future robots should abide them. Jump ahead to the 1950s, and you’ll find versions of the earliest modern robots. These are the types of humanlike machines that most frequently come to mind.
Famous Examples of Robots
The first industry graced with the presence of a commercial service bot was the radiator production line at General Motors during the mid-1950s. It was called Planetbot and consisted of a hydraulically powered robotic arm. Despite Planet Corporation’s claims that Planetbot was capable of 25 separate movements, a bulky mechanical computer was required for control. The bot often experienced erratic behavior when its hydraulic fluid cooled down, resulting in the sale of only eight models.
Unimate was a robotic arm that aided in the production of television picture tubes, controlled through commands stored on a magnetic drum. By the mid-1960s, once Unimate was more perfected, the machine became a common addition found in over 8,500 assembly lines. Presently, eight models of Unimate are circulating. With a supposed 98-percent reliability rate, these models are responsible for helping out with such tasks as spot welding, machine tool loading, material handling, die casting, and more. Another first generation robot is Shakey. This is a machine featuring advanced elements, like the ability to wheel itself around a room, take in a scene with its “eyes”. It can even respond to its surroundings to an extent, even when in unfamiliar areas. The 1960s saw the creation of similar robotic arm technology, such as Man-Mate and Handyman.
Moving forward, we see the era in which robots start becoming more and more humanlike. We’ll see walking and talking machines with the ability to adapt to their surroundings and modify their programming on the spot. The first true example of this type of machine stems from Japan in the early 1970s – Wabot-1. This robot could move, manipulate objects, and even carry on a simple conversation in Japanese. It’s incredible how far we came just within the course of a decade.
Current Developments in Robotics
We are closer than ever to the humanlike technology scientists have always envisioned for the future. Engineered Arts’s Sociobot, a realistic bot whose sole purpose is to interact with humans, has solidified just that. Engineered Arts is also working on a walking robot named “Byron”. Meanwhile, their creation of RoboThespian is currently in its third generation. With its naturalistic speech, movements, and expressions, RoboThespian, a life-sized humanoid, continually stuns viewers with its level of interactivity and multilingual abilities. Pepper is another example of these humanoids and one of the most recognizable in the world. With its charming state-of-the-art body, Pepper is essentially the spokesperson for the “learning” companion robots that are designed for the sole purpose of assisting humans; they handle daily tasks, make excellent companions, and aid in care of the elderly.
On the other end of the spectrum, in the field of medicine there is talk of tiny robots that will one day be able to travel through the body. They will be capable of delivering drugs or a self-assembled interventional tool. Algorithms, imaging technology, and other various elements are being put together in order to achieve this goal in the near future. Once perfected, invasive surgeries may no longer be required, lowering the risk of serious complications. Another interesting breakthrough is the achievement of the first autonomous robotic bat. Hoping to eventually be put to use for the supervision of construction sites, the Bat Bot (B2) would be able to fly around, survey the progress, and compare the building plans. Bat Bot will also be able to brave areas that are too small or too dangerous for humans.
One could go on and on about these robotic breakthroughs. Instead, we’ll leave you with this. Think of a real world, not a movie world, that actually has a dinosaur theme park complete with lifelike animatronic replicas; such is the brain child of Japanese entrepreneur Kazuya Kanemaru. Someday soon we may very well be able to experience this.
With the infiltration of robots becoming more and more prominent, how we live will change forever. As robots and artificial intelligence grow more advanced with each new breakthrough, these creations may very well surpass humans in nearly every way imaginable. Not too far-off is the time in which an artificial intelligence robot will truly look, function, and even be able to think like a human. If anything we’ve mentioned here has sparked your interest, please join our discussion.