Robots are programmable machines which can undertake a series of complex actions automatically, triggered by an external or inner control device. They were developed to support any human actions by substituting or replicating them particularly in risky environments including underwater and mined zones. News headlines of robots finding survivors in ruins, exploring shipwrecks, and penetrating highly radioactive zones have risen. More recently, the Mars 2020 Rover has been deployed to find signs of ancient life!
Films have often portrayed robots as human-like “humanoids” – Transformers, R2D2 from Star Wars, Wall-E from Pixar Animations. This aligns with the increasing trend of “bio-inspired robots” mimicking human behaviours (for example speech and walking) or body parts (mechanical arms at a factory) to increase the acceptance rate within a population. However other robots simply perform an action and do not look like humans.
Robotics relies on both computer science and engineering for the design, manufacturing and use of robots to facilitate the daily lives of humans. This interdisciplinary field is largely used in engineering fields particularly: mechanical, computer, software and bioengineering. Despite the field’s broadness, robots share a common set of features: a mechanical construction to complete the targeted tasks in a given environment, electrical components to control the machine, computer programming to achieve the task.
Different robot types exist:
- Pre-programmed robots: found in controlled environments to carry out simple and repetitive actions such as a mechanical arm in a car factory inserting an engine part.
- Autonomous robots: carry out tasks in open environments which do not need human supervision such as robot vacuum cleaners. They use sensors to evaluate the distance between objects and can be switched on while you’re out doing groceries or going for a run.
- Teleoperated robots: need to be carefully controlled by humans as they tend to operate in extreme conditions (weather or natural disasters) and environments (underwater, underground, battlefields)
- Augmenting robots: either replace a lost human capacity (prosthetic limbs) or enhance an existing one.
- Humanoid robots: resemble (emotions or expressions) or display human-like behaviour (speech, cognition). An example would be Sophia, developed by Hanson Robotics to learn and adapt to human behaviour. Sophia has artificial intelligence and can visually process data as well as recognise faces. She has been awarded the full Saudi Arabian citizenship and became the first robot to obtain citizenship!
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Some application of robotics include manufacturing process (swifter assembly of industrial products), logistics (packaging, distribution and warehouses for fast delivery), homes (offering companionship to elderly or carrying out chores) and healthcare (robot-assisted surgeries or healthcare assistants in rehabilitation programs).