What is a Robot?

Hi,This is Robot Chef!

This is the first in a series of blogs that will cover how to make a robot. The articles will be a mix of theory and nitty gritty, grease under your nails, grab your soldering iron details.

What is a robot anyway?

In the broadest sense, a robot is an autonomous machine that can perform some task. The autonomous part means that you don’t have to tell it what to do. A robot car would need you to tell it where to go, but would figure how to get there by itself. What task the robot performs is as varied as the human imagination. It can be anything from drilling holes in sheet metal, to teaching kids about American history.

Lots of things qualify as robots under this definition. The Voyager space probe is a kind of robot. There are robot planes, cars, submarines, dogs and cats. A lot of robots look like humans in some way. A lot of robots look like animals too. Still others look like nothing in nature.

Why do you want to make a robot?

Because they are cool! Ok, not get a date, or dance with the stars kinda cool, but hey sometimes you have to make sacrifices to accomplish the really important things in life, right?

There are many many reasons to build a robot. Since the Industrial Revolution people have been using machines as ways to replace human labor. The machines often are faster, more precise, and more repeatable then human craftsmen and women. This means that more things can be made in less time and for less money. Increasingly industrial robots have been part of this trend.

Robots are often used to perform tasks that are too dangerous for humans such as exploring the depths of the ocean or working in radio active environments. Several robots have been made to defuse bombs, or enter situations where a human might be shot.

Robots are labor saving devices. Robots have been made to do everything from serving tea to vacuuming your floors.

One of the greatly underestimated areas of robotics is in art. Robots have long been part of the movies and other forms of entertainment. This form of art is sometimes called animatronics. More formally, robots have entered captured the imagination of artists and the results can be seen in many galleries. One such gallery has a website here. For those of you that live near the Austin TX area there is a group of Robotic Artists there.

Finally one of the more important reason to build a robot is for education and research. Teaching people about robotics exposes them to a wealth of knowledge on modern technologies and how they are used. This can be a good way to teach kids and young adults about engineering. Even a simple robot will require knowledge of electrical engineering, software engineering, and mechanical engineering. (Don’t worry. You can make a robot without going to college.) Many people use robots to research new ideas and learn more about nature. This is done by making robots that mimic our understanding of the world around us. One such robot project sought to mimic the way insects move. This was done by giving them 6 legs and by modeling ideas about how insect nervous system swork.  More can be read about these robots here.

Are robots a new idea?

Nope. The word itself goes back to 1920 when it was used in the science fiction play ‘R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots)‘ by Karel Čapek. The word was coined by Karel’s brother, Josef Čapek, when Karel asked him for help naming the artificial beings in his play. Josef suggested roboti from the Czech word robota which means hard work especially that done by a serf.

The idea goes much farther back then that. Ancient Greek mythology tells of Hephaestus making mechanical servants. In the far east, a report of an artificial man that had the cheek to wink at the ladies of the court is reported to have happened between 1023-957 BCE. For more on the history of robots, go here.

Now what?

Hopefully this has whetted your appetite for robotics in general. I encourage you to think about what kind of robot you want to build or what kinds of things you want to know about robotics.There is wealth of information on the internet.

In the comming articles I will discuss various issues about making a robot. The next article will specifically talk about how to get started in robotics. From then on there should be a new article once a week. See you then!


4 Responses to “What is a Robot?”

  1. M.E.T. "Mike" Scioli Says:

    “For those of you that live near the Austin TX area there is a group of Robotic Artists there.”

    Good night! What is the name of this group? Where can I find them? I could probably fill their roster with my minions if only they permitted scientists, engineers, and technicians, too ….

    On a serious note, see your project through, RobotChef! Keep us informed of your progress.

    • robotchef Says:

      Mike, you caught me out on my grammar. The inability to spell and put words in the write order is of course the reason I went into engineering. It should be artists whose medium is robots. They have many disciplines and are no doubt ripe for the picking of a suitably talented evil genius. There name is “The Robot Group“. Their website is http://wiki.therobotgroup.org/wiki/Main_Page

  2. M.E.T. "Mike" Scioli Says:

    Oh, them? 😉

    I know that we meet a ways down south in town but come out to a meeting and show your face again sometime soon.

    By the way, I would be the last to critique your grammar (there was nothing wrong with your grammar to mu humble eyes).

    I’ll be checking back from time to time!

    All the best ….

  3. Eric Lundquist Says:

    Great first article. I look forward to reading more.

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