(A Quick Introduction)
The Future is going to be an exciting place. There are so many new technologies that are ready to change the world. One of the technologies that I personally think will have a huge impact on the future is robotics. In this article, I want to share with you some of the types of robots that currently exist and describe the different parts that are used in their construction.
The Boring Ones
First, we have the Pre-programmed Robots. Frankly, they are not that interesting, but they are still critical to the operation of many companies. An example of a company that would not be nearly as successful as it is today without the use of these robots is Tesla.
The robots at the Tesla factory do most of the grunt work, and this is what has allowed Tesla to become a huge player in the automobile industry even though they started around 100 years later than many of their competitors (Mercedes Benz was founded in 1883, Ford in 1903, Tesla in 2003). Pre-programmed robots are extremely useful because they can perform tasks much more precisely and efficiently than a team of humans. The strategy that Tesla uses in their factories is to have robots performing pre-programmed tasks under the supervision of engineers. A robot is considered to be pre-programmed when it has been assigned to do a task that it will perform over and over.
Now Let’s Get More Interesting
A much more exciting type of robot that is getting a lot of hype is Autonomous Robots. These types of robots don't necessarily perform the exact same pre-programmed task over and over, but they can actually interact with the real world and can make their own decisions. There are plenty of extremely interesting examples of these types of robots, but my favorite is the three robots that passed a variation of the wise man test to show that they have a variation of self-consciousness.
How It Worked
These three robots were all given a dumbing pill (A tap on the head that would restrict speech). However, one of the pills was just a placebo. The question was for the robots to figure out if they were given a pill. After a second of reflection, the robot on the right suddenly stood up and said, “I don’t know”. After saying this out loud it was able to recognize its own voice, and then correct itself, then saying, “Sorry, I know now! I was able to prove that I was not given the dumbing pill!”.
The fact is that these robots are still not fully conscious because they are only able to do this one narrow task. However, the researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York have indicated that their goal is to try and add more and more abilities so that eventually this robot will be able to do more useful tasks.
This next type of robot, Prosthetic Limbs, doesn’t usually pop into your mind when you think of robots, nevertheless, they play a huge role in many people's lives.
Around the world, 30 million people are in need of prosthetic limbs. The problem is, on average, they can cost between 5,000 and 50,000 dollars. Not only that, they usually can only last between 3–5 years before they need to be repaired or replaced. As you can see, there is a huge demand in this field.
Some cool innovations that are happening right now and will further evolve in the future involve combining protection limbs and BCIs (Brain-computer interfaces). This technology allows people to control robotic parts with their brains. Here is an example of BCIs used to control someone's hand from the University of Michigan.
'It's like you have a hand again': An ultra-precise mind-controlled prosthetic
ANN ARBOR-In a major advance in mind-controlled prosthetics for amputees, University of Michigan researchers have…
The last type of robot that I would like to introduce you to is Teleoperated Robots. These are any robots that are controlled manually by humans. They are usually used in extreme geographical conditions, high-risk situations, or scenarios where a robot can be more precise and capable than humans. An example of this is Robotic-Assisted surgery. Here the human is controlling the robot with a special machine, and the robot is performing the actual surgery.
Another really cool application of Teleoperated Robots is a Soft-Fish-Robot that was created by MIT. This robot looks like a fish and is able to capture video footage in places where humans are unable to go. This will allow us to explore much more of the ocean than what could have been explored in the past.
Physical Components of Robots
Now that we have looked at some of the more popular types of robots, and some examples, we should now dive into the different parts of a robot.
There are three main parts to a robot: The Sensors, the Effectors, and a control system.
There are so many different types of sensors: sound sensors, light sensors, contact sensors, proximity sensors motion sensors, etc. I could write an entire article on them. However, they all have one thing in common. They are used to present the robot with new information about the environment. Robots can build their own representation of the world that they can then use to guide their actions.
The next extremely important component of a robot is Effectors. They are what allow the robot to actually perform things in their environment. Effectors are things like legs, arms, fingers, etc… They play a huge role in the robot being able to have movement.
However, there is also another type of effector called End-Effectors. This is generally what allows the robot to perform tasks. Effectors are any tools that are mounted on a robot to allow it to perform a specific task. For example, the Mars rover has tools like a shovel, hammer, and different types of lasers. These are all examples of End-Effectors. In reality, there are many different types of End-Effectors including grippers (which allow the robot to hold on to things); welders (which robots can use to meld things together); and, interestingly, sensors that act as effectors.
It is important to note that not all robots use the same effectors. They are very personalized to the robot. You choose them based on what you want the robot to accomplish.
The last important part of a robot is the control system. Think of this as the brain of the robot. This is what allows it to make decisions. Like we have established before, there is more than one type of robot and depending on the type, a different control system may be needed. If your robot is pre-programmed, there isn’t as much going on “upstairs”. The robot will be programmed to perform a limited number of tasks and will repeat those until the day it dies. An example of this type of robot is a mechanical arm on an assembly line that is always doing the same thing.
When building autonomous robots things can get more tricky. Now, instead of the robot doing the same pre-programmed task over and over, the robot starts to actually interact with the real world. These robots have sensors for a reason. Once the sensors have gathered real-time data from the world, (whether that be images, heat waves, or any number of things), the robot can then use this information to start making choices and perform different actions based on inputs from the environment.
A really cool application of autonomous robots that are currently getting a lot of hype is self-driving cars.
Robots In The Future
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what robots are, and have learned about some cool applications of robots that exist today. But let’s talk about the future. Like always, humans are trying to make machines that will make life easier. This is going to lead to the automation of a lot of the things that we are doing manually today. I find this really exciting because this will potentially create opportunities for people to pursue the things they love. As an added bonus, it will allow someone like me who is interested in creating these machines to pursue robotics as a career.
In Health Care
In the future robots will be used more prominently in health-care. We already saw one example of a teleoperating robot doing surgery. This will become more commonplace and we will see robots also used for other more routine tasks, such as carrying around materials. This should free up time for doctors, nurses and staff to address other more pressing matters.
Robots are going to play a huge role in our lives at home. We already have things like Amazon Alexa or Google Home. However, I think that these appliances will transform from talking speakers into actual pet-like robots. They will be able to do chores around the house, provide security, act as companions to young children or the elderly, and much more.
In The Workplace
The final location where robots will be present in our day-to-day life is in the workplace. Robots are great for moving heavy objects and doing other mundane tasks that humans hate doing. We have already shown how pre-programmed robots are being used in the Tesla factory, however, in the future, I think that almost everything that has to do with human labor will be done by robots. Some people might be afraid of this idea because it could affect their livelihood. However, robots will open up new opportunities and allow us to create and pursue new jobs and will allow people to focus on areas in life that they find interesting.
I have just provided you with a taste of some applications for robots. The potential number of different possibilities in the future promises to make the robotics industry extremely exciting and interesting. I hope that you have learned something from this short article and that maybe you can think of some tasks that could be replaced with a robot in your life.
- Four Types of Robots:
- Pre-programmed — Robots that only perform the same task over and over
- Autonomous — Robots that can interact with the environment and make decisions
- Augmenting — Robots that make life easier for humans, like prosthetics
- Teleoperated — Robots that are controlled by humans
- Three Parts to a Robot:
- Sensors — Used to gather information about the environment
- Effectors — The tools of the robots like arms or legs.
- End-Effectors — A type of effector but is at the end of the arm. Some examples could be grippers, shovels, hammers, etc
- Control System — The brain of the Robot