Robots are considered a futuristic subject, even though they already exist in our lives and make out every day existence and work easier. But what exactly is a robot? In the general Sci-Fi approach, a robot is a machine, a device that resembles the human being on some level and that is able to replicate and engage in a few human behaviours, movements and general functions and that can respond to certain commands.
This explanation is not entirely realistic, as robots in movies, for instance, most of the time, turn against humans and take over the world. But in reality, robots are just complex machines, specialised on various fields that are programmed by humans, work on a series of algorithms and are able to carry out activities or actions of many kinds (depending on the purpose for which it was created and built).
Robots have been a part of the human concerns ever since the ancient times and they actually became reality in the middle ages. Now, the first robot is nothing like the ones we see and use nowadays, but it was a mechanism that could play music and move on the rhythm of it by itself. Even Leonardo da Vinci wanted to build one, but he only got to draw a sketch of it. The word “robot” comes from the Czech word “robota” which means forced labour and the writer Karel Čapek came up with it.
These robots are some of the most common ones, as they are more and more present in people’s everyday life. The most famous household robot is Roomba, which is a kind of vacuum cleaner that cleans the house all by itself. It has some very efficient sensors that help it move around the rooms sending signals that there is an obstacle ahead, which automatically turns it to another direction when it bumps into something. There are also other robots that do annoying and unpleasant chores like cleaning the windows, mowing the lawn and so on.
The main purpose of building robots has always been helping people at their workplace and replacing heavy duty and complicated manoeuvres through automation. Industrial robots have been created to ease and improve production and to replace heavy lifting by humans. Many big companies that work in various industries have chosen to purchase such robots in order to help their employees and to be more efficient financially. Usually machines such as an industrial robotic arm are used to lift, move or keep in place various materials or products, generally doing repetitive movements and making the tasks of the workers more enjoyable. They are very effective in creating jobs as well because they need to be programmed by humans through computer software.
There are various fields in which research robots are used and the most popular ones are astrophysics and medicine. The most famous research robot is the Mars Rover that managed to gather more information about the red planet than humanity ever dreamt of having. This robot can be controlled by humans, right from the Earth and can also do some things by itself like moving to a sunny area during winter. The biggest discovery that the Mars Rover did is water on the surface of the planet, although it is in the form of ice and in a very small quantity in the atmosphere.
Robots used in medicine are mainly carrying out highly precise and complicated activities and tasks in surgeries or investigations. They revolutionised this filed by having successful results and helping doctors and surgeons in healing illnesses, diseases, and disorders or even disabilities. These robots are, of course, controlled by the specialised medical personnel and they ease the work and healing process by being able to operate with only a few tiny incisions. They are beneficial for many reasons concerning time management, precision, and recovery, so they work on the behalf of both doctors and patients at the same time.
Lately, robots became a big part of the devices used for therapy in the psychology field. The most used area is in the work with children that have disorders from the autism spectre. What these robots basically do is imitate the human interaction and teaching children basic social skills that otherwise would be too complicated for them to learn. Children with autism have a hard time picking up on non-verbal communication and hints, so that is one of the reasons they shut down very often. Animals are also great helpers in this area, not only in autism, but in depression, anxiety PTSD and other mental or social development disorders, but oftentimes they are not an option considering various reasons like allergies, social conventions and rules, hospital limits and so on. That is when robot animals come to the rescue and they do the job brilliantly.
Companion robots’ main purpose is to make the elders’ lives more pleasant. After retiring and aging, many elders struggle with loneliness and lose their sense of purpose in general. Moreover, some of them even develop some disorders that affect their memory, spatial orientation and general instinct of preservation (like Alzheimer’s or dementia) and these robots also have features that remind them about basic activities like taking their pills, drinking water or whatever they are programmed to do. The most important role they have, however, is to interact with people and increase the quality of their lives, even though some of them do not have the speech element.
Robots recently entered the security field, but they are nothing like the ones that are displayed in movies. What security robots do is supervise certain areas, having different kinds of sensors that capture signals from the environment. They can move from a point to another, turn around and they also can record video and audio content so that if they sense something out of the ordinary, they will call the police immediately. In other words, they are the newer, more efficient version of surveillance cameras, being automated to take action in any circumstances.