What is Robot?
A robot is a mechanical or virtual, artificial agent. It is usually a system, which, by its appearance or movements, conveys a sense that it has intent or agency of its own. The word robot can refer to both physical robots and virtual software agents, but the latter are usually referred to as bots to differentiate.
While there is still discussion about which machines qualify as robots, a typical robot will have several, though not necessarily all of the following properties:
is not 'natural' i.e. artificially created
can sense its environment, and manipulate or interact with things in it
has some ability to make choices based on the environment, often using automatic control or a preprogrammed sequence
moves with one or more axes of rotation or translation
makes dexterous coordinated movements
appears to have intent or agency (See anthropomorphism for examples of ascribing intent to inanimate objects.)
The last property, the appearance of agency, is important when people are considering whether to call a machine a robot, or just a machine. In general, the more a machine has the appearance of agency, the more it is considered a robot.
a clockwork car is never considered a robot
a remotely operated vehicle is sometimes considered a robot. (or telerobot).
a car with an onboard computer, like Bigtrak, which could drive in a programmable sequence might be called a robot.
a self-controlled car, like the 1990s driverless cars of Ernst Dickmanns, or the entries to the DARPA Grand Challenge, which could sense its environment, and make driving decisions based on this information would quite likely be called robot.
a sentient car, like the fictional KITT, which can make decisions, navigate freely and converse fluently with a human, is usually considered a robot.
However, for many laymen, if a machine looks anthropomorphic or zoomorphic (e.g. ASIMO or Aibo), especially if it is limb-like (e.g. a simple robot arm), or has limbs, or can move around, it would be called a robot.
For example, even if the following examples used the same control architecture:
a player piano is rarely characterized as a robot
a CNC milling machine is very occasionally characterized as a robot.
a factory automation arm is almost always characterized as a robot or an industrial robot.
an autonomous wheeled or tracked device, such as a self-guided rover or self-guided vehicle, is almost always characterized as a robot, a mobile robot or a service robot
a zoomorphic mechanical toy, like Roboraptor, is usually characterized as a robot.
a humanoid, like ASIMO, is almost always characterized as a robot or a service robot.
Interestingly, while a 3-axis CNC milling machine may have a very similar or identical control system to a robot arm, it is the arm which is almost always called a robot, while the CNC machine is usually just a machine. Having a limb can make all the difference. Having eyes too gives people a sense that a machine is aware ("the eyes are the windows of the soul"). However, simply being anthropomorphic is not sufficient for something to be called a robot. A robot must do something, whether it is useful work or not. So, for example, a rubber dog chew, shaped like ASIMO, would not be considered a robot.
Official definitions and classifications of robots
There are many variations in definitions of what exactly is a robot. Therefore, it is sometimes difficult to compare numbers of robots in different countries. To try to provide a universally acceptable definition, the International Organization for Standardization gives a definition of robot in ISO 8373, which defines a robot as "an automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose, manipulator programmable in three or more axes, which may be either fixed in place or mobile for use in industrial automation applications." This definition is to be used when comparing the number of robots in each country.
In spite of the ISO definition, countries, such as the USA and Japan have different definitions of robots. Japan, for example, lists very many robots partly because more machines are counted as robots. Since both Japan and the USA are important players in the development of robotics, the definitions used in these countries will be mentioned.
Robotics Institute of America
The Robotics Institute of America (RIA) defines a robot as:
A re-programmable multi-functional manipulator designed to move materials, parts, tools, or specialized devices through variable programmed motions for the performance of a variety of tasks.
The RIA recognizes four classes of robot:
1: Handling devices with manual control
2: Automated handling devices with predetermined cycles
3: Programmable, servo-controlled robots with continuous of point-to-point trajectories
4: Robots capable of Type C specifications which also acquire information from the environment for intelligent motion
Japanese Robot Association
Japanese Robot Association (JARA) classifies robots into six classes :
1: Manual - Handling Devices actuated by an operator
2: Fixed Sequence Robot
3: Variable-Sequence Robot with easily modified sequence of control
4: Playback Robot, which can record a motion for later playback
5: Numerical Control Robots with a movement program to teach it tasks manually
6: Intelligent robot: that can understand its environment and able to complete the task despite changes in the operation conditions
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