Robots In Our Future
IntroductionYou may think that robots are things of the future that are only seen in science fiction movies and books but in fact there are thousands of robots working around the world at this very minute. How long have these robots been around you might ask, how do they work, what are they used for, and what will happen to robots in the future?
History of RobotsThe word "robot" (worker) was first used by Karel Capek in the Czech play Rossum's Universal Robots, in 1921. In this play mechanical figures that looked human were brought to life by their creator. These mechanical beings were known as robots.
Rossum's Universal Robots, however, was merely the origin of the word; the concept of robots has been around since ancient times when myths told of mechanical beings brought to life. Later, in the 18th century, many clockmakers gained fame for their mechanical, clockwork toys that they had constructed. Today these mechanical forms of robots are called "automaton".
Clever as these automaton were, however, they still did not serve any great purpose apart from entertainment. It wasn't until the Industrial Revolution that independent, working robots developed. These industrial robots evolved in the attempt to automate operations in factories. One of the first uses of automation was in a weaving loom. The loom was controlled by cards with holes punched in them that were fed into the loom. The patterns of holes on the cards would then tell the loom in what pattern to weave the cloth. "With the burgeoning of the Industrial Revolution, more factories sought to bring a greater degree of automation to the repeated processes of the assembly line. True robots did not become possible, however, until the invention of the computer in the 1940s and the progressive miniaturization of computer parts." (Microsoft Encarta, 1994, Robot)
"Most of the robots of early science fiction were only made to look human because they would have a more dramatic impact on an audience. But it has also been recognised that the human body is perhaps the most wonderful of all machines. Its skeletal frame, nervous system, and sensing organs are all features that can serve as models for robots." (Kurth, Heinz, 1983, p.12) The ultimate robot would have to be one that could simulate a human perfectly, being able to do everything that we can. Although we may never reach this level of technology, robots are continually becoming more and more advanced and human like.
Modern RobotsToday's modern robots work by inputing information from sensors into their computer brain which in turn tells its body how to react by outputing information to motors or pistons that move parts of their body. This system is based on the human model. For example a robotic hand is capable of performing the delicate task of picking up and holding an egg without breaking it. A tactile array sensor located on the right half of its gripping mechanism sends information to the robot's control computer about the pressure the robotic hand exerts; given this information, the control computer instructs the robotic hand to loosen, tighten, or maintain the current gripping force. This feedback loop repeats continuously, enabling the robotic hand to stay in between the two extremes of dropping and crushing the egg.
Today robots are designed to work for specific functions and purposes. The most popular use for robots today is in manufacturing in industries. These robots often work on assembly lines and are often no more than giant robotic arms. These arms may perform jobs that are dangerous to humans such as welding cars or lifting heavy objects.
Robots are also frequently seen in science fiction movies and novels. Movies such as Star Wars and authors such as Isaac Asimov have portrayed to the public the impression of the typical robot: humanoid, metallic, etc. Today most people think of robots as these portrayed in fiction.
Future of RobotsRobots can also be useful in fields such as science, space exploration, transport, military operations, and many more. "The commercial use of robots is spreading, with the increasing automation of factories, and they have long since become essential to many laboratory procedures. Japan is in the forefront of nations exploring robot technology." (Microsoft Encarta, 1994, Robot) Towards the future robots will become increasingly useful and will be seen more and more. One day, maybe all human jobs will be done by robots. Our houses would be run by robots, robot farms would grow us food, robots would supply our power, and robots would even be able to build and repair other robots. We would live in a completely automated world where robots would supply us with every resource needed. If we ever did reach this stage would mankind benefit or would we just become a race of lazy, ignorant people with our robot slaves doing all the work? And if this was the case would the robots one day revolt against humans and become the rulers?
ConclusionThroughout history robots have become more and more human like and useful as time goes on. In the future robots will be used more and more and the distinction between humans and robots will continue to become more and more blurred. But will robots ever be able to learn and think for themselves and if so what would be the consequences. Will robots ever become better than humans? If so, would we be able to continue living in harmony with them. One thing is certain though, the robots are here to stay.
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