Science is a continuously progressing field. Its branches of study are numerous, be it in the field of research or in applied sciences. Our world today is surrounded by the contribution of science; our homes, our work spaces, entertainment have all been touched by science in one way or the other.
Scientists are forever finding new ways and means to unravel the mystery of the universe and at the same time they have also tried to make our lives easier by new scientific discoveries. Indeed the world would not be as it is today had it not been for the contribution of science. The topic this article is mainly concerned with is the contribution of applied sciences in the field of ‘robotics‘.
Robotics is a branch of applied sciences which deals with the study of the design and operation of robots. It also extends itself to the effects of the use of such mechanics in society, its contributions as well as its hazards. The term ‘robotics‘ was first used by Isaac Asimov in ’Liar‘, though he was completely unaware that he is the one who coined this term.
In order to understand more about this field it is important to know what a robot is. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a robot as a ’mechanical device, an automaton resembling or functioning like a human‘. Indeed the goal of robotics is to design a robot which will one day function like a human being. The humanoid is an invention which is related to this field. Though these humanoids have not completely mastered the art of mimicking humans, scientists are still on the road of discovering software and mechanics which will finally make this possible.
The intelligence of a robot to sense and hence replicate this sense through action is wholly dependent on the programs being used. So far scientists have been able to design robots to move around (though not as freely as humans), to operate a mechanical hand, to sense their environment and to respond to it, and to exhibit intelligence. In 1961, the first digitally operated and programmable robot, Unimate, was installed to lift hot pieces of metal from a die casting machine and stack them. Thousands of robots have been designed and manufactured since and to look into each kind of robot with detail is too vast a subject. Scientists, however, predict that a fully independent operating robot will only be possible in the year 2050.
Robots have found many uses in our world today. Nanorobotics, an advancing field of robotics, is trying to create robots close to the scale of a nanometer which would be able to perform tasks at a tiny scale and therefore prove to be useful in micro surgery. Swarm robots, resembling colonies of insects, such as the iRobot swarm have also been designed. Such robots are more resistant to failure since they consist of many robots acting in a group, such that if a few are destroyed, the others can still perform the task given to them. These robots may be useful in space exploration, tracking hidden objects and even spying.
Robots have been classified according to the specificity of their function. There are two types of robots: Service Robots and the Industrial Robots. An Industrial Robot can be defined as an automatic multi purpose reprogrammable machine that can be mobile or fixed for use in industrial automation applications. A Service Robot, on the other hand can be defined as a semi or wholly autonomous machine which perform services useful for the well-being of humans and society.
Industrial robots are used in:
Car production – Robots are used in welding, gluing, and painting automobile parts. A single robot is as productive as ten pairs of hands combined together.
Packaging- Here again robots are more productive than humans due to their speed. They rapidly collect items from the conveyor belt and load them in containers.
Electronics- Even in this industry, robots prove to be useful in terms of accuracy, speed and reliability.
Service robots mainly find their usefulness in homes. Domestic chores are no longer reserved for the inmates of the house, these robots are capable of vacuum cleaning, lawn mowing and even floor washing. Robots capable of care taking have also been invented and find their usefulness amongst the elderly and the disabled. FRIEND, a robot designed for this purpose is a semi-autonomous is capable of helping such people in their daily activities such as preparing and serving a meal or even reintegration in professional life.
Robots have also found their usefulness in the field of scientific research. Space probe has made use of robots called Telerobots which enable the scientists to gain access in remote areas of space by using such robots. These robots can be controlled by an operator from a far distance making space exploration more convenient. They are also useful for military purposes, such as spying and defusing a bomb which would prove hazardous if a human is made to do such jobs. The Predator, an unmanned aircraft, is another telerobot used by the military for keeping an eye on enemy lines. The U.S. military have also used robots like iRobot, Packbot and Foster-Miller TALON to defuse roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the field of medicine, robots have also contributed much owing to their accuracy and flexibility of their size. Machines used in endoscopy and colonoscopy can be said to be examples of such robots. In surgeries, laparoscopic surgery robots allow a doctor to work inside a human body on a smaller scale as compared to open surgery, thereby shortening recovery time.
Though robots have proved to be useful to mankind, there are many fears and hazards concerning the advancing science of robotics. The major fear of man regarding robots is their fear of robots having the intelligence far superior to their own and that robots will take over the world. Indeed this would be realized if man scrupulously uses robots, replacing all their work by robots.
This problem can only be cured if and only if humans learn to use robots in a proper way and not be completely dependent on them. These fears surface in several books and films like I, Robot, The Terminator and The Matrix. Such robots are programmed to kill and destroy, other gain superhuman intelligence, designing and upgrading their own software and hardware. Besides these imaginative threats against robots, immediate threats that robots also commit can also prove disastrous to the life of a human being. Heavy industrial robots can prove to be harmful for industrial workers as these robots can only have a limited sense of their environment; they may step or even fall on workers thereby endangering tier lives.
Two deaths caused by a robot have been reported so far; Robert Williams from Michigan was struck by a robotic arm at a casting plant on the 25th of January, 1979 and Kenji Urada from Japan who was accidentally pushed into the grinding machine by a robot in 1981.
It is indeed utopic, the scenario portrayed in Futurama, where robots and humans are capable of complete co-existence. It would indeed prove beneficial for society as a whole if humans and robots could live in harmony. Till then scientists are finding new ways and means in putting such plans into effect. In such a time such a fantasy as depicted in science fiction would actually become a reality and we then indeed would get to experience the feeling of living in a fantasy world.
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