Why Technical English

Robots – a follow-up of the discussion | January 10, 2009

By Galina Vitkova

In order to better understand qualities and threats of military autonomous robots let´s look through the basic terms or concepts used in this branch. What are the robots like? Roboticists (people who develop and build robots) state for robots is typical that they have a reprogrammable brain (a computer) and a physical body controlled and moved by this computer – see for details

http://science.howstuffworks.com/military, robot.htm, www.roboticstrends.com, www.gyre.org/node, www.defenseindustrydaily.com, www.foreignpolicy.com.

Robot Basics

The overwhelming majority of robots have several common features. First of all, almost all robots have a movable body. Some of them have only motorized wheels, and others have dozens of movable segments. Like the bones in your body, the individual segments are connected together with joints. These jointed segments are set in motion by actuators. Some robots use electric motors as actuators; some use a hydraulic system and some employ a pneumatic system.

Most robots are powered by a battery or sometimes they plug into the wall. Hydraulic robots also need a pump to pressurize the hydraulic fluid, and pneumatic robots need an air compressor or compressed air tanks.

The actuators are all wired to an electrical circuit. The circuit powers electrical motors directly, and it activates the hydraulic or pneumatic system by manipulating electrical valves. The robot’s computer controls everything attached to the circuit. To move the robot, the computer switches on all the necessary motors and valves. Not all robots have sensory systems, and few have the ability to see, hear, smell or taste. The most of robots have ability to monitor their own motion.

Roboticists can combine these elements in an infinite number of ways to create robots of unlimited complexity.

Robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI is probably the most exciting field in robotics. It’s certainly the most controversial: everybody agrees that a robot can work in an assembly line, but there’s no consensus on whether a robot can ever be intelligent.

Like the term “robot” itself, artificial intelligence is difficult to define. Ultimate AI would imitate the human thought process. This would include the ability to learn just about anything, the ability to reason, the ability to use language and the ability to formulate original ideas. Roboticists are nowhere near achieving this level of AI, but they have made a lot of progress with more limited AI. Today’s AI machines can imitate some specific elements of intellectual ability.

The basic idea of AI problem-solving is very simple, though its execution is complicated. First, the AI robot (its computer) gathers facts about a situation through sensors or human input. The computer compares this information to stored data and decides what the information signifies. Of course, the computer can only solve problems it’s programmed to solve – it doesn’t have any generalized analytical ability.

Some modern robots have also the ability to learn in a limited capacity. Learning robots recognize if a certain action (moving its legs in a certain way, for instance) achieved a desired result. The robot stores this information and attempts the successful action the next time it confronts the same situation. Again, modern computers can only do this in very limited situations. They can’t absorb any sort of information like a human can. Some robots can learn by mimicking human actions. In Japan, roboticists have taught a robot to dance by demonstrating the moves themselves.

A number of robotics experts predict that robotic evolution will ultimately turn us into cyborgs – humans integrated with machines. Possibly, people in the future could load their minds into a sturdy robot and live for thousands of years!

In any case, robots will certainly play a larger role in our lives in the future (see Statistics on robots). They will influence our daily life in the same way as computers did it in the 1980s.

Autonomous robots

Autonomous robots can act on their own, independent of any controller. The basic idea is to program the robot to respond a certain way to outside stimuli.

This type of robots has a bumper sensor to detect obstacles. When you turn the robot on, it speeds along in a straight line. When it hits an obstacle, the bang pushes in its bumper sensor. The robot’s program tells it to back up, turn to the right and move forward again. In this way, the robot changes direction any time it meets an obstacle.

Today, advanced robots have modern programs and sensor systems to be able effectively navigate a variety of environments. Simpler mobile robots use infrared or ultrasound sensors to see obstacles. More advanced robots can analyse and adapt to unfamiliar environments. These robots may associate certain terrain patterns with certain actions. A rover robot, for example, might construct a map of the land in front of it based on its visual sensors. If the map shows a very bumpy terrain pattern, the robot knows to travel another way.



  1. What is my own opinion about robots? I fully agree that robots are very important for mankind progress because they can do very easily manual work (which is difficult and sometimes impossible to do for a human), very fast and accurately . Some people say that robots are taking their job but my opinion is that humans should use the brain more and more to be clever and be able to invent new helpful things (and robots too). Therefore manual work is for robots. On the other side I agree with the opinion that humans should be responsible. It´s clear that robots can be abused, for example computer spam robots. But the same situation is in all humans´ activities.

    Comment by P. B. — February 10, 2009 @ 3:58 pm

  2. […] Robots – a follow-up of the discussion […]

    Pingback by Changing the theme of this blog « Why Technical English — August 26, 2010 @ 9:28 am

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