Robotics 101

If you are a fan of science fiction movies, then you will witness two extremes painted by movie producers: On one end of this scale is a perfect world (utopian) birthed by the intervention of robots in man’s affairs. The other extreme is a nightmare world (dystopia) that has robots running/colonizing the world; what is the possibility of any of these realities being created? Let us understand robots.

History of Robots

The word robot first appeared in modern language in the year 1921- courtesy of a play titled Rosuk Universal Robot. Robot is a Czech word that means forced labor. The reality of the matter is that if you were to ask three robotic specialists to define a robot, you are likely to get three different definitions. However, all robotic experts will agree to the general framework of what a robot should be:

  • It is a machine that has some element of Artificial Intelligence, and that is physically embodied.
  • To some degree a robot should be able to perform tasks independently.
  • Robots can sense and manipulate the environment- thus a basic drone cannot be classified as a robot but once it is equipped with sensors then it becomes designated as an automaton.

Classification of Robots

Defined by the intersection between technology, engineering, and science a robot can simply be defined as machine created to either replicate human actions or to complement human activities. Robots are generally defined into five groups; these are enumerated below:

  • Pre- Programmed Robots: These perform monotonous tasks and operate in a controlled environment. An example of a pre-programmed robot is a mechanical arm in an assembly line or a welding robot arm used in the welding industry.
  • Augmented Robots: These complement human capabilities and, in some cases, replace those capabilities that have been lost by man. An example of an augmented robot is a prosthetic arm.
  • Teleoperated Robots: These are controlled by human beings from a distance via wireless networks. They are deployed to do a task in extreme weather or geographical conditions. An example of a tele operated robot is a drone (that has sensory perception) used to detect landmines in a theatre of war.
  • Autonomous Robots: As the name suggests, these operate independent of human control. They have sensors that allow them to perceive the world around them and make independent decisions. An example of this is the robot that is used in Asia to deliver foodstuff to individuals placed under covid -19 quarantine.
  • Humanoids: They are distinct from all other robots in the sense that they look like mankind and mimic the movement of human beings. The reasons for their existence could range from offering companionship to individuals or being the official face of a product.

Deployment of Robots Across Industry

There are numerous industries where robotic technology is leveraged efficiently. The article will cite three areas where robots are pushing the margins of creativity:

Manufacturing: This is perhaps the oldest sector that has leveraged the use of robots. Think of vehicle assembly plants (specifically production lines), and the welding sector where welding robot arms and spray nozzles are deployed to ensure the production of a flawless/seamless product.

Logistics: Robots are being deployed to deal with the last mile of logistics value chain. One need to witness how drones are used to deliver medical prescriptions and vaccines in remote villages in Rwanda, Africa. It will be soon commonplace to see courier being delivered right at your doorstep via drones.

Healthcare: Robots are widely used in the health care industry, more so during this global pandemic of corona virus. In the pharmaceutical industry robots are used to seal testing swabs and in the manufacturing of respiratory machines and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Trends in Robotics 2021

Reduction in Carbon Footprint: Investment in robot technology will be driven by the need to have a smaller carbon footprint. As matters stand the energy demands associated with robotic equipment has been on a steady decline over the past decade. Improved energy efficiency by robots, and the use of energy renewable equipment such as hydrogen cells are some of the reasons that can be cited as reasons for this improved efficiency.

Securing Supply Chains: The covid-19 crisis has exposed the vulnerabilities of the global supply chain. Robots have been deployed to meet shortfalls in human resources and this has leveled productivity to pre-covid -19 levels. This element of flexibility is set to accelerate the absorption of robotics in the global supply chain and as such the world can expect a greater number of robots firming up the logistics value chain.

Smart Factories: The traditional factory is fading into history. The traditional production line as well as fixed bench is being dissolved into history. In the place of the bench is the collaborative robot -cobot- that works in tandem with man. In place of the production line is the autonomous mobile robot that work on individual parts at assembly stations and only need to be reprogrammed when a car model is phased out as opposed to the logical route of breaking up an entire assembly line.

Customized Software: The one size fits all template of producing tools belongs to a by gone era. In this day manufacturers are sensitive to the demands of individual clients and consequently the industry is likely to go the way of customization. Customization being defined as the end user of the robot being given an opportunity to input the software instructions that fit into his desire of a ‘perfect’ or practical robot.

Conclusion

The article begun by coloring a world that was extreme due to the influence of robots. From the material above, it is self-evident that robots are designed to supplement mankind’s endeavors. Loss of jobs, colonization of mankind and other nightmare scenarios painted by myriad movies is a scenario that is unlikely to play out. Relax, you need not lose sleep at perhaps suffering the loss of a job but in fact embrace the possibility of working with a robot to ensure a more efficient workplace.

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