robotics, science and technology of general purpose, programmable machine systems. Contrary to the popular fiction image of robots as ambulatory machines of human appearance capable of performing almost any task, most robotic systems are anchored to fixed positions in factories where they perform a flexible, but restricted, number of operations in computer-aided manufacturing. Such a system minimally contains a computer to control operations and effecters, devices that perform the desired work. Additionally, it might have sensors and auxiliary equipment or tools under its control. Some robots are relatively simple mechanical machines that perform a dedicated task such as welding or spray painting. Other more complex, multitask systems use sensory systems to gather information needed to control its work. A robot's sensors might provide tactile feedback, so that it can pick up objects and place them properly, without damaging them. Another robot sensory system might include a form of machine vision that can detect flaws in manufactured goods. Some robots used to assemble electronic circuit boards can place odd-sized components in the proper location after visually locating positioning marks on the board. The simplest form of mobile robots, used to deliver mail in office buildings or to gather and deliver parts in manufacturing, follow the path of a buried cable or a painted line, stopping whenever their sensors detect an object or person in their path. More complex mobile robots are used in more unstructured environments such as mining.
See H. Moravec, Mind Children (1988); R. C. Dorf, Concise International Encyclopedia of Robotics (1990); J. T. Black, The Design of the Factory with a Future (1991).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.