By Bernadine Racoma of Day Translations.
Robots are no longer instantly equated with cyborgs, armed metal creatures, and manned or autonomous humanoid machines. Even the term Android nowadays is more often understood as the mobile operating system developed by Google. People have gone past the typical concept of a robot, as most are already aware of the different forms and applications of robotics.
Robotics is no longer a subject merely used as the basis of science fiction novels, movies, and TV shows, and robots already coexist with people in various settings, albeit not in the form sci-fi stories used to depict them. Many people even believe that they have the potential to change the world.
Different real-world applications of robotics
Robots have uses in a wide range of settings. As mentioned, they are not just about the stereotypes born out of science fiction literature and pop culture. The following are some of the most notable purposes for robots at present:
- Manufacturing or assembly lines – Many aspects of manufacturing processes have become automated, and robotics plays an important role in this automation. Examples include robotic welding, assembly, painting, part transfers, and machine tending. Production processes become significantly more efficient and the outputs become more consistent when robotics is used.
- Exploration and navigation – There are places and situations deemed too risky for humans to explore. As such, robots serve as the preferred tools, as they can withstand various environmental hazards and, to some extent, perform tasks humans cannot do. Deep- underwater and space exploration are two of the best examples. Robots are also used in military navigation and exploration missions.
- Agriculture – There are robots on farms. They perform tasks such as automated planting, harvesting, and produce sorting and packing.
- Exoskeletons – Also known as powered exoskeletons, robotic exoskeletons are wearable machines that integrate pneumatic and hydraulic systems, levers, and electric motors, usually to augment limb functions. These machines amplify the strength of their wearers and provide protection, so they can do tasks they would otherwise not be able to do.
- Warehouse logistics – Robots are also used in large warehouses to inspect and move products safely and efficiently.
- Search and rescue operations – Disaster response teams enlist the help of robots to facilitate the faster and more efficient location of possible survivors or the mitigation of problems brought about by calamities. Rescuers also employ robots to assist in the surveillance of an area in order to come up with the best possible courses of action.
- Assistive technology – Assistive robotics helps people with handicaps or debilitating conditions to live independently. There are robotic assistive devices and appliances that help facilitate movement and access for people with physical disabilities.
- Replacements for people – Robots can take the place of humans in dangerous jobs or situations. Doing stunts for movies or serving as decoys in military operations are tasks robots can assume.
Benefits of using robots
Robots provide several advantages. For one, they are more accurate and consistent than humans. Precision and consistency are two vital attributes required in manufacturing, especially when it comes to mass production. You can expect robots to do the same cut over and over again or the same alignment when assembling something. Also, they can complete tasks considerably faster.
Robots don’t tire, another advantage, so they can be put to work for extended periods with no expected decrease in the quality of output. Although they have some limitations (they can overheat if you make them work non-stop), they are certainly far superior to human workers in terms of duration of work and quality consistency.
Another noteworthy benefit of using robots is the fact that they only need good ventilation and proper regulation of dust and moisture levels in their work environment – no lunch breaks, heating, or air conditioning. They are not like human workers, who demand a workplace that does not pose health risks or present the potential for injuries.
Additionally, robots don’t require salaries, bonuses, and other forms of compensation. As such, they are less costly to deploy. They work with little supervision and only require periodic maintenance. What’s more, they can do tasks in hazardous settings, such as those in which toxic materials are handled.
Drawbacks of robots
Not everything about robots proves an advantage, though. Robots take away jobs from people. Many companies that turn to automation with the help of robots inevitably have to let go of some of their employees. Some, however, assert that the integration of robots in businesses will be good for everyone in the long run. Robots are not exactly going to take over human jobs, pundits say. Some people may be displaced initially, but the benefits derived from robotics in business operations can lead to other job opportunities for humans. However, they need to improve their skills to qualify for more complex and non-repetitive jobs that robots cannot undertake. Nonetheless, others would say that jobs lost are lost jobs.
The price of robots also presents an obstacle to their deployment. Robots don’t come cheap: They require hefty capital expenditure, something not many firms can afford. The unavoidable maintenance and repairs (in case of damage or malfunction) also entail additional costs.
Moreover, until significant advances are made in the realm of artificial intelligence, robots cannot go beyond what they are programmed to do. No matter how long they have been in service, they don’t develop like human workers, who seek to learn from experience and are motivated to strive for promotion to higher positions.
Also, with half-hearted implementation, robots may not work as expected. The robots used in a concept hotel in Japan, for example, not only failed because of the poor execution of the idea; they also lacked functions to make them appealing to international guests. They didn’t offer anything much beyond the novelty. It would have been better if they were able to do language translations or exhibited interactivity similar to Siri and Alexa. They didn’t have to do complex tasks like technology translations. They only had to be more appealing to guests, a little bit more functional and actually effective at what they were supposed to do.
Robots are excellent aides to humans, but they are far from perfect. When their deployment leads to problems, they can create critical situations, especially since they are often used en masse in automation. Human workers in a manufacturing process have the discretion to stop doing something if they notice something is not right. Robots, however, will ceaselessly do what they are programmed to do, unless they are equipped with complex sensors and AI to spot problems and respond accordingly.
Notable and potentially world-changing robots
When it comes to prominence and having the potential to change the world, the following robot models stand out:
- RoboSimian – Also called Clyde, this multi-limbed robot was the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s entry in the DARPA Robotics Challenge in 2013. It is a robot designed to be versatile, with legs that can also serve as hands. Designed for disaster response, it can stand on two legs or all fours, with its four general-use appendages capable of turning valves, clearing debris, navigating along uneven terrain, and opening passageways. Ada – This is a robotic 3D-printed hand created by Open Bionics. The schematics can be freely downloaded and printed by anyone who has a 3D printer. It can be controlled through electromyography (EMG), a technology that detects and records the electrical activity of the skeletal muscles. Ada does not do anything extraordinary for now, but the idea of being able to create your own robotic hand that can be controlled by the electrical activity of your muscles is a significant advancement. It opens a world of possibilities that brings robotics closer to ordinary people.
- Phoenix – A powered exoskeleton, Phoenix is a form of assistive technology designed to be worn by people with mobility disorders. Created to be light and not cumbersome, this advanced exoskeleton can also be worn most of the day, even while sitting or lying down.
- Pepper – Developed by Softbank Robotics, Pepper is a service robot created with the ability to read emotions through facial expressions and voice. It is intended for commercial, consumer, and academic uses. Commercially, it has been deployed as a receptionist in a number of UK offices and in medical facilities in Japan. As a consumer appliance, it is being used in thousands of Japanese homes. Academically, Pepper is deployed as a research and educational robot at academic institutions.
- Curiosity – This is the rover robot sent by NASA to Mars. It features numerous cameras used for navigation, chemical analysis, hazard avoidance, x-ray spectrometry, radiation assessment, and multiple spectra and true-color imaging. It is also equipped with a multitude of sensors, a dust removal tool, and a nearly seven-foot-long robotic arm with a cross-shaped turret.
How robots are changing the world
Robots are changing the world by helping humans do things better (with greater efficiency), as well as perform tasks that were difficult – or impossible – before. Robots facilitate disaster response, augment physical abilities, serve in areas where interaction with people is needed, and enable exploration beyond the boundaries of Earth.
Robotics not only has applications in the field of manufacturing or assembly lines. It is also used in medicine, as exemplified by the above-mentioned Phoenix exoskeleton and robotic surgery. Additionally, robots can be used in customer service – as moodiness-free receptionists, for example. Moreover, robots are taking over human jobs deemed too dangerous, and not only at places with high radioactivity levels or toxic contamination. Robots are also establishing their presence in show business. Disney, for one, has developed a robot that can take the place of stuntmen.
Robots are changing the world in mostly positive ways. They may be taking over some human jobs, but they also operate more efficiently, which, in turn, boosts economic activity, creating more opportunities for humans to find ways of generating income.