The concept of autonomous mechanical machines dates back to classical times when science fiction seemed out of reach. However, inventors, engineers, and technicians predicted that robots would one day mimic human behaviour and manage tasks in a human-like fashion.
According to Statista, the international robotics market is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 26%, and will reach $210 billion by 2025.
Today, this is more than a reality, as robotics has become a rapidly advancing field, with robots serving various practical purposes domestically, commercially, or militarily.
What are Robots?
Simply put, a robot is a reprogrammable mechanical device that coordinates perception and action in a dynamic physical environment. Robots are designed to perform specific repetitive tasks and interact with their environments, without human interaction.
In practice, robots mainly constitute unique sensors (to perceive the environment), actuators (to interact with the environment) and computerised processing units that allow them to close the loop. Therefore, it enables robots to decide what actions should be performed based on the current perceived context.
Generally, most robots take on any form though some are made to resemble humans in appearance. This helps in the acceptance of robots in specific replicative behaviours typically performed by humans. Usually, such robots are designed to replicate human activities like walking, lifting, speech, and cognition.
Generally speaking, robotics is an interdisciplinary engineering branch that overlaps with electronics, mechatronics, computer science, artificial intelligence, computer vision, nanotechnology and bioengineering.
Fundamentally, robotics focuses on the design, construction, operation, and utilisation of robots.
For example, engineering a robot’s computer systems for control, sensory feedback, and information processing.
Overall, robotics seeks to develop specialised machines to replicate human actions. For example, to perform actions in dangerous environments (like bomb detection and deactivation), or to execute complex manufacturing processes. Others even operate in environments where humans cannot survive (for example, in space or underwater).
That being said, in today’s advanced technological landscape, in any field where a purely mechanical job is too dangerous, heavy or tedious for humans to perform, robots are used. Furthermore, wherever mechanisation can augment productivity significantly, robots are used.
Robotics is governed by Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, namely:
- Robots must never harm human beings.
- Robots must follow designated instructions from humans, without violating rule 1.
- Robots must protect themselves without violating the other rules.
Uses of Robots
Robots are very popular in the manufacturing facilities like automobile and Solar PV manufacturing plants. In these industrial applications, robotic arms help to save time, increase production output and save manpower.
Logistics and Fleet Management
Robots are adopted in logistics and fleet management as Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRS). For example, an AMR can be used to locate a pallet and autonomously transport it to its intended destination in an efficient manner.
Robots are being deployed in the healthcare sector for applications like robotic delivery, surgery, remote patient surveillance, medicine transportation, and even UV disinfection.
We have also seen the advancement of bionics, where a region of the human body that is disabled is medically replaced by a robotic one, controlled by muscle stimulation. Furthermore, with the arrival of nanorobotics, we could see microscopic robots that can be injected into the human body to fight disease.
Travel and Tourism
Currently, we are seeing humanoid robots like the Honda Asimo being employed in hotels to welcome guests, as information kiosks, or for voice assistance etc. Additionally, some humanoid robots are being used to sing and dance like humans or to even play football with them.
Robots have been leveraged in military applications for the last two decades for several tasks such as transportation of weapons and demolition services.
Agricultural robots are used to automate slow, repetitive and dull tasks to allow farmers to focus more on enhancing overall production yields. For example, harvesting, picking, and even weed control.
Robots have been used in space exploration since the 70s. For example, all the advanced equipment on the International Space Station (ISS) is essentially robotic in nature. Furthermore, the interplanetary rovers and landers, and even the MARS helicopter (right now in the development phase), are all robots.
Robots are being trialled to deliver food in restaurants. Furthermore, several large warehouses like Amazon’s, leverage robots to achieve faster package transportation and processing.
Uses of Robots in Daily Life
Overall, robots in our daily lives are being used for many repetitive tasks. Furthermore, robots now perform jobs that are hazardous to humans, like defusing bombs, finding human survivors in unstable ruins, or even exploring mines and shipwrecks.
Currently, robots are integrated into the daily human experience as they are vital in making cars, semiconductors, and even food processing. In essence, robots will increasingly be adapted to perform tasks that seem too dull, dirty and dangerous for humans. As such, we expect them to further reshape businesses with efficiency and effectiveness.
The article is a part of our comprehensive series on Robotics.
LinkedIn: Dr. Yeong Che Fai
Dr Yeong Che Fai is the Chairman and one of the co-founder of DF Automation & Robotics. He is also an Associate Professor at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. He graduated with a PhD from Imperial College London and his M.Eng and B.Eng were from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. He is known as one of the leading robotics experts in Malaysia.
His interests are in AI, robotics, innovations and entrepreneurship. He has won more than 100 awards such as MOE Entrepreneurship Mentor Award, British Invention Show, Star Outstanding Business Award (SOBA), APICTA and ROBOCON.
He was in Austrian Leadership Program (Vienna) and also the Newton Fund Leader in Innovation Fellowship Program (London) sponsored by the respective government. He had undergone two entrepreneurship programs at Silicon Valley.
He has published close to 100 publications and is a seasonal speaker for various topics including AI, robotics, innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership. He has spoken at TEDx twice and will speak his 3rd TEDx talk in October 2021.