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Robotics Engineers and Technicians

History

Robots are devices that perform tasks ordinarily performed by humans; they seem to operate with an almost-human intelligence. The idea of robots can be traced back to the ancient Greek and Egyptian civilizations. An inventor from the first century A.D. Hero of Alexandria, invented a machine that would automatically open the doors of a temple when the priest lit a fire in the altar. During the later periods of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the 17th and 18th centuries, interest in robot-like mechanisms lead to the development of automatons, devices that imitate human and animal appearance and activity but perform no useful task.

The Industrial Revolution inspired the invention of many different kinds of automatic machinery. One of the most important robotics inventions occurred in 1804: Joseph-Marie Jacquard's method for controlling machinery by means of a programmed set of instructions recorded on a punched paper tape that was fed into a machine to direct its movements.

The word robot and the concepts associated with it were first introduced in the early 1920s. They made their appearance in a play titled R.U.R., which stands for Rossum's Universal Robots, written by Czechoslovakian dramatist Karel Capek. The play involves human-like robotic machines created to perform manual tasks for their human masters.

During the 1950s and 1960s, advances in the fields of automation and computer science led to the development of experimental robots that could imitate a wide range of human activity, including self-regulated and self-propelled movement (either on wheels or on legs), the ability to sense and manipulate objects, and the ability to select a course of action on the basis of conditions around them.

In 1954, George Devol designed the first programmable robot in the United States. He named it the Universal Automation, which was later shortened to Unimation, which also became the name of the first robot company. Hydraulic robots, controlled by numerical control programming, were developed in the 1960s and were used initially by the automobile industry in assembly line operations. By 1973, robots were being built with electric power and electronic controls, which allowed greater flexibility and increased uses.

Robotic technology has evolved significantly in the past few decades. Early robotic equipment, often referred to as first-generation robots, were simple mechanical arms or devices that could perform precise, repetitive motions at high speeds. They contained no artificial intelligence capabilities. Second-generation robots, which came into use in the 1980s, are controlled by minicomputers and programmed by computer language. They contain sensors, such as vision systems and pressure, proximity, and tactile sensors, which provide information about the outside environment. Third-generation robots, also controlled by minicomputers and equipped with sensory devices, were developed starting in the 1990s. Referred to as "smart" robots, they can work on their own without supervision by an external computer or human being. They are capable of speech recognition and other features. Fourth-generation robots are currently in development and will include features such as artificial intelligence and self-assembly.

The evolution of robots is closely tied to the study of human anatomy and movement of the human body. The early robots were modeled after arms, then wrists. Second-generation robots include features that model human hands. Advanced robots, or androids, resemble human beings superficially, and are able to move around on wheels or a track drive, or walk on human-like legs. 

There are currently more than 1.4 million operational industrial robots in the world, and these robots are becoming more sophisticated with each passing year. The Washington Post reports that “General Electric has developed spider-like robots to climb and maintain tall wind turbines. Kiva Systems, a company recently purchased by Amazon.com, has orange ottoman-shaped robots that sweep across warehouse floors, pull products off shelves, and deliver them for packaging.” “Baxter,” a robot developed by a former MIT scientist, is even more impressive. According to the CAM Report, "it has red plastic arms and a cartoon face, and can do the job of two or more workers at plastics and metal manufacturing companies, where it works. If a human comes too close as it works, it’s eyes widen dramatically and it moves out of the way. Baxter’s cost: $22,000—quite affordable for manufacturers." 

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