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Introduction to robotics

In view of the increasing diversity of products and variants, it is necessary to enhance manufacturing productivity and flexibility in order to maintain or increase competitiveness. The use of industrial robots is one suitable way of achieving the flexible automation required.

The term “robot” originates in the Slavic word “robota”, in the sense of laborious work. In the technical sense, however, industrial robots are defined as distinct from other automation devices and working machines. Nevertheless, there is a certain amount of international confusion over the term, as similar systems, such as manipulators or loading devices, are often counted as robots and included in the statistics.

The reason for this is that in all such systems, the mechanical structure consists of a kinematic chain with a fixed part and an arm (or several arms) on which a wrist with a gripper or tool (e.g. welding torch) is mounted.

Rossum’s Universal Robots

R.U.R. (Czech: Rosumovi Umeli Roboti) is the title of a play by the Czech author Karel Capek that appeared in 1921. It is about a company that manufactures humanoid machines (robots) to relieve the workload on humans. These machines subsequently overthrow society and destroy humanity.

Law of Robotics

The Laws of Robotics were first described by Isaac Asimov in his collection of science-fiction stories I, Robot (1950). Since then, they have influenced concepts of what a robot should be and how it should act. These laws are binding on the way the robots described by Asimov act and make decisions.

Initially, these laws only applied to “literary” robots, but they have since come to influence the programming of modern robots and are used in modified forms in competitions, e.g. for cleaning robots. Modern industrial robots are also programmed in accordance with these laws, even if most robot programmers are unaware of the fact.

Asimov’s laws state:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

It should be noted that the laws are hierarchical in nature. Although the laws appear to be clearly formulated, they are not “foolproof”, primarily because they are interpreted by humans, i.e. imperfectly and incompletely.

The first industrial robot

The first industrial robot, later known as the Unimate, came about after its inventors, George Devol and Joseph Engelberger, discussed a science-fiction novel at a meeting in 1956. On the basis of this novel, these two men decided to develop a real robot. The Unimate was integrated into a production line at General Motors (Trenton, USA) in 1962. This robot’s tasks consisted of taking hot work pieces out of a metal press and stacking them. The program for the robot consisted of a large number of individual instruction steps stored on a magnetic drum. This already enabled it to perform a wide range of automation tasks.

Rossum’s Universal Robot

The Unimate robot was manuctured by Unimation