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Robots ROBOTS Websters New World Dictionary defines a robot as any anthropomorphic mechanical being built to do routine manual work for human beings. This term was popularized by the Czech dramatist Karel Capek (1890-1938) in his 1921 play Russums Universal Robots (R.U.R.). The term has been used in fiction to describe self-controlling machines that resemble human beings. This concept has been the basis of stories starting centuries before, but has become popular due to the writings of science fiction writers and movies. Isaac Asimovs (1920-1992) book I, Robot started the recent interest in robots and this interest has been fostered by recent movies that glamorize robots, i.e.

Star Wars and Bicentennial Man. The word robot has become an everyday word in our vocabulary and everyday there is news of additional ways that robots can assist us. There is a growing trend of using robots to perform more and more complex tasks, as computers get more powerful so do robots. Is there a time when we will receive diminishing return from the use of additional robots? Will robots eventually rule the world? These questions and more will have to be addressed, as we become more and more dependent on automation to do the repetitive jobs we do not want. To properly prepare for these questions and issues it is necessary for us to examine the history, present day use, and future of robots. HISTORY Man has been fascinated by the concept of the formation of non-intelligent life for centuries.

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One of the earliest myths is of Hephaestus, the divine smith who was the Greek god of fire. He was described in The Iliad as having fashioned girls out of gold whom could move, speak, and think. He was also said to have fashioned and animated a bronze statue for King Minos of Crete. This living statue (robot) tirelessly circled the island, guarding it from invasion. There are legends that have Jewish mystics creating artificial being out of clay, referred to as a golem from a Hebrew word meaning an unformed clay.

The best known golem is that of Rabbi Loew, who was formed in sixteenth century Prague to protect Jews. Amongst all these legends there was human inventors who were developing devices that would automatically perform acts that could be associated with intelligence. Automatic devices were created that operated by steam, moving fluids, and compressed air. These devices were essentially toys or gadgets of no real use. The first truly useful devices were clocks. The first clocks were water clocks where the water lifted floats with pointers that pointed at the time, Mechanical clocks were invented in the Middle Ages, which used weights for power.

Clocks continued to advance in complexity and it became possible to manufacture objects that mimicked actions that were associated with life. These objects that moved automatically were called automatons As technology advanced it became possible to imagine an automation that was truly lifelike. One that would be soulless or mindless and which could go out of control, wreaking death and destruction. These fears influenced the story of Frankenstein during this period and influence those who fear robots today. In 1738 Jacques de Vaucanson created a mechanical duck that was the most celebrated automata of that era.

The duck was made of copper and could quack, bath, drink, eat grain, simulate digestion, and voiding. The duck was exhibited all over Europe with great success. Vaucanson soon tired of his invention and turned his talents to more practical matters and invented the first automatic weaving loom. The looms control system was the precursor of todays computerized systems. It is this computerization that turns ordinary machines into robots. The new looms could produce intricate patterns easily and automatically depending on what pattern card was selected.

These looms and even the inventors met with worker hostility, but the advantages eventually forced their acceptance. The idea of punched cards led to the development of Boolean algebra, which uses 1 and 0 as on or off. This concept became the basis of digital computers, which are the brains of robots. The first computers were calculating machines used to tabulate numbers. These machines were used to compile large amounts of information, i.e.

1890 census. The need for increased information lead to increases in the speed and power of these calculating machines. This ever-increasing need was one of the driving forces for the construction of ENIAC , which was the first electronic computer. ENIAC was made originally to compute the angle that an artillery gun should be pointed at in order to hit a certain target. During World War II, this had to be calculated by hand into charts that took forever to make.

Since the charts were calculated by hand, they were not always accurate. The ENIAC would make the charts in a lot less time and fairly accurately. The brain of the robot was created and people began to consider the possibilities, and consequences, of artificial intelligence. In 1950, the USAF and M.I.T. developed a system that used a numerical control system on tape that was interpreted by a computer. The computer read the tape and acted as the machine’s intelligence and automatic controller. This allowed the machine to vary the tasks performed. This led to the first patent for an industrial robot by George C Devol, Jr in 1954. The advances in computer technology in the 1950s and 1960s created some interesting questions. Are computers immobile robots? Are robots mobile computers? Does a robot have to like a human being? The questions are still not answered, if you go to the toy store a robot looks humanoid.

If you want to build a robot from a kit purchased off the web, it most likely will look humanoid. Industrial robots do not have the humanoid appearance; they look more like a small arm. An industrial robot is a reprogrammable, multifunctional manipulator designed to move materials, parts, tools, or specialized devices through variable programmed motions to perform a variety of tasks. INDUSTRIAL ROBOTS George Devol, a self made engineer with his own business, and Joseph Engelberger, an engineer working in the aerospace industry, formed the world’s first robot company. They met at a cocktail party in 1956 and during the evening exchanged some serious ideas: ? 50 percent of the people who work in factories are really putting and taking. ? Why are machines made to produce only specific items? ? How about approaching manufacturing the other way around, by designing machines that could put and take anything.

Being intrigued by Devols ideas, Engelberger entered into a business arrangement with Devol. The two men searched for a standard design and after studying various production processes decided on a one armed machine. During research on the processes Engelberger was appalled by the working conditions in many of the factories. In plant he saw women tied to pressing machines by straps tied around their wrist to yank their hands back when the press closed. The workers were like automations that would continue to work until shaken from their hypnotic state.

Engelberger predicted that the industrial robot would help the factory operator in a way that can be compared to business machines as an aid to the office worker. They constructed their first robot in 1956 and named it the UNIMATE . The first industrial robot was built, but orders did not come flowing in. The first UNIMATE did not go into operation until 1961, when General Motors purchased one for their die casting plant. Even after General Motors started buying more of the robots, the manufacturing industry in general was not interested. Engelberger and Devol found them self up against two institutional barriers: ? The zone of indifference arising from the average middle managers fears that robot installations …


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