Term Paper: Robotics the Popular Concept

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[. . .] For example, a robot arm can extend by telescoping. This is usually done by sliding cylindrical sections one over another to lengthen the arm. Robot arms also can be constructed to bend like an elephant trunk while the human arm cannot. Devices known as "grippers," or "end effectors" that are designed to grip and grasp objects, mimic the function and structure of the human hand and the fingers. Robot arms can also be designed to perform special tasks by equipping them with special purpose "grippers." (Bekey)

Inverse Kinematics

The other important parts of a robotic arm are its joints. These are usually driven by electric motors. Computer calculates the joint angles and the degree to which the arm and its gripper is to move for performing the desired task -- the process being termed inverse kinematics. (Ibid. Section on "How Robots Work?")

Servo-Controllers (Feedback Mechanism)

Most multi-jointed arms in robots are equipped with servo (feedback) controllers that are connected to computers. After receiving an input signal from the computer the joints move to the desired angle. The joints in the robot arm contain devices that measure the angle of the movement and send the value of the measurement to the controller. The servo controller's function is to keep adjusting the joint's movement through a feedback mechanism until the arm's angle matches the computed angle. Cameras are usually used to locate objects that are to be grasped and sensors placed on the grippers to regulate the process of feedback control. (Ibid.) Ultrasonic or infrared sensors are usually used to avoid obstructions. Powerful computers, multiple and sensitive sensors, and built-in safety devices are, therefore, an integral part of the feedback-control systems installed on modern robots.

Applications of Robots

Unlike humans, robots do not need sleep, breaks from work, food, and safe working environment, and do not get bored by doing the same task over and over again. They can also perform certain tasks that require extra-ordinary precision or strength that is beyond the capability of man. Robots are thus ideal for jobs that require repetitive and precise movements and it is no surprise that robots have been extensively used in areas that require such functionality. For example, the automobile industry uses robots for tasks such as spot-welding, painting, machine loading, parts transfer, and assembly. The electronic industry uses them in assembly lines for mounting microchips on circuit boards. Robots are also used for tasks that are either dangerous or unpleasant for human beings, e.g.handling potentially hazardous materials, such as blood or urine samples in medical laboratories. A survey in 1995 indicated that there were about 700,000 robots operating in the industrialized world. (Bekey, section on "Uses of Robots.")

Now we shall examine some of the specific applications of robots in detail:

Repetitive jobs

Most robots (90%) work in factories and the automobile industry is still the largest "employer" of robots since half of all 'industrial robots' are engaged by the auto industry in repetitive tasks such as assembling of car body panels, spot welding them together, painting the car bodies, and stacking and moving partially completed cars.

Another example of a repetitive factory job done by robots is arranging chocolates in boxes. The task is accomplished with the help of a guided computer vision system, whereby a robotic arm locates a piece of chocolate on a moving conveyer belt, picks it up and places it in a specific location within a box on another moving conveyer belt. (Tesler, p.2-"Working.")

Precision jobs

Jobs that require extra-ordinary precision include certain types of microsurgery. Use of robots eliminates any natural shakiness enabling surgeons to perform delicate surgical procedures that would otherwise be not possible for human hands. Specific procedures include installing of artificial hips, and delicate operations on the human eye. Surgeons can also use medical robots to operate on patients remotely ("tele-surgery.") With feedback sensors, the surgeon can even "feel" the tissue underneath the robot's instruments. (Ibid.) Such procedures have promising applications in distant battlefields.

Other examples of precision jobs where robots have been gainfully employed include placing of microchips onto printed circuit boards and soldering of tiny wires to semiconductor chips -- fascinating examples of computers being used to produce their own parts.

Hazardous Chores

Another obvious use of robots is their application on tasks that are too dangerous for human beings. These can include jobs such as locating sunken ships, cleanup of nuclear waste, prospecting for underwater mineral deposits, active volcano exploration, and bomb disposal.

For example, a robot called the Mini-Androsis is used by bomb disposal squads to locate and dispose of bombs. The current version of such a robot is about three feet long, and resembles a small armored tank with eight wheels on four "legs" that have the capability of extending for climbing stairs. It has movable arm that can lift objects weighing up to 15 pounds and place them in bomb-proof boxes. It also has the capability of breaking in windows, to see in the dark through infra-red sensors. It can defuse bombs by blasting them with water, firing at them with a shotgun, or placing other smaller bombs nearby. (Tesler, p.4)

Robots can also venture into dangerously polluted environments, like chemical spills or radioactive "hot zones" in nuclear power plants. One such special-purpose robot named Robug III is a spider-like device designed to explore areas with extreme radiation such as the core of a nuclear reactor that would kill a human. This particular robot can walk over obstacles, climb walls, and drag a weight of more than 220 pounds. Its "eyes" (video cameras) enable a human see and assess damage from afar. The efficacy of such a robot can be appreciated if we imagine a Chernobyl-like nuclear reactor accident.

Hard to Reach Areas

Such robots can also venture into hard-to-reach spots like sewers, pipes, and heating and cooling ducts for routine inspection and maintenance. These robots may be equipped with video cameras and tools to perform needed repairs.

Other functions of robots include underwater exploration. This function of robots was demonstrated by the discovery of the sunken wreck of the luxurious cruise ship Titanic in 1986 by an underwater robot named J.J. Since the Titanic was resting at a depth of 12,500 feet beneath the ocean, it was far too deep to be explored by a human diver. (Tesler, p.5)

Robots are often used to perform underwater salvage missions. A dramatic example of such a mission was the recovery of the black box from Egypt-Air Flight 990 (that had crashed into the Atlantic in 1999) by deploying a robot called The Deep Drone. (Ibid.)

Braving the Temperatures

Because of their ability to brave extreme temperatures, robots have been used to study volcanoes. Dante II, an eight-legged, spider shaped robot was designed to study volcanoes and for clues about future eruptions. It was equipped with cameras and sent down the walls of a volcano in Alaska called Mt. Spurr. Pictures sent by the robot's cameras allowed scientists stationed at a distance to gather important data in the safety of their labs.

Robots can also operate at the other temperature extreme of sub-zero temperatures, e.g., a robot named Nomad has been used by scientists to search for meteorites in the frozen wasteland of Antarctic. The mobile gasoline-powered 4-wheeler can operate independently and can search for rocks through its camera eye. It is able to identify different types of rocks by analyzing their color, shape, and size, while its built-in metal detector identifies the presence of iron, which is a major ingredient of a meteorite. Just as most technology developments have their carry-over uses in other areas the experiments with Nomad helped scientists to develop robots for future missions to Mars. (Tesler, p.5)

Space Exploration

Robots are ideally suited for exploring distant planets as substitutes for humans. They can perform most simple functions like gathering of samples, carrying out experiments, and sending back data and pictures without risking of precious lives. It is also much simpler for the space researchers to send robots on space journeys because of other advantageous such as robots not requiring food, sleep, oxygen, exercise, and not getting bored.

There are numerous examples of robots having been used in space exploration programs. NASA's Galileo, for instance, was an unmanned space probe that traveled to Jupiter in 1996 and performed several important tasks by itself, such as determining the chemical content of the Jupiter's atmosphere. Another example is the space robot named Sojourner sent with the Pathfinder mission in 1997 to collect soil and rock samples from the planet Mars. It did so successfully, and the collected evidence showed that Mars may once have been covered with water and may thus have supported life. The next Mars mission is expected to have a greater role for robots, as two robots similar to the Nomad used in locating meteorites in the Antarctica, are expected to collect Mars rock samples from different parts of the planet.

Military Use

Many forecasters predict that future battles would be fought… [END OF PREVIEW]

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