• Robotics is the branch of technology that deals with the design, construction, operation, structural depositions, manufacture, and application of robots.
  • A “robot” is any automatically operated machine that replaces human effort though it may or may not resemble a human being in appearance or perform a function in a human-like manner.
  • A device can only be called a “robot” if it contains a movable mechanism, influenced by sensing, planning, actuation, and control components.
  • In practical terms, “robot” usually refers to a machine that can be electronically programmed to carry out a variety of physical tasks or actions.
  • The word robot can refer to both physical robots and virtual software agents, but the latter is usually referred to as bots.
  • The objective of the robotics field is to create intelligent machines that can assist humans in a variety of ways.

What is “Bot” then?

  • An Internet bot (or web robot or bot) is a software application that runs automated tasks over the Internet. Typically, bots perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human alone.
  • On the Internet, the most ubiquitous bots are the programs, also called spiders or crawlers, that access Web sites and gather their content for search engine indexes.
  • A chatterbot is a program that can simulate talk with a human being.
  • A shopbot is a program that shops around the Web on your behalf and locates the best price for a product you’re looking for.
  • A knowbot is a program that automatically searches Internet sites and gathers information from them according to user-specified criteria.

History and Etymology of Robotics

  • The word ‘Robotics’ was first used by Isaac Asimov in 1941. Robotics is based on the word Robot coined by Josef  Coper.
  • The word robot comes from the Czech word “robota” which means forced labour or work. The word Robotics was first used by Isaac Asimov in his science fiction story “Liar” published in 1941. He introduced his concept of the three laws of robotics. The three laws of robotics are:
    • First Law: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
    • Second Law: A robot must obey the orders given by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
    • Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
  • In 1956, the first commercial robot was created by the Unimation company. The first digitally operated and programmable robot, the Unimate was invented for performing repetitive tasks. Between 1967 to 1972, the development of the first full scale humanoid intelligent robot took place. In 1974, the world’s first microcomputer-controlled electric industrial robot, IRB6 came into existence.
  • Today commercial and industrial robots are widely used for performing jobs more accurately, cheaply and reliably than humans. Robots are employed in jobs that are too dangerous, dirty or dull for humans. Robots are now widely used in manufacturing, assembly, packaging, mining, space exploration, surgery, laboratory research, mass production of consumer and industrial goods etc.

Attributes of robotic technology

  • It is a specialized machine tool with flexibility that distinguishes them from fixed-purpose automation.
  • Robot technology is basically a mechanical arm that is bolted to the Floor, a machine, the ceiling, or, in some cases the wall Fitted with its mechanical hand, and taught to do Repetitive tasks in a controlled, ordered environment.
  • It has the ability to move mechanical arms to perform work.
  • Robots interface with their work environment once a Mechanical hand has been attached to the robot’s tool mounting Plate.

Basic Components of Robots

The structure of a robot is usually mostly mechanical and is called a kinematic chain (it’s functionally similar to the skeleton of the human body).

The following are the basic components of Robots:

Controller:

  • The controller is the “brain” of the industrial robotic arm and allows the parts of the robot to operate together. It works as a computer and allows the robot to also be connected to other systems.
  • The robotic arm controller runs a set of instructions written in code called a program.

Actuators:

  • Actuators are like the “muscles” of a robot, the parts which convert stored energy into movement. By far the most popular actuators are electric motors that spin a wheel or gear, and linear actuators that control industrial robots in factories.
  • But there are some recent advances in alternative types of actuators, powered by electricity, chemicals, or compressed air.

Sensors:

  • Sensors are what allow a robot to gather information about its environment. This information can be used to guide the robot’s behaviour. Some sensors are relatively familiar pieces of equipment.
  • Cameras allow a robot to construct a visual representation of its environment. This allows the robot to judge attributes of the environment that can only be determined by vision, such as shape and color, as well as aid in determining other important qualities, such as the size and distance of objects.
  • Microphones allow robots to detect sounds. Some robots come equipped with thermometers and barometers to sense temperature and pressure.
  • Other types of sensors are more complex and give a robot more interesting capabilities. Robots equipped with Light Detection And Ranging (LIDAR) sensors use lasers to construct three-dimensional maps of their surroundings as they navigate through the world.

Manipulator and End Effector:

  • Robots need to manipulate objects; pick up, modify, destroy, or otherwise have an effect. Thus the “hands” of a robot are often referred to as end effectors (device at the end of a robotic arm), while the “arm” is referred to as a manipulator.
  • End-Effectors are the tools at the end of robotic arms that directly interact with objects in the world. The effectors are the parts of the robot that actually do the work.

Robot end effector:

  • Industrial robot arms can vary in size and shape. The industrial robot arm is the part that positions the end effector. With the robot arm, the shoulder, elbow, and wrist move and twist to position the end effector in the exact right spot. Each of these joints gives the robot another degree of freedom. A simple robot with three degrees of freedom can move in three ways: up & down, left & right, and forward & backwards.
  • Most robot arms have replaceable effectors, each allowing them to perform some small range of tasks. Some have a fixed manipulator which cannot be replaced.

Types of robots

  1. Industrial Robots
  2. Mobile robots
  3. Rolling robots
  4. Walking robots
  5. Stationary Robots
  6. Autonomous Robots
  7. Remote-control Robots

Industrial Robots:

  • It is defined as an automatically controlled reprogrammable multipurpose manipulator designed to move in three or more axis, which may be either fixed in place or mobile for use in industrial automation applications.
  • They don’t get tired and they don’t make errors associated with fatigue and so are ideally well suited to perform repetitive tasks.
  • Some robots are programmed to faithfully carry out specific actions over and over again (repetitive actions) without variation and with a high degree of accuracy.
  • Other robots are much more flexible as to the orientation of the object on which they are operating or even the task that has to be performed on the object itself, which the robot may even need to identify.
  • A collaborative robot or cobot is a robot that can safely and effectively interact with human workers while performing simple industrial tasks.

Mobile Robots:

  • Mobile robots have the capability to move around in their environment and are not fixed to one physical location. Mobile robots can be “autonomous” (AMR – autonomous mobile robot) which means they are capable of navigating an uncontrolled environment without the need for physical or electro-mechanical guidance devices.
  • Alternatively, mobile robots can rely on guidance devices that allow them to travel a pre-defined navigation route in relatively controlled space (AGV – autonomous guided vehicle). By contrast, industrial robots are usually more-or-less stationary.

Humanoid robot:

  • A humanoid robot is a robot with its body shape built to resemble that of the human body. A humanoid design might be for functional purposes, such as interacting with human tools and environments, for experimental purposes or for other purposes.
  • In general, humanoid robots have a torso, a head, two arms, and two legs, though some forms of humanoid robots may model only part of the body, for example, from the waist up. Some humanoid robots may also have heads designed to replicate human facial features such as eyes and mouths.
  • Researchers need to understand the human body structure and behaviour (biomechanics) to build and study humanoid robots. On the other side, the attempt to the simulation of the human body leads to a better understanding of it.
  • Besides the research, humanoid robots are being developed to perform human tasks like personal assistance, where they should be able to assist the sick and elderly, and dirty or dangerous jobs.
  • Regular jobs like being a receptionist or a worker of an automotive manufacturing line are also suitable for humanoids.
  • In essence, since they can use tools and operate equipment and vehicles designed for the human form, humanoids could theoretically perform any task a human being can, so long as they have the proper software. However, the complexity of doing so is deceptively great.
  • Humanoid robots, especially with artificial intelligence algorithms, could be useful for future dangerous and/or distant space exploration missions.
  • Some Examples of Humanoid Robots:
    • ASIMO (Honda’s humanoid robot)
    • Acyut humanoid robot (BITS Pilani)

Military robots:

  • Military robots are autonomous robots or remote-controlled devices designed for military applications.It can be UAVs, Drones, mobile robots or even humanoid soldiers. Robotics are the future of warfare.
  • Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) plan to create super-intelligent robots to fight alongside human troops. Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) announced its intention to develop robotic soldiers for military applications.

Indian Military Robots

  • Daksh is a battery-operated remote-controlled robot on wheels and its primary role is to recover bombs. Developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation, it is fully automated. It has a shotgun, which can break open locked doors, and it can scan cars for explosives.
  • Nishant is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) developed by India’s ADE (Aeronautical Development Establishment), a branch of DRDO for the Indian Armed Forces. The Nishant UAV is primarily tasked with intelligence gathering over enemy territory and also for reconnaissance, training, surveillance, target designation, artillery fire correction, damage assessment. It is for the Indian Army. Nishant is launched using a catapult and lands using a parachute.
  • Panchi is UAV Nishant’s new version with wheels. It can take off and land from air-strips like a regular aircraft. It can do all functions of Nishant while staying in the air for a longer period because Panchi’s weight is lighter than Nishant. Panchi has a smaller cross-section, low chances of radar detection, compared to Nishant.
  • Rustom is an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) being developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation for the three services, Indian Army, Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force of the Indian Armed Forces.
  • AURA is an autonomous unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV), being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation for the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy. The UCAV will be capable of releasing missiles, bombs and precision-guided munitions.
  • Lakshya is an Indian remotely piloted high-speed target drone system developed by the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) of DRDO. It is used to perform discreet aerial reconnaissance of battlefield and target acquisition. It is used by the Indian Army, Indian Air Force and Indian Navy.
  • Netra is an Indian, lightweight, autonomous UAV for surveillance and reconnaissance operations. It has been jointly developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s Research and Development Establishment (R&DE), and IdeaForge, a Mumbai-based private firm. Present users are CRPF and BSF.
  • Pawan is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developed by India’s ADE (Aeronautical Development Establishment), a branch of DRDO for the Indian Armed Forces.

Nanorobotics (Nanobots):

  • Nanorobotics is the emerging technology field creating machines or robots whose components are at or close to the scale of a nanometre (10−9 meters). Nanomachines are largely in the research and development phase, but some primitive Nanobots.
  • Researchers also hope to be able to create entire robots as small as viruses or bacteria, which could perform tasks on a tiny scale. Possible applications include micro surgery (on the level of individual cells), utility fog ( a hypothetical collection of tiny robots that can replicate a physical structure), manufacturing, weaponry and cleaning.

Bionics and Biomimetics Robots:

  • Biomimetics or biomimicry is the imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems. Biomimicry seeks solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies.
  • Bionics is the science of constructing artificial systems that have some of the characteristics of living systems. Bionics is distinct from bioengineering, which is the use of living things to perform certain industrial tasks
  • These are used to apply the way animals move to the design of robots. BionicKangaroo was based on the movements and physiology of kangaroos.
  • BionicKangaroo: Applying methods from bionics, and biomimetics, Festo’s researchers and engineers studied the way kangaroos move, and applied that to the design of a robot that moves in a similar way. The robot actually saves energy from each jump and applies it to its next jump, much as a real kangaroo does.

Tele-robots:

  • They are semi-autonomous robots controlled from a distance, chiefly using a Wireless network. It is a combination of two major subfields, teleoperation and telepresence. Teleoperation indicates the operation of a machine at a distance. Telepresence refers to a set of technologies that allow a person to feel as if they were present, to give the appearance of being present.

Applications of Robots

  • Automobile:
    • Industrial Robots due to their speed accuracy, reliability & endurance are readily used in the manufacturing of cars.  Tasks such as welding, spray painting welding, material handling & assembling can be performed better by an industrial robot than a human.
  • Electronics:
    • Pick & place robots are used in the mass production of the printed circuits boards (PCB’s). They help in removing tiny electronics components from strips & trays & place them onto PCB’s with great accuracy.
    • Such robots can place several components per second far outperforming a  human in terms of speed, accuracy & reliability.
  • Packaging  Industry:
    • Extensively used for palletizing  &  packaging of manufactured goods. For e.g.-  taking drink cartoons from the end of the conveyer belt  & placing them rapidly into boxes.
  • Means of Transport:
    • Mobile Robots acts as automated guided vehicles with scanning lasers that are used to transport goods around large facilities such as warehouses, container ports or hospitals.
  • Military Application:
    • Tele robots like unmanned aerial networks can be used to perform dangerous tasks in faraway or inaccessible places. These can be controlled from anywhere in the world allowing an army to search terrain  &  even fire or targets without endangering those using it. It helps the military to defuse roadside bombs or improvised explosive devices.
  • Health & Medicine:
    • A doctor through Remote surgery or telesurgery can perform surgery on a patient even though they are not physically present in the same location.
    • Minimal invasive surgery avoids open invasive surgery in favour of closed or local surgery with less trauma.
    • Major  advantages  of  robotic  surgery include:
      • Less Blood loss
      • Smaller incision 
      • Less pain
      • Hospitalization time is reduced.
      • Reduces the incidence of post-surgical complications.
      • Rapid recovery.
    • Japan example:
      • FRIEND is a semi-autonomous robot designed to support disabled and elderly people in their daily life activities.
  • Environment:
    • Nanorobots can be used to clear oil spills & disassembled pollutants especially non-biodegradable ones reducing their polluting impact.
    • Robots can be used in nuclear plants for handling & disposal of nuclear waste materials which saves the occupational workers in the nuclear plants from potential exposure to hazardous radiation.
  • Societal & Domestic Function:
    • Humanoid Robots can perform tasks like personal assistance where they will be able to assist sick  & elderly people.
    • Certain domestic robots can also free us from dirty & dull tasks by taking up simple unwanted jobs at home like vacuum cleaning & lawn mowing.
  • Space  Exploration:
    • Almost every unmanned space probe ever launched was a robot.
    • Autonomous Robots are used in space exploration as they can perform the desired tasks in an unstructured environment without continuous human guidance.
    • Remotely  Operated  Vehicle  (ROV) an unmanned spacecraft can act as Lander that makes contact with an extraterrestrial body  & operates from a stationary position or as a  robot that can move over terrain area it is landed.
    • Robotics spacecraft can act as a space probe operating in the vaccum of space withstanding exposure to radiation extremes of temperature.
  • Disaster Management:
    • Several snake robots have been successfully developed.  Mimicking the way real snakes move,  these robots can navigate very confined spaces, meaning they may one day be used to search for people trapped in collapsed buildings. The  Japanese ACM-R5 snake robot can even navigate both on land and in water.
  • Mining:
    • Mining robots are designed to solve a number of problems currently facing the mining industry, including skills shortages, improving productivity from declining ore grades, and achieving environmental targets.
    • Due to the hazardous nature of mining, in particular underground mining, the prevalence of autonomous, semi-autonomous, and teleoperated robots has greatly increased in recent times.
  • Other uses:
    • Underwater Sea Exploration
    • Research work

Roboethics and Machine Ethics

  • Roboethics is concerned with the behaviour of humans, how humans design, construct, use and treat robots and other artificially intelligent beings, whereas machine ethics is concerned with the behaviour of robots themselves, whether or not they are considered artificial moral agents.
  • As robots have become more advanced and sophisticated, experts and academics have increasingly explored the questions of what ethics might govern robot’s behaviour, and whether robots might be able to claim any kind of social, cultural, ethical or legal rights.

Robotics would Render Humans Jobless?

Today with a broader range of robotics technologies at or near commercialization—including stationary robots, nonhumanoid land robots and fully automated aerial drones, in addition to machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence—are attracting significant business interest in adoption.

  • Likely to render humans jobless:
    • There is fear of massive job loss and millions unemployed as AI and robots are implemented on a global scale keeping in mind productivity and labour laws. Augmentation of existing jobs through technology may free up workers from the majority of data processing and information search tasks. Their adoption is likely to make many of today’s jobs redundant, eliminating routine and intermediary tasks.
    • The study of 46 countries and 800 occupations by the McKinsey Global Institute found that up to one-fifth of the global workforce will be affected. Up to 800 million global workers will lose their jobs by 2030 and be replaced by robotic automation.
  • Concerns with respect to India:
    • Creating jobs is important for socio-economic reasons in India.
    • The government’s strategy to address the jobs issue has been to absorb a large labour force by promoting the manufacturing sector.
    • However, with increasing automation and concerns of companies shifting their manufacturing base (as economic consideration of cheap labour is done away), the government’s strategy is at stake.
  • No, they won’t:
    • Like previous industrial revolutions (IR), IR 4.0 driven by AI and robotics, may take up few but is likely to create new jobs.
    • New technologies will give rise to new job roles, occupations and industries, with wholly new types of jobs emerging to perform new work tasks related to new technologies.
    • A large workforce will be supported in high-value tasks such as reasoning and decision-making. There will be a greater need for a workforce with tech-based skill sets.

As technological breakthroughs rapidly shift the frontier between the work tasks performed by humans and those performed by machines and algorithms, global labour markets are likely to undergo major transformations. These transformations, if managed wisely, could lead to a new age of good work, good jobs and improved quality of life for all, but if managed poorly, pose the risk of widening skills gaps, greater inequality and broader polarization.

Thus it is important for the government to address the impact of new technologies on labour markets through

Upgraded education policies aimed at rapidly raising education and skills levels of individuals of all ages, particularly with regard to both STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and non-cognitive soft skills, enabling people to leverage their uniquely human capabilities.

Relevant intervention points include school curricula, teacher training and a reinvention of vocational training for the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, broadening its appeal beyond traditional low and medium-skilled occupations.


India’s Progress in Robotics

  • India is emerging as a hub for Industrial  Robots  & many Americans, Korean & even Japanese are using them.
  • In the last few years, robotics activities in India have moved well beyond the traditional areas of industrial applications, atomic energy, etc. and entered newer domains of education, rehabilitation, entertainment, and even into our homes.
  • Indian robotics researchers have similarly grown from a handful to over a hundred engaged in research labs,  education,  industry,  atomic energy, etc.
  • Timeline vision of robotics in India (Report of National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP), 2030):
    • By 2013-2014 – Agricultural robots
    • By 2013 – 2017 – Robots that care for Elderly
    • By 2013-2020 – Nano Robots
    • By 2015 – To have one-third of its fighting capacity provided by Robots
    • By 2017 – Medical Robots performing low invasive surgery
    • By 2017-2019 – Household Robots
    • By 2035 – To have first completely autonomous Robot soldiers on the battlefield

Robotics in India: Institutions and their work

Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR)

  • Chaturobot:  Vision sensors to pick objects (DRDO+CAIR.) Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR) is the premier laboratory for R&D in different areas in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as applicable to Defence.
  • smartNAV is a robot for navigating the moon surface in the next manned mission (ISRO)

AIIMs, New  Delhi :

  • It has successfully performed robotic surgery where it removed the thymus gland from the patient suffering from  ‘Myasthenia Grans’ (it is a  disease characterised by progressive muscular weakness which can sometimes be life-threatening).

Centre for Robotics & Mechatronics, Kanpur (IIT):

  • e-Yantra:
    • e-Yantra is an initiative to incorporate Robotics into engineering education with the objective of engaging students and teachers through exciting hands-on application of math, computer science, and engineering principles.
    • It is an initiative by IIT Bombay that aims to create the next generation of embedded systems engineers with a practical outlook to help provide practical solutions to some of the real-world problems.

Sponsored by MHRD under the National Mission on Education through the ICT program:

  • e-Yantra Robotics Competition (eYRC) is a unique annual competition for undergraduate students in science and engineering colleges.
  • Abstracts of real-world problems assigned as “themes” are implemented by participating teams using the robotic kits. The winners of this competition are offered a summer internship at IITB through e-Yantra Summer Internship Program.

Robotics Society of India

  • About:
    • The Robotics Society of India is an academic society founded on July 10, 2011, aimed at promoting Indian robotics and automation activities. The society hopes to serve as a bridge between researchers in institutes, government research centers and industry.
  • Objectives:
    • Encourage interaction between robotics researchers in India (academic/R&D Labs/industry).
    • Hold joint workshops and conferences at the national level.
    • Associate with other organizations involved in Robotics like IEEE, ASME etc.
    • Publish a newsletter, proceeding, Journals, etc.

Indian Underwater Robotics Society:

The Indian Underwater Robotics Society or IURS is India’s first and only non-profit research organization NGO for the advancement of low-cost robotics and intelligent systems research in developing countries.

All India Council for Robotics and Automation

  • It is a not-for-profit organization established in 2014.
  • It sets up standards in the robotics & automation and education industry, helping organizations and professionals to solve difficult technical problems while enhancing their leadership and personal career capabilities.
  • It is engaged in various activities and has launched several programs to promote and build an ecosystem for robotics and automation in India.

Challenges of Robotics in India

  • The cost of adopting Robotic technology is very high due to the cost of procuring imported hardware components as well as training personnel.
  • As Robotics is a multidisciplinary field,  acquiring and retaining quality talent is a big issue.
  • As  Robotics is multidisciplinary in nature,  barring students in the top schools in India, the others lack the knowledge required in fou to five engineering disciplines to become an expert in this field.  Also, most of the students develop projects that already exist in the public domain.
  • The capital-intensive nature of  Robotics adoption when compared to the low cost of human labour clearly tips the scale in favour of the latter.
  • There is a scarcity of good faculty to teach the subject: Barring a  few regions in  India,  Robotics as a subject is not taught well to engineering students.

Robotics in Manufacturing: China and India

  • Since 2013, China has become the largest market for robots. This may seem like a paradox: the economy with the largest workforce also having the largest robot force. Why is an apparently labour-abundant economy ramping up its robot force so aggressively? The obvious and correct explanation is that its cost competitiveness in manufacturing based on low wages is rapidly deteriorating. All this while, the relative cost of robots has been decreasing as prices decline with volumes and productivity increases with technology.
  • China’s big thrust in robotics, which includes the growth of domestic manufacturers in a space previously dominated by Japan and the United States, essentially aims to protect its competitiveness even as wages continue to rise and the size of the labour force dwindles because of ageing.

India stand in this robot race

  • India’s workforce is almost as large as China’s, but its share of manufacturing in the gross domestic product (GDP) is significantly lower, which partly explains the low robot penetration. But there are clearly other factors at work, too.
  • An underlying presumption in India’s collective belief that it will inherit the mantle of “factory to the world” from China is that its labour-cost advantages will eventually motivate producers to relocate labour-intensive activities.
  • At least three important issues need to be thought through.
    • First, what is the skill-wage-productivity configuration that Indian workers need to achieve in order to out-perform Chinese robots? But to exploit these, skills will have to be ramped up for large numbers of workers very quickly; further, any process that aspires to be globally competitive will have to have significant capital and technology components.
    • Second, it is reasonable to expect that growth in Indian manufacturing will take place largely through the integration of Indian producers into global supply chains. If the world is going robotic, Indian manufacturing cannot remain aloof from the trend.
    • Third, robot factories offer the Indian information technology (IT) sector a new growth opportunity. Large IT companies typically have business units that provide remote operations-management services – effectively running processes in other countries from Bengaluru or elsewhere in India. Robots will take such operations to an entirely different level.

So, the successful introduction of automation poses a challenge for countries such as India and Indonesia seeking to lure such “labour-intensive” investment away from China.  “Prematurely deindustrialising” countries such as India will find it much harder to create jobs; robots might help raise productivity, but this will likely prove a marginal narrative in the bleak India story.

Conclusion
  • Robots are soon going to be a part and parcel of human life. Literary experts and theorists have predicted that robots can cause a negative impact on humanity by “turning against us” and attacking us instead of catering to our needs, while many often dub these as modern solutions to solve bigger problems.
  • In reality, the advancement in the field of robotics has both a good side and a bad side.
  • Hence it is up to us humans to understand the safe limits of inventions and utilise robotic services in specific and judicious ways. Otherwise, these automated machines that are governed by a set of computer programmes that interact with the environment and can carry out tasks, are quite a boon to the world.

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Anu

Excellent