The word robot is usually used to refer to a mechanical agent that performs one or more tasks in which it mimics a human or animal agent either through programming or commands. Another word used synonymously is automaton. Virtual robots exist, but are most often called by the abbreviated name bots.
This term comes from the Czech word robota, which means drudgery or servitude. It was coined by Karel Capek, a Czech playwright, in his play R.U.R., which stands for "Rossum’s Universal Robots." It was published in 1921, and entered English in 1923. The field of study is referred to as robotics, and people who specialize in it are called roboticists.
Robots can be classified in a number of ways. Creators may use the means of locomotion as their categories, differentiating their creations by whether they are static, on the one hand, or whether they have treads, a propeller, fins, legs, wheels, rotors, or other means of propulsion.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), however, classifies robots in several different ways. First, it classifies them by whether they work on Earth or in space. Second, it classifies them by the industry they work in. Third, it classifies them by the type of jobs they do.
These machines are employed in industries such as manufacturing, medicine, the military, and transportation. They are used widely in assembly operations, in which they complete a range of tasks, including the following:
- arc welding
- fettling machines
- gas welding
- manipulating machine tools
- placement of items into a structure that’s being built
- sealant application
- spot welding
- spray painting
Robots are also used for parts inspections, making glass, cleaning, monitoring radiation, sorting, loading and unloading, fastening, forging, and sand blasting. Because they are not human, they can be used in hazardous situations such as firefighting, military warfare, and bomb detection. Surgical robots are under development and robotic hands, for example, are already used in some surgical operations, allowing the human surgeon more control in laparoscopic procedures, those done through a very small incision.
Droid is the name for a type of intelligent robot. The droid comes from a shortening of the word android, which means "an automaton that has features of a human being." Examples of droids include C-3PO and R2-D2 of Star Wars fame. George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, has trademarked the term.
In the real world, a number of companies are working on android robots that closely resemble humans and are able to interact with real people. Much of the current work is being done in Japan and South Korea. Some South Korean companies hope to make them a household item in the future.