Robotics And Autonomous Systems: 13 Important Facts

Subject of discussion: Robotics and Autonomous Systems

In this article, we will discuss about the basic ideas of robotics and autonomous systems with few perceptions and background studies. The article “Robotics and Autonomous Systems” will provide the answers in following topics too.

  • What is a robot?
  • The background of robotics
  • The Father of Robotics
  • What is an autonomous system?
  • How is it different from a robot?
  • Comparison between Robotics and Autonomous Systems
  • Are all autonomous robots today real robots?
  • Is there anything that a robot cannot do?
  • What is the principal disadvantage of using a robot?
  • Will robots take over humans?
  • What is the applications of Robotics and Autonomous Systems ?
  • Types of Robot by Applications
  • Types of Robot by Medium of Interaction
  • Future of Robotics and Autonomous Systems

What is a robot?

A robot is a machine, specifically the one that humans can program using a computer to perform an array of complex actions automatically. So, in other words, a robot is an autonomous machine which is designed and built to replicate human-like movements.

Robots can be semi-autonomous or fully autonomous depending upon the extent of control provided to them. The first kind is usually controlled by a localized control device externally to the robot, whereas the latter usually has the control system embedded in it. The branch of technology that accounts for the complete development of a robot, starting from its design to developing its functionality, is called robotics.

Isaac Asimov, in 1942, introduced three laws of robotics which are still used as a template in guiding us towards the development of a robot:

The background of robotics

The term ‘robot is derived from a Slavic root, which has meanings identifiable with ‘labour. One of the first incidents that had witnessed early robotics’ birth was the development of a mechanical device around 3000 B.C., which was constructed to carry out a specific physical task in a regular manner. The job was to strike the hour bells in the Egyptian water clocks, and they built human figurines for the purpose.

The era of 400 B.C. saw further innovation in robotics by the inventor of the pulley and the screw, Archytas of Tarentum, who developed a flying pigeon out of wood. The hydraulically-operated statues followed it in Hellenic Egypt during 200 B.C. A doll built by Petronius Arbiter in 100 B.C. was the first instance of a humanoid robot. Giovanni Torriani was the creator of a wooden robot that could fetch the Emperor’s daily bread from the store in 1557.

The 19th century also witnessed many robotic creations, such as Edison’s talking doll and a steam-powered robot by Canadians. Despite these roots of inspiration for the modern robot, the scientific progress in robotics and autonomous systems made in the 20th century has transcended the previous advancements to an enormous extent.

The Father of Robotics

Geroge C. Devol was an inventor from Louisville, Kentucky who built the earliest of the robots we know of, in the early 1950s. He invented a reprogrammable manipulator and patented it as “Unimate,” from “Universal Automation”.  He made several attempts to create a market for his product in robotics and autonomous systems throughout the next decade but failed.  Joseph Angleberger acquired Devol’s robot patent in the late 1960s. He was an engineer and a businessman who modified Unimate it into an industrial robot and formed a company called Unimation for the production and the sale of the robots. Angleberger was successful in his efforts and is known in the industry as the ‘Father of Robotics’.

Shakey was an advancement over the original Unimate by the Stanford Research Institute in 1958, which was designed for specialized, industrial applications, although limited to the field of academia.  Shakey had an improved level of perception using his television ‘eyes’ and had wheels for locomotion across unfamiliar surroundings. It could also respond to his environment to a certain extent. The name Shakey attributed to its wobbly and clattering movement.

Comparison between Robotics and Autonomous Systems

What is an autonomous system? How is it different from a robot?

Robotics and Autonomous Systems: Autonomy is a system’s ability to make its own decisions based on how it perceives the surrounding environment. Autonomy in human beings generates the capability to perform the most basic and meaningful tasks involving their limbs and other external body parts. It can range from walking and talking to eating and lifting kinds of stuff. Hence autonomy is a characteristic of the robot itself that decides the extent of control it can have towards reacting to the perceived environment.

3 points of Robotics and Autonomous Systems

The three concepts that play a crucial role in developing autonomous actions in a robot are perception, decision, and actuation.


The five basic senses hold the most significant emphasis in terms of perception in human beings. We use our eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin to perceive the surrounding environment through vision, audition, smell, taste and touch. These kinds of senses are brought to a robot using a wide array of sensors that act as the robot’s input devices.

In fact, in today’s Information Age, the internet itself is a sea of data that can be supplied to the robotics and autonomous systems as information inputs. Such intangible source of information is different from the conventional sensors that are based on hardware. For example, laser scanners and stereo vision cameras can act as the robot’s eyes, bump sensors can provide the perception equivalent to human skin, and force-torque sensors can give a calculation of muscle strain.


In human beings, the nervous system sends a signal to the brain at appropriate times that makes the majority of the decisions of how the body should react to a certain environment. The brain accounts for the most complex of the decisions taken. Still, sometimes the reflex behavior in an environment posing a danger is an example of our complex anatomy taking over the brain. We call it the ‘fight or flight’ situation. Hence our body is smart enough to decide our actions to keep us safe even before the brain understands the case in the vicinity of dangerous elements.

Autonomous robots mimic a similar decision-making system. The computer acts as the brain of the robot, which perceives the environment, understands its mission/purpose and takes the course of action regarding it. Autonomy provides the robot with the capability to add smartness in their decision-making process. It is like operating a machine in a safe mode. An autonomous robot will be smart enough to sense the dangers around itself and either stop or modify its course of action along the way. Autonomy brings in the equivalency to a human-like neurological system in robots.


The muscle tissues work as actuators in human beings. They get operated through chemical signals sent to the brain. These muscles can form various kinds of shape concerning the function they have to perform. Robots have different types of actuator too, which operate using a motor and infinite permutations. The motor acts as the heart of the actuator. This actuator can be hydraulic, pneumatic and even electric. Hydraulic actuators make use of fluid, pneumatic actuators make use of air pressure where the last makes use of electric current to convert energy into the desired movement.

Are all autonomous robots today real robots?

The robot’s definition has been torn apart several times over the years to make them more suitable to fit into the marketing trends. The term has been interchangeably used for pre-programmed machines using a computer, and they repeat the same process repeatedly that has been fed into their control system.

Today, the industrial robotic arms that perform the primary ‘pick and place’ operation are the most outstanding example of such pre-programmed machines that do not possess the capability to perceive an unknown environment. For instance, if such a robot has learnt to travel from one location to another with no obstacles in between, for performing a certain job, would it be able to carry out the same in a random environment of exact location coordinates but full of obstacles? Well, no. That’s because they cannot understand a random environment and learn from its uncertainties.

On the other hand, the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner is a real robot because that can perceive an environment outside its memory and make decisions for further course of action. Simply put, if Roomba came across a toy on the floor, it will be capable of changing its direction and move ahead towards its goal.

Is there anything that a robot cannot do?

Even if the robot takes up to the intelligence level equivalent to that of a human being, one thing that it will always lack is empathy. A robot can never take care of a child like a mother. It will also not be able to add a child’s learning process and mental growth, which require actual human interaction.

No matter how much we advance in perfecting a chefbot (a robot that can cook), it can never be smart enough to master the art of cooking. Because a robot cannot smell or taste, and never shall it develop the intuitive ingredient-mixing and measuring capability that makes a person a chef.

Also, a robot cannot develop the creative ability to become an artist. Hence, we can safely acknowledge that there are certain qualities in human beings that cannot be artificially created in an autonomous machine and that keeps the human species distinct from other living organisms as well, let alone a robot.

What is the principal disadvantage of using a robot?

Power Requirement and maintenance:

The kind of power a robot consumes to operate 24×7 in factories and industries accounts for a considerable investment. The extent of maintenance it requires and the equipment it needs for repair and constant operation cost the kind of money that can take away a job from human labour. In case of breakdown, it will only add up to financial losses of the company.

Program dependency:

Since robots strictly adhere to programs that are fed into their system, they often miss the mark with the slightest of the errors and pose an issue to its creator itself.

Job loss:

Lastly, if robots take up all the jobs of human beings, it will affect a human body due to the lack of fundamental movement and exercise. It will also make the human mind idle.

What is the future for robots? Will robots take over humans?

Robot vs. Human

Roboticist Ken Goldberg says that we must stop thinking robots as a problem to the humankind but perceive them as something that can collaborate with the man to do stuff better. If we ask whether robots will ever take over human beings, then it is heart-calmingly assuring that we will not see that kind of robot uprising any soon.

But we do not understand nearly that it is quite complicated what we, human beings, do. And what robots have been able to perform till date is quite rudimentary in nature. No matter how close humanoid robots appear to human beings in aesthetics, the robotics and autonomous systems are far from reality mimicking the complex muscular reflexes of the human body. Thus, robotics and autonomous systems has a tremendous advancement in the further years to come, but robots taking over humankind are still a distant reality.

What are the applications of Robot ?

Robotics has few typical applications in the automotive industry like paint, soldering, welding and assembly lining. This industry majorly utilizes robots for its repetitive tasks in logistics and manufacturing. Robots have applications in other fields beyond the automotive industry as well. Hence a broad classification can be done in the area of robotics and autonomous systems on its applications.

Types of Robot by Applications:

Robots that are oriented at service, on the other hand, assist humans in their tasks. We have earlier read about Roomba as the home service robot meant for vacuum cleaning. The defense has IED (improvised explosive device) and reconnaissance drones. Also, the medical field has seen the use of robotics and autonomous systems in training and rehabilitation.

Types of Robot by medium of interaction :

Another way of classifying robots pertains to the medium of interaction with the environment.

Robots can locomote in the environment through any of its medium-land, air or water, depending on which they can be either legged or wheeled robot, an underwater robot or an aerial vehicle. An aerial vehicle can be further classified into fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. We also have amphibious robots that operate both on land and in water. Scientists are continuously making strides in developing all-terrain robots as well. In below figure we will see different applications of robotics and autonomous systems such as terrestrial robot, aquatic robot and aerial robot. There are several other application of robotics and autonomous systems in modern age.

Wheeled robots are been extensively used in extra-terrestrial surface studies. Whereas we have underwater robots that are used as floor cleaners of a swimming pool or an equivalent water body. Aerial robots though have applications in a wider range of fields starting from the defence sector to the entertainment industry.

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Esha Chakraborty

I have a background in Aerospace Engineering, currently working towards the application of Robotics in the Defense and the Space Science Industry. I am a continuous learner and my passion for creative arts keeps me inclined towards designing novel engineering concepts. With robots substituting almost all human actions in the future, I like to bring to my readers the foundational aspects of the subject in an easy yet informative manner. I also like to keep updated with the advancements in the aerospace industry simultaneously. Connect with me with LinkedIn -

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