A robot is a programmable mechanical device that can perform tasks and interact with its environment, without the aid of human interaction. Robotics is the science and technology behind the design, manufacturing and application of robots. The word robot was coined by the Czech playwright Karel Capek in 1921. He wrote a play called “Rossum's Universal Robots” that was about a slave class of manufactured human-like servants and their struggle for freedom. The Czech word robota loosely means "compulsive servitude.” The word robotics was first used by the famous science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, in 1941.
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Roboticists develop man-made mechanical devices that can move by themselves, whose motion must be modelled, planned, sensed, actuated and controlled, and whose motion behaviour can be influenced by “programming”. Robots are called “intelligent” if they succeed in moving in safe interaction with an unstructured environment, while autonomously achieving their specified tasks. This definition implies that a device can only be called a “robot” if it contains a movable mechanism, influenced by sensing, planning, actuation and control components. It does not imply that a minimum number of these components must be implemented in software, or be changeable by the “consumer” who uses the device; for example, the motion behavior can have been hard-wired into the device by the manufacturer. So, the presented definition, as well as the rest of the material in this part of the WEBook, covers not just “pure” robotics or only “intelligent” robots, but rather the somewhat broader domain of robotics and automation. This includes “dumb” robots such as: metal and woodworking machines, “intelligent” washing machines, dish washers and pool cleaning robots, etc. These examples all have sensing, planning and control, but often not in individually separated components. For example, the sensing and planning behaviour of the pool cleaning robot have been integrated into the mechanical design of the device, by the intelligence of the human developer. Robotics is, to a very large extent, all about system integration, achieving a task by an actuated mechanical device, via an “intelligent” integration of components, many of which it shares with other domains, such as systems and control, computer science, character animation, machine design, computer vision, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, biomechanics, etc. In addition, the boundaries of robotics cannot be clearly defined, since also its “core” ideas, concepts and algorithms are being applied in an ever increasing number of “external” applications, and, vice versa, core technology from other domains (vision, biology, cognitive science or biomechanics, for example) are becoming crucial components in more and more modern robotic systems. This part of the WEBook makes an effort to define what exactly is that above-mentioned core material of the robotics domain, and to describe it in a consistent and motivated structure. Nevertheless, this chosen structure is only one of the many possible “views” that one can want to have on the robotics domain. In the same vein, the above-mentioned “definition” of robotics is not meant to be definitive or final, and it is only used as a rough framework to structure the various chapters of the WEBook. (A later phase in the WEBook development will allow different “semantic views” on the WEBook material.)
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