Probably one of the most exciting branches of science, robotics has gone a long way from being a mere concept presented in Hollywood to a steadily developing reality. From the name itself, robotics deals with the development of robots, as well as other factors that contribute to their operation such as control systems and information processing. It combines different concepts from different branches such as electronic engineering, computer science, and mechanical engineering.
A Brief History
Robotics actually started as early as 1023 to 957 BC when an engineer named Yan Shi started visualizing automata (a self-operating machine) and presented to King Mu of the Zhou dynasty a life-sized figure of what he was imagining. From there, a number of other descriptions of machines were written by Heron of Alexandria during 1st century AD. All these progressed to further experimentation with machines which would later on be the foundation for modern robotics.
In 1495, actual sketches were created by Leonardo da Vinci for a humanoid robot. In the period between 1700 and 1900, Jacques de Vaucanson came up with a mechanical duck that could actually move. It had the ability to flap its wings and crane its neck. It even had the ability to swallow food! More machines were built in the following years, including Henry Ford’s assembly line that assembled a car in 93 minutes.
It was Japan that produced the first robot toy that moved. Standing 15cm tall, it was a wind-up toy that had the ability to walk on its own. In 1954, the first industrial robot was created by Joe Engleberger and George Devol. It was a programmable robotic arm that was capable of completing repetitive tasks. It was eventually used for General Motors’ assembly line in 1962.
Throughout this period, movies, plays and books were already starting to discuss the possibility of having robots within the midst of the human race.
Today, robotics has evolved into something both entertaining and useful. In 2009, a project done by the University of Cambridge and the Aberystwyth University resulted in a “robot scientist” called Adam which was able to hypothesize and design experiments on its own. In 2012, two stroke victims were implanted with computer chips, allowing them to control a robotic arm to do simple tasks for them. Other designs are still being developed to help those who have disabilities such as a wearable device playing the role of muscles, ligaments and tendons that could help in foot rehabilitation. This is currently being developed in the Carnegie Mellon University Department of Robotics.