The word “robot” conjures up images of famous Hollywood humanoid characters, but robots are mostly undramatic mechanical devices programmed to perform specific repetitive functions. They are used routinely to carry out many tasks that people don’t want to do because such jobs are boring, dirty or dangerous. Robots can also be programmed to carry out some tasks that are too complex for humans. They are broadly classified as industrial and have multiple uses from robots that weld parts on auto assembly lines to robots that interact with humans in the service industry. Though you may not feel like you are dealing with a robot, using the self checkout lane at the grocery store or purchasing tickets from a kiosk at the movies involves interacting with service robots. Robots most obviously impact everyday life in the service capacity.
Japan leads the world in robot technology by using robots in restaurant kitchens to make sushi and chop vegetables. They are also important earlier in food production, planting rice and tending growing crops. Additionally, robots work as receptionists, cleaners and drink servers. Some robots specialize in making coffee, starting with the beans, while others can be hired as a barman to serve drinks at parties or working behind a bar. The makers of such robots claim a savings of up to 20 percent on the cost of spilled drinks.
Elderly people living in assisted care facilities or nursing homes can also benefit from robots. A Korean robot in the shape of a chair can carry human beings weighing up to 220 pounds and is controlled with a simple joystick. Robots can help the elderly get out of bed and can even provide a sense of companionship for those who are lonely.
Police forces use robots to check buildings to pinpoint the location of criminals they expect to be armed and dangerous. Remotely controlled robots are used to check out suspect cars for booby traps, which they are also programmed to disarm. In the event of a hostage situation where police are unable to get too close, they can send in a robot to collect audio and visual data that will help them better assess the situation and make more informed decisions about how to proceed. Crime fighting robots are helpful in any situation that would be too dangerous for people.
Hospitals can program robots to distribute medication to patients. They can also be programmed to interface with intelligent hospital elevators to reach any floor and return to the hospital pharmacy for refilling.Robots in medicine even perform complex surgeries. Though a surgeon sits at the controls and sees everything through a camera, a robotic arm conducts the actual surgery, which helps maximize precision in delicate surgeries.
Children are a major market for service robots. An early childhood education center in San Diego, California employs a robot as a teacher's assistant. The robot teaches the kids to sing and can help them to sound out words. Robotic toys are readily available for children of all ages and can help kids start to think about how things work from an early age.
Another robot, called Spykee, is Wi-Fi friendly. Controlled through the Internet, it can be made to watch, hear, monitor and speak on demand. It takes pictures, records videos, makes phone calls and protects the family home through video surveillance.
Around the home
Called the vacuum cleaner with a brain, Dyson’s Robotic Cleaner memorizes the complete layout of a house and covers every area of every room, making up to 10 decisions per second. Meanwhile, in the yard, another robot is simultaneously cutting and mulching the grass, while a third is cleaning the pool, checking the chemical mix of the water and calculating the life left in the filters.
About the Author
Peter Staples has been writing professionally since 1965, in journalism and public relations. He has worked for “The Times," BBC online and other outlets in England, plus Australian newspapers “Sydney Morning Herald” and "Melbourne Age." Staples holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and history from the U.K.’s Open University.