So... What's a robot?

This question seems to keep coming up and is worthy of some discussion.

It seems there are a bunch of 'official' definitions for the thing. Here's a few, with examples.

  • A programmable, autonomous machine with sensors that allow it to do complex stuff. So, Roomba: yes. Factory robot: yes. UAV: sometimes. Battle-bots: no. Vibrobots: no. Mechanical man sculpture: no.
  • A machine in the shape of a person. Mechanical man sculpture: yes, Battle-bots, vibrobots: sometimes. Roomba, factory robots, UAV: no.
  • An electronic device in a configuration without an existing name. Sculpture: No. Everything else: yes.

Any chance of consensus? Thoughts?

Personally I feel a word's meaning comes from its use. If you call it a robot and you can get people to agree with you, it's a robot. That's pretty much how language works and is why I called my little project a robot. I'm no where near the first person to call a pager motor+battery a robot. But I was an English major, you Engineers out there are likely to get twitchy when things aren't up to published spec.

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junkins7 years ago
Robots are like organisms in that they have many levels of sophistication. Someday we may have a classification system for robots, the way we do for organisms. An amoeba is an organism of a very low level of sophistication. A bristle-bot is a robot of very low level of sophistication. A fish is an organism in the animal kingdom  of medium sophistcation. A Roomba is a robot of medium sophistication. And a factory reprap is a highly sophisticated robot that self replicates. Robots like the ficticious C3PO etc will likely fall into a classification analogous to humanoids or other primates.
Grathio (author)  junkins7 years ago
I like your ideas of robot taxonomy. In that sense all of the things I listed as robots would simply be a branch on the tree. Possibly an illustrated chart is in order...

With that in mind it brings up another question: Where do we draw the line between computer, robot, and device?   Or is it a continuum? 

On the computer side, my laptop is not a robot.  But if I run chatbot (or spambot) software, I have turned it into a robot. (Same form, different function.  Which is the heart of the original robot concept.)

On the device side an electric toothbrush isn't a robot, but a few minutes work with a knife and some glue can turn it into a bristlebot. (Same parts, new function, which is the heart of the modern Maker movement.)

Running classification where both form and function can be ignored or recognized at will is a challenge.
junkins Grathio7 years ago
There was a sci-fi book written in the 60s-70s (I'll have to find it's name) where sentinent robots meet humans. One thing I found especially interesting about that was that a human looked at his watch, and a robot wondered why the human was wearing a tomato on his wrist. i.e. he saw the watch as a lower form of non-thinking (plant) lifeform.
astrong08 years ago
i would think that a UAV used in the military since nothing is truly autonomous how could we make a robot that would program its self? that is when artificial intelligence comes into play
astrong08 years ago
well first of all I'm not really an engineer or have a background in the English language, i'm just a 15 year old kid who thinks stuff like this is cool :)