History of Robots

The first introduction of industrial robots began in the 1960s, and industrial robotics was the area of research that dominated until the 1990s. The automotive industry directed the specifications for robots due to their vast influence and clear technical requirements, and the desire to improve the productivity of car manufacturing led to paint robots. Advances in control algorithms enabled the Mars Exploration Rover to traverse obstacles and tough terrain. The research and type of robots we make is usually due to a necessity for a particular task. Robotics has followed trends based on different mathematical approaches we have decided to implement. The math involved can be complex, but depending on the accuracy, speed, and precision required, an easier approach can be taken. We are also limited to the current technology and control algorithms available.

Static robots in factories are more reliable, faster than humans, and less expensive. They have dominated much of the field until recently, but as robots continue to advance, they are shifting from factory floors to entertainment / toys, personal services, medical / surgery, industrial / automation (mining and harvesting) and hazardous environments (space and underwater).

Applications, performance, and costs for mobile robotic technology will be examined. Mobile robot types include terrestrial, underwater, and aerial. Biologically inspired terrestrial robots include walking robots and humanoids. There are three areas of evolution that have many similarities, but differ in application: robot manipulators, mobile robots, and biologically inspired robots. Robot manipulator areas include industrial (picking, fueling, and palletizing), medical, and rehabilitation.

Rehabilitation robots are less developed than industrial robots. The specifications between them differ due to the different interaction at the user interface. Research is needed to develop more flexible systems for use in unstructured environments, and to advance mechanical design (mobility and end-effectors), programming, control, and man-machine interfaces. Rehabilitation robots must operate slowly and with more compliance. Industrial robots are usually powerful and rigid to provide speed and accuracy, and are operated autonomously for safety reasons.

In 1968, mobile robots were used to carry tools on a predefined path. Today, the focus is on indoor / outdoor navigation. It consists of the following four phases: perception of the environment, self-localization, motion planning, and motion generation. Applications include helping with housework, such as autonomous lawnmowers and vacuum cleaners, tour guides in museums, assistants in offices and hospitals, and surveillance / guard robots.

Recently, the use of underwater robots has increased dramatically. The robots are used to monitor pollution, rescue, and clean up waste. There are either remotely operated vehicles, which are most common, or tethered underwater vehicles. The usefulness of remotely operated vehicles is slightly reduced due to high operating costs, user fatigue and safety concerns. There is a demand for autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) in our oceans in areas too deep and risky for divers. I predict growth for AUVs over the next five years, to catch up with space and terrestrial robot advances. With robots, we can reach any point in our oceans two miles down. The challenge lies in the mechanical design to withstand the huge pressure and keep the robot in communication without tethering. These robots can help solve the growing problem of pollution in our ocean. An explosion at the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig released 130 million gallons of crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, making it the largest oil spill in the US, worse than the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident. Robots the size of a lunchbox to a van were used to plug the leak. The company Oceaneering, which manufactures remote-operated robots, installed a valve on the 5,000-foot pipe to stop one of the three leaks.

Walking robots did not appear until 1967, and the first was made in 1972. There are biped lab prototypes, but we are far from a robot in the real world. The most important application is humanitarian assistance for demining. Others areas include agricultural / forestry, cleaning buildings, welding automation for ships, and consolidation of rocky walls with robotized drilling. Three areas of research are gait generation, stability control, and robot design, including actuators (DC motors), with high power efficiency.

Robots are capable of socially guided learning through imitation and tutelage, as well as a friendly human-robot interface that makes it easy to use. Approaches include speech recognition systems, electromyogram, and electrooculogram. It is exciting to consider robots with emotion and personality, but the dilemma arises when it comes time to replace them with a new model. Does it mean that because we banged on our robot, we might unintentionally treat people worse? Professor Engelberger said in 2005 that to make progress, we should start making humanoid and animal-like robots, and then progress to any number of field and service robots.

Control systems, sensors and actuators come in many configurations. This is an open field, and depends on what the robot needs to accomplish, and new mathematical models developed to represent the physical robot.

  • Mid-seventies: classical robotics; exact models without sensing
  • Mid-eighties: reactive paradigm; no models and rely on accurate sensing
  • Nineties: Hybrids; model-based at higher levels and reactive at lower levels.
  • Mid-nineties: probabilistic robotics; seamless integration of inaccurate models and inaccurate sensors. The Fuzzy method is used in the decision-making process.

Kinematic calibration is necessary due to the inaccuracies of kinematic models to meet strict manufacturing requirements. There are four major categories:

  1. Mathematical modeling with the Denavit-Hartenberg (DH) method and product-of-exponential formulation.
  2. Sensors measuring the difference between the theoretical model and the real model, which allows us to determine the true position of the end-effector.
  3. Identifying the parameters that vary from their normal values using optimization techniques.
  4. Implementation in the robot depends on the complexity of the machine, and iterative methods are used for complex machines.

There are social implications, and robots can injure people from malfunctions or operator errors. They also take away jobs that people would previously do, but create jobs in the IT sector. When an engineer makes something, he must be concerned with ethics and how this creation will affect society. In the movie “I, Robot”, Asimov created three laws governing robots:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given to him by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its existence, if such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

He eventually added a fourth law that required robots to protect humanity as a whole. There was a problem with this because the robots started to turn against humans when they realized humans harm themselves. The robots started to re-program themselves with the predisposition not to trust what people said. They would quarantine them to prevent people from hurting themselves, such as smoking, saying hateful things, abuse, etc. The first commercially available exoskeleton is called the HAL-5, and has countless military applications and uses for the elderly.


  1. “The Evolution of Robotics Research”. From Industrial Robots to Field and Service Robots.
  2. Ethical and Social Implications. Powerhouse Museums.
  3. “Bloomberg.com”. Underwater Robots Probe ‘Inner Space’ to Plug Leaking Oil Well.
  4. CS329 Probabilistic Robotics Lecture Slide by Sebastian Thrun
  5. The Conversation. Academic rigor, journalistic flair. Science + Technology.
  6. NewScientiest. Movie tests Asimov’s moral code for robots. 16 July 2004.