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History of Robotics

As an excercise (ungraded), I made an overview of the history of robotics.

“Any automatically operated machine that replaces human effort, though it may not resemble human beings in appearance or perform functions in a humanlike manner. The term is derived from the Czech word robota, meaning ‘forced labour’. Modern use of the term stems from the play R.U.R. , written in 1920 by the Czech author Karel Capek, which depicts society as having become dependent on mechanical workers called robots that are capable of doing any kind of mental or physical work.”
(Encyclopaedia Britannica , 2004)

A very long time ago, in between 428 BC and 347 BC Archytas made a mechanical pigeon which can be considered to be (one of) the first robots. "The first artificial, self-propelled flying device, a bird-shaped model propelled by a jet of what was probably steam, said to have actually flown some 200 yards." (Archytas) I named my company after him.

"Possibly the earliest ancestor of today's industrial-robot devices is the clepsydra, or water clock, which improved upon the hourglass by employing a siphon principle to automatically recycle itself. Ctesibius of Alexandria, a Greek physicist and inventor, is reputed to have constructed such a clock about 250 BC." (Encyclopaedia Britannica , 2004)

“Jacques de Vaucanson (February 24, 1709–November 21, 1782) was a French engineer and inventor who is credited with creating the world's first true robots, as well as for creating the first completely automated loom.”

His most sophisticated robot was the digesting duck.

“Modern robot devices descend through two distinct lines of development—the early automaton (q.v.), essentially mechanical toys, and the successive innovations and refinements introduced in the development of industrial machinery.”

Automatic machinery in the textile industry was introduced in the 18th century.

“The Industrial Revolution stimulated the invention of elementary robot mechanisms to perfect the production of power itself. The steam engine inspired the governor (actuated by rotating weights), which, when it slowed under load, increased the flow of steam to the engine and, when its load decreased, reduced it. The internal-combustion engine of the 19th century brought a recycling innovation in the form of pistons that repositioned themselves after each cycle. The later 19th and early 20th centuries saw a rapid proliferation of powerful machinery in industrial operations. These at first required a person to position both the work and the machine, and later only the work. Automatic cycle-repeating machines (automatic washers), self-measuring and adjusting machines (textile colour-blending equipment), and machines with a degree of self-programming (automatic elevators) soon followed.

Since the late 1960s major developments in microelectronics and computer technology have led to significant advances in robotics. In the automobile industry, for example, the introduction of computer-controlled robot devices has automated assembly lines to a marked degree. These one-armed robots are capable of simulating the articulation and movement of the human arm and hand and can be used to lift, weld, and spray-paint automobile bodies. The mechanical arms are programmed by physically moving them through the desired motions. The different movements are recorded in the computer's memory so that they can be repeated precisely. Some high-performance robots have built-in sensors that enable them to correct their movements if they deviate from the programmed patterns. Others are equipped with electronic digital cameras and are used to inspect automobile bodies to make certain that their dimensions meet specified standards. In such robot devices, the camera converts images into patterns of digital pulses, which in turn are compared with pulse patterns stored in the controlling computer's memory. The stored patterns represent two-dimensional geometric shapes that the computer has been programmed to identify. Similar kinds of advanced high-performance robots have been adopted by other assembly industries. Aircraft manufacturers employ single-arm mechanisms for drilling and riveting body sections, while a growing number of electronics firms are utilizing robot devices in conjunction with other computerized instruments to sort or test finished products.”

Nowadays robots try to incorporate the phenomenon of intelligence. Braitenberg vehicles were one the first so-called complete agents. Also the field of cybernetics, the integration of mankind and robotics, like the research of Kevin Warwick on expressing thoughts through radio signals or over the internet. Some people, e.g. Ray Kurzweill, believe that singularity, the moment that computer intelligence will equal the power of the human brain, will happen approximately in 2029.

More articles about the history of robotics:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robotics
http://robotics.megagiant.com/history.html
http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~currie/roboadam.htm
http://www.thocp.net/reference/robotics/robotics.html (starting 3500 B.C. !)

Recent Research in Robotics

Extending the Path-Planning Horizon

“The mobility sensors on a typical mobile robot vehicle have limited range. Therefore a navigation system has no knowledge about the world beyond this sensing horizon. As a result, path planners that rely only on this knowledge to compute paths are unable to anticipate obstacles sufficiently early and have no choice but to resort to an inefficient local obstacle avoidance behavior. To alleviate this problem, we present an opportunistic navigation and view planning strategy that incorporates look-ahead sensing of possible obstacle configurations. This planning strategy is based on a “what-if” analysis of hypothetical future configurations of the environment.

Candidate sensing positions are evaluated based on their ability to observe anticipated obstacles. These sensing positions identified by this forward-simulation framework are used by the planner as intermediate waypoints. The validity of the strategy is supported by results from simulations as well as field experiments with a real robotic platform. These results show that significant reduction in path length can be achieved by using this framework.”

Monte Carlo Localization in Outdoor Terrains using Multi-Level Surface Maps

A lot of research on how to navigate. [reference]

An effective trajectory generation method for bipedal walking

(Robotics and Autonomous Systems) [reference]

Research on controlling cursor by thought.

Some examples of well-known research/applications in Robotics, taken from `Understanding Intelligence’ Archytas. (n.d.). Retrieved September 26, 2007, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archytas

Jacques de Vaucanson. (n.d.). Retrieved September 26, 2007, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_de_Vaucanson

Nabbe, B., & Hebert, M. (2007). Extending the Path-Planning Horizon. The International Journal of Robotics Research , 26 (10), 997–1024.

Pfeifer, R., & Sheier, C. (2001). Understanding Intelligence. London: MIT Press.

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