The word "robot" conjures up images of famous Hollywood humanoid characters, but robots are mostly undramatic mechanical devices programed to perform specific repetitive functions. They are used routinely to carry out many tasks that people don't want to do because they are boring, dirty or dangerous. They can also be programed to carry out some tasks that are too complex for humans. Robots are broadly classified as industrial, such as those that weld on auto assembly lines, or service. It is the service category where they most obviously impact everyday life.
Japan leads the world in robot technology. Robots are used in restaurant kitchens to make sushi and chop vegetables. They are also important earlier in food production, planting rice and tending growing crops. Robots also work as receptionists and cleaners, serve drinks and help look after the elderly in care homes.
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.
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.
Children are a major market for service robots. In San Diego, Calif., a robot is employed as a teacher's assistant in an early childhood education center. Among its tasks is teaching the kids to sing. Robotic toys are readily available for children of all ages.
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. 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.
There is a robot that specializes in making coffee, starting with the beans, while another can be hired as a barman to serve at parties or work in bars. The makers claim a saving of up to 20 percent on the cost of spilled drinks.
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.
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