Robotics is the branch of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science that deals with the design, construction, operation and application of robots, as well as computer systems for their control, sensory feedback, and information processing. Robots are increasingly moving into more corners of the world. One study estimated that as many as 45% of jobs in the United States would be eligible for robot replacement over the next 20 years.

What distinguishes a robot from other technologies or machines is not always clear-cut, in part because scientists have not yet come to a consensus on which machines qualify as robots. Generally, robots are autonomous and can manipulate the physical environment through moving parts or suggestion.

At a basic level, robots need only sense something, put what they are sensing through a decision algorithm, and act. They may resemble humans or other living things, and their range of capabilities may mimic “thought” and autonomous function. Humanoid devices with a broad array of abilities and decision- making skills are becoming more common, from Honda’s Asimo, which resembles a small person in a space suit, to Baxter, a robot factory worker. Rethink Robotics, the company that created Baxter, says that one of its advantages is train ability- you can show it what to do rather than program instructions.

Thousands of military and police robots have been deployed successfully to do work that is too dangerous for humans. Robots can clear away land mines in war zones, inspect suspicious packages on city streets, and provide 3-D imaging of unstable buildings. Real life robots can scout potentially hostile environments and keep soldiers safe, like the PackBot made by iRobot, which is used to identify explosives, chemical weapons, and radioactive materials.

honda-asimo-robotics-dashh-dashBut today’s robots still depend heavily on people, from robotic arms and other factory equipment that needs the correct coordinates to know where to go to the many military devices that need orders from a human operator. However, as artificial intelligence research advances, robots may someday be capable of making their own choices.