What IS a robot?

Is a washing machine a robot? If you say 'no' then can you say WHY it is not a robot? Maybe, before we go any further, we should look for a good definition of a 'robot'. I bet you can't give one, for it's really hard to make a definition that matches our common sense idea of what is a robot and what is not. Is your car a robot? NO! But a modern car is full of sensors, motors and computer power - all the kind of things we expect to see in a robot. So WHY don't we think of a car as a robot? It's probably because WE have to drive the car - it doesn't drive itself (yet). So we have the idea that a robot must be able to act autonomously, controlled by an internal program, rather than being controlled (or remote-controlled) by a human. So what about a washing machine? It has motors (to power the drum and open and close valves), sensors (temperature, water level...) and it certainly runs autonomously according to an internal program. And yet most people wouldn't call a washing machine a robot, would they? Nor would they call a self-driving car a robot, I think. But they WOULD use the robot word to describe the bomb disposal devices that move around on tank tracks, remotely-controlled by a human at a safe distance, even though we just said that if it's remote controlled then it's not a true robot. I give up!

Is this remotely-controlled bomb disposal device a robot?

Let's see what the dictionaries have to say:


A robot is a machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer.


1: A robot is a machine that looks like a human being and performs various complex acts (as walking or talking) of a human being

2: A robot is a device that automatically performs complicated often repetitive tasks

One thing we can be sure of is that the word 'robot' comes from the Czech word 'robota' meaning 'slave' or 'forced labour'.

'Robotics' is defined as 'a branch of engineering that involves the conception, design, manufacture, and operation of robots' (definition from techtarget.com).