Mechanical Intelligent Agents
Electromechanical Machines in our World

  1. A machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically.

  2. (esp. in science fiction) A machine resembling a human being and able to replicate certain human movements and functions.

Robots - Mechanical Intelligent Agents
Electromechanical Machines in our World

A robot is a mechanical intelligent agent which can perform tasks on its own, or with guidance. In practice a robot is usually an electro-mechanical machine which is guided by computer and electronic programming.

Robots can be autonomous or semi-autonomous and come in those two basic types: those which are used for research into human-like systems, such as ASIMO and TOPIO, as well as those into more defined and specific roles, such as Nano robots and Swarm robots; and helper robots which are used to make or move things or perform menial or dangerous tasks, such as Industrial robots or mobile or servicing robots.

A robot is an automatically operated machine that replaces human effort, though it may not look much like a human being or function in a humanlike manner. The term comes from the play R.U.R. by Karel Capek (1920).

Major developments in microelectronics and computer technology since the 1960s have led to significant advances in robotics.

Advanced, high-performance robots are used today in automobile manufacturing and aircraft assembly, and electronics firms use robotic devices together with other computerized instruments to sort or test finished products.

Toyota shows off a violin playing robot and a two-wheeled human transporter -- the latest products of its robots program that seeks to develop a practical human assistance robot by the early part of the 2010s.

Another common characteristic is that, by its appearance or movements, a robot often conveys a sense that it has intent or agency of its own. When societies began developing nearly all production and effort was the result of human labour.

As mechanical means of performing functions were discovered, and mechanics and complex mechanisms were developed, the need for human labour was reduced. Machinery was initially used for repetitive functions, such as lifting water and grinding grain.

With technological advances more complex machines were slowly developed, such as those invented by Hero of Alexandria in the 4th century BC, and the first half of the second millennium AD, such as the Automata of Al Jazari in the 12th century AD.

They were not widely adopted as human labour, particularly slave labour, was still inexpensive compared to the capital-intensive machines.

Men such as Leonardo Da Vinci in 1495 through to Jacques de Vaucanson in 1739, as well as rediscovering the Greek engineering methods, have made plans for and built automata and robots leading to books of designs such as the Japanese Karakuri zui (Illustrated Machinery) in 1796.

As mechanical techniques developed through the Industrial age we find more practical applications such as Nikola Tesla in 1898, who designed a radio-controlled torpedo, and the Westinghouse Electric Corporation creation of Televox in 1926.

From here we also find a more android development as designers tried to mimic more human-like features including designs such as those of biologist Makoto Nishimura in 1929 and his creation Gakutensoku, which cried and changed its facial expressions, and the more crude Elektro from Westinghouse in 1938.

Electronics then became the driving force of development instead of mechanics, with the advent of the first electronic autonomous robots created by William Grey Walter in Bristol, England, in 1948. 

The first digital and programmable robot was invented by George Devol in 1954 and was ultimately called the Unimate.

Devol sold the first Unimate to General Motors in 1961 where it was used to lift pieces of hot metal from die casting machines in a plant in Trenton, New Jersey.

Since then we have seen robots finally reach a more true assimilation of all technologies to produce robots such as ASIMO which can walk and move like a human.

Robots have replaced slaves in the assistance of performing those repetitive and dangerous tasks which humans prefer not to do, or are unable to do due to size limitations, or even those such as in outer space or at the bottom of the sea where humans could not survive the extreme environments.

Man has developed an awareness of the problems associated with autonomous robots and how they may act in society. Fear of robot behaviour, such as Shelley's Frankenstein and the EATR, drive current practice in establishing what autonomy a robot should and should not be capable of.

Thinking has developed through discussion of robot control and artificial intelligence (AI) and how its application should benefit society, such as those based around Asimov's three laws.

Practicality still drives development forwards and robots are used in an increasingly wide variety of tasks such as vacuuming floors, mowing lawns, cleaning drains, investigating other planets, building cars, in entertainment and in warfare.


ASIMO is a humanoid robot created by Honda. Standing at 130 centimeters (4 feet 3 inches) and weighing 54 kilograms (119 pounds), the robot resembles a small astronaut wearing a backpack and can walk or run on two feet at speeds up to 6 km/h (3.7 mph).

ASIMO was created at Honda's Research & Development Wako Fundamental Technical Research Center in Japan. It is the current model in a line of twelve that began in 1986 with E0.

ASIMO resembles a child in size and is the most human-like robot HONDA has made so far.

The robot has 7 DOF (Degrees of freedom) in each arm — two joints of 3 DOF, shoulder and wrist, giving "Six degrees of freedom" and 1 DOF at the elbow; 6 DOF in each leg — 3 DOF at the crotch, 2 DOF at the ankle and 1 DOF at the knee; and 3 DOF in the neck joint. The hands have 2 DOF — 1 DOF in each thumb and 1 in each finger. This gives a total of 34 DOF in all joints. Honda will not confirm how much it costs.

The name is an acronym for "Advanced Step in Innovative MObility". Online magazine, The Future Of Things (TFOT), states that Honda did not name the robot in reference to science fiction writer and inventor of the Three Laws of Robotics, Isaac Asimov. The name ASIMO is also a pun meaning “feet, too”.

ASIMO roughly translated can mean “it has feet, too” as is appropriate for a robot with legs.


BigDog is a dynamically stable quadruped robot created in 2005 by Boston Dynamics with Foster-Miller, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Harvard University Concord Field Station.

BigDog is 3 feet (0.91 m) long, stands 2.5 feet (0.76 m) tall, and weighs 240 pounds (110 kg), about the size of a small mule. It is capable of traversing difficult terrain at 5 miles per hour (8.0 km/h), carrying 340 pounds (150 kg), and climbing a 35 degree incline.

Locomotion is controlled by an onboard computer that receives input from the robot's various sensors. Navigation and balance are also managed by the control system.

BigDog is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the hopes that it will be able to serve as a robotic pack mule to accompany soldiers in terrain too rough for conventional vehicles.

Instead of wheels or treads, BigDog uses four legs for movement, allowing it to move across surfaces that would defeat wheels. The legs contain a variety of sensors, including joint position and ground contact. BigDog also features a laser gyroscope and a stereo vision system.

BigDog was featured in episodes of Web Junk 20 and Hungry Beast, and in articles in New Scientist, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, and The Wall Street Journal. On March 18, 2008, Boston Dynamics released video footage of a new generation of BigDog. The footage shows BigDog's ability to walk on icy terrain and recover its balance when kicked from the side.

 Foster-Miller TALON 

The Foster-Miller TALON robot is a small, tracked military robot designed for missions ranging from reconnaissance to combat.

Foster-Miller claims the TALON is one of the fastest robots in town, one that can travel through sand, water, and snow (up to 100 feet deep) as well as climb stairs.

The TALON transmits in color, black and white, infrared, and/or night vision to its operator, who may be up to 1,000 m away.

It can run off lithium-ion batteries for a maximum of 7 days on standby independently before needing recharging. It has an 8.5 hour battery life at normal operating speeds, 2 standard lead batteries providing 2 hours each and 1 optional Lithium Ion providing an additional 4.5 hours.

It can also withstand repeated decontamination allowing it to work for long periods of time in contaminated areas. It was used in Ground Zero after the September 11th attacks working for 45 days with many decontaminations without electronic failure. This led to the further development of the HAZMAT TALON.

It weighs less than 100 lb (45 kg) or 60 lb (27 kg) for the Reconnaissance version. Its cargo bay accommodates a variety of sensor payloads. The robot is controlled through a two-way radio or fiber optic line from a portable or wearable Operator Control Unit (OCU) that provides continuous data and video feedback for precise vehicle positioning.

Regular (IED/OED) TALON: Carries sensors and a robotic manipulator, which is used by the U.S. Army for explosive ordnance disposal and disarming improvised explosive devices.

Special Operations TALON (SOTAL): Does not have the robotic arm manipulator but carries day/night color cameras and listening devices; lighter due to the absence of the arm, for reconnaissance missions.

SWORDS TALON: For small arms combat and guard roles. Tested in December 2003 in Kuwait prior to deployment in Iraq.

HAZMAT TALON: Uses chemical, gas, temperature, and radiation sensors that are displayed in real time to the user on a hand-held display unit. It is now being tested by the US Armament Research Development and Engineering Center ARDEC.

The robot costs approximately $60,000 in its standard form. Foster-Miller were subsequently bought out by QinetiQ, a United Kingdom military developer.


Robonaut is a humanoid robotic development project conducted by the Dextrous Robotics Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas.

Robonaut differs from other current space-faring robots in that, while most current space robotic systems (such as robotic arms, cranes and exploration rovers) are designed to move large objects, Robonaut's tasks require more dexterity.

The core idea behind the Robonaut series is to have a humanoid machine work alongside astronauts.

Its form factor and dexterity are designed such that Robonaut can use space tools and work in similar environments suited to astronauts.

The latest Robonaut version, R2, the first US-built robot on the ISS, delivered by STS-133 in Feb 2011, is a robotic torso designed to assist with crew EVA's and can hold tools used by the crew. However, Robonaut 2 does not have adequate protection needed to exist outside the space station and enhancements and modifications would be required to allow it to move around the station's interior.

Nasa states "Robonauts are essential to NASA's future as we go beyond low earth orbit", and R2 will provide performance data about how a robot may work side-by-side with astronauts.


Making it's worldwide debut at the Tokyo Robot Exhibition 2007, TOPIO, or the TOSY Ping Pong Playing Robot, is a humanoid robot capable of playing table tennis against a human opponent.

The hydraulics manipulated robot is composed of a carbon fiber composite allowing for fast reactions and a flexible range of movements with 20 degrees of freedom.

The ball's trajectory and spin is detected using 4 high speed cameras and 2 processing units, and it's advanced AI module allows it to continuously improve itself while playing.

"We wanted to design a robot that can compete with professional players competently, and on the same level. In the future, we want to make robots that can replicate natural human movements and actions, and do things such as throwing a ball or playing football, which can also be used in a variety of practical applications."

The robot can also record and report scores and express emotions while playing, and is just one of the large-scale projects currently being developed in the R&D Labs of Tosy Toys.


Actroid is a type of android (humanoid robot) and with strong visual human-likeness developed by Osaka University and manufactured by Kokoro Company Ltd. (the animatronics division of Sanrio).

It was first unveiled at the 2003 International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo, Japan. Several different versions of the product have been produced since then.

In most cases, the robot's appearance has been modeled after an average young woman of Japanese descent. The Actroid woman is a pioneer example of a real machine similar to imagined machines called by the science fiction terms android or gynoid, so far used only for fictional robots.

It can mimic such lifelike functions as blinking, speaking, and breathing. The "Repliee" models are interactive robots with the ability to recognize and process speech and respond in kind.

Internal sensors allow Actroid models to react with a natural appearance by way of air actuators placed at many points of articulation in the upper body. Early models had 42 points of articulation, later models have 47. So far, movement in the lower body is limited.

The operation of the robot's sensory system in tandem with its air powered movements make it quick enough to react to or fend off intrusive motions, such as a slap or a poke. Artificial intelligence gives it the ability to react differently to more gentle kinds of touch, such as a pat on the arm.

The Actroid can also imitate human-like behavior with slight shifts in position, head and eye movements and the appearance of breathing in its chest. Additionally, the robot can be "taught" to imitate human movements by facing a person who is wearing reflective dots at key points on their body.

By tracking the dots with its visual system and computing limb and joint movements to match what it sees, this motion can then be "learned" by the robot and repeated.

The skin is composed of silicone and appears highly realistic. The compressed air that powers the robot's servo motors, and most of the computer hardware that operates the A.I., are external to the unit.

This is a contributing factor to the robot's lack of locomotion capabilities. When displayed, the Actroid has always been either seated or standing with firm support from behind.

The interactive Actroids can also communicate on a rudimentary level with humans by speaking.

Microphones within those Actroids record the speech of a human, and this sound is then filtered to remove background noise - including the sounds of the robot's own operation. Speech recognition software is then used to convert the audio stream into words and sentences, which can then be processed by the Actroid's A.I.

A verbal response is then given through speakers external to the unit. Further interactivity is achieved through non-verbal methods. When addressed, the interactive Actroids use a combination of "floor sensors and omnidirectional vision sensors" in order to maintain eye contact with the speaker.

In addition, the robots can respond in limited ways to body language and tone of voice by changing their own facial expressions, stance and vocal inflection.