On the most basic level, human beings are made up of five major components:
- A body structure
- A muscle system to move the body structure
- A sensory system that receives information about the body and the surrounding environment
- A power source to activate the muscles and sensors
- A brain system that processes sensory information and tells the muscles what to do
Of course, we also have some intangible attributes, such as intelligence and morality, but on the sheer physical level, the list above about covers it.A robot is made up of the very same components. A typical robot has a movable physical structure, a motor of some sort, a sensor system, a power supply and a computer “brain” that controls all of these elements. Essentially, robots are man-made versions of animal life — they are machines that replicate human and animal behavior.
Joseph Engelberger, a pioneer in industrial robotics, once remarked “I can’t define a robot, but I know one when I see one.” If you consider all the different machines people call robots, you can see that it’s nearly impossible to come up with a comprehensive definition. Everybody has a different idea of what constitutes a robot.
All of these things are considered robots, at least by some people. The broadest definition around defines a robot as anything that a lot of people recognize as a robot. Most roboticists (people who build robots) use a more precise definition. They specify that robots have a reprogrammable brain (a computer) that moves a body.
By this definition, robots are distinct from other movable machines, such as cars, because of their computer element. Many new cars do have an onboard computer, but it’s only there to make small adjustments. You control most elements in the car directly by way of various mechanical devices. Robots are distinct from ordinary computers in their physical nature — normal computers don’t have a physical body attached to them.