Robots are well-suited to perform tasks that are dangerous and often repetitive, as well as to function in extreme environments such as space, under the oceans, or at high altitudes. NASA tests robots for exploration in areas called analogs. Analogs are places where the environment is similar to locations like Mars or the moon, where a robot may be used. Another field in which robots are finding a niche is in medical applications. Although still in its infancy, robotic surgery has already proven itself to be of great value, particularly in areas inaccessible to conventional laparoscopic procedures. Robotic technology is set to revolutionize surgery by improving and expanding laparoscopic procedures, minimizing invasiveness, and allowing remote operation.
Robots all have some kind of mechanical construction, a frame, form or shape designed to achieve a particular task. For example, a robot designed to travel across heavy dirt or mud, might use caterpillar tracks. There must also be electrical components which power and control the machinery. For example, the robot with caterpillar tracks would need some kind of power to move the tracker treads. The electrical aspect of robots is used for movement via motors, with built-in sensors delivering electrical signals in order to measure things like sound, position, and even basic vision. The control of a robot involves three distinct tasks, perception, processing, and motion (actuation). Sensors give information about the environment or the robot itself. This information is then processed or transmitted, and used to calculate the appropriate signals to the actuators (motors, ie muscles) which move the mechanical robot. Therefore, robots must be programmed much like any other computing device.
Sensors can be classified according to the physical process with which they work or according to the type of measurement information that they give as output. Vision refers to processing data from any modality which uses the electromagnetic spectrum to produce an image. In humanoid robots it is used to recognize objects and determine their properties. Sound sensors allow humanoid robots to hear speech and environmental sounds, and perform as the ears of the human being. Microphones are usually used for this task.
Humanoid robots are constructed in such a way that they mimic the human body, so they use actuators that perform like muscles and joints, though with a different structure. To achieve the same effect as human motion, humanoid robots use mainly rotary actuators. They can be either electric, pneumatic, hydraulic, piezoelectric or ultrasonic. While electric coreless motor actuators are better suited for high speed and low load applications, hydraulic ones operate well at low speed and high load applications. Piezoelectric actuators generate a small movement with a high force capability when voltage is applied. They can be used for ultra-precise positioning and for generating and handling high forces or pressures in static or dynamic situations.
US sales of industrial robots grew by 66 percent in the past 5 years alone, according to the International Federation of Robots. During this period, US sales increased at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of almost 14 percent, despite a decline during the recent recession. The Robotic Industries Association (RIA) reported that the world market for industrial robots is driven primarily by demand from motor vehicle manufacturing, followed by the electronics industry. The major foreign-owned industrial robot producers with US factories are from Japan (Fanuc, Kawasaki, Yaskawa-Motoman), Germany (Kuka), and Switzerland (ABB and Staubli). US manufacturers that design and produce industrial robots include Adept Technology, Genmark Automation, Rethink Robotics, and SAGE Automation. In addition to automotive robots, these companies produce robots for the electronics, medical, and logistics industries.