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A robot is a technical device that is usually used to relieve people of frequently recurring mechanical work . Robots can be both stationary and mobile machines and are controlled by computer programs . The meaning of the word has changed over time.


The origin of the word robot is in the Czech word robota , Robot , which with, forced labor 'or' forced labor 'can be translated. It goes back to Proto-Indo-European * orbh- via Old Church Slavonic rabota ' Knecherschaft ' and is thus related to the German 'Arbeit'. Similarly, in Late Middle High German there was the term robāter, robatter for a 'worker in the labor market' .

The term robot was in 1920 by Josef Čapek , a prominent literary figures, embossed, whose brother Karel Capek originally named Labori had used when he was in his play RUR did occur bred in tanks human-like artificial workers that have been created for human labor take over, and they revolt against it. With his work, Čapek took up the classic motif of the golem , which is also widespread in Prague literature of Jewish mysticism . Today Čapek's artifacts would be called androids . Before the word robot was coined , such machines were called automatic machines or semi-automatic machines .


As handling devices became more and more complicated, developers came up with the idea of ​​calling them “robots”. From this point in time at the latest, the word “robot”, which was originally only used for humanoid robots , was used almost anywhere for various devices. The definition of a robot differs accordingly from country to country. So it happened that in 1983 Japan reported 47,000 robots installed there, of which, according to VDI guideline 2860, not even 3,000 would have been considered robots.

Definition according to VDI guideline 2860

“Industrial robots are universally usable automatic movement machines with several axes, the movements of which are freely programmable with regard to the sequence of movements and paths or angles (i.e. without mechanical or human intervention) and, if necessary, sensor-controlled. They can be equipped with grippers, tools or other manufacturing equipment and can carry out handling and / or manufacturing tasks. "

Definition according to the Robotic Industries Association

"A robot is a reprogrammable, multifunctional manipulator designed to move material, parts, tools or specialized devices through variable programmed motions for the performance of a variety of tasks"

“A robot is a programmable multi-purpose handling device for moving materials, workpieces, tools or special devices. The freely programmable sequence of movements makes it usable for a wide variety of tasks. "

The current opinion is that a robot is a device that has at least three freely movable axes.

Definition according to JARA

The Japan Robot Association specifies the following characteristics:

  • Manual manipulator : handling device that does not have a program but is operated directly by the operator,
  • Fixed Sequence Robot : Handling device that works repeatedly according to a constant movement pattern. Changing the movement pattern is relatively complex,
  • Variable Sequence Robot : handling device, as previously described, but with the option of changing the sequence of movements quickly and easily,
  • Playback Robot : The movement sequence is demonstrated to this device once by the operator and is saved in the program memory. With the information contained in the memory, the sequence of movements can be repeated as required,
  • Numerical Control Robot : This handling device works similarly to an NC-controlled machine. The information about the motion sequence is entered numerically into the device via buttons, switches or data carriers,
  • Intelligent Robot : This highest robot class is intended for devices that have various sensors and are thus able to automatically adapt the program sequence to changes in the workpiece and the environment.

History of robotics

In 2004, two million robots were in use. The German robotics industry increased sales in 2007 by 13 percent. According to surveys by the International Federation of Robotics , sales of industrial robots increased by 29% to 229,261 units in 2014 compared to the previous year. General Motors plans to test the first unmanned cars from 2015 [obsolete] and in series production from 2018 [obsolete] .

Cultural history

In literature and other media, the robot is primarily addressed as a “machine man” or as an autonomous machine being that confronts humans as a helper or as a threat. The term robot, which is rooted in common parlance today, originally comes from the play RUR by Karel Čapek , published in 1920, and is an example of the interaction between fiction and the real progress of technology. Robots already appear in the early days of film and, in a wide variety of forms, are a recurring theme in science fiction .


The frequent theming of robots in film and literature also made science aware of this type of machine. The scientific field that deals with the construction of robots is called robotics . The term was first mentioned by Isaac Asimov in his short story Runaround in 1942 . There is no general theoretical scientific field that deals with robots. They are mostly sub-areas of electrical engineering, computer science, mechatronics or mechanical engineering.

technical basics

Robots are technically implemented mainly in the interaction of the disciplines mechanics , electrical engineering and computer science . In the meantime, mechatronics has developed from the combination of these three disciplines . In order to develop autonomous systems that have a certain independence (for example in path finding ), more and more scientific disciplines are being integrated into robotics. Here is a focus of the connection between concepts of artificial intelligence or neuroinformatics and their biological role models ( biological cybernetics ). Bionics emerged from the combination of biology and technology .

The most important components of a robot are the sensors for recording the environment and the axis positions, the actuators for acting within the recorded environment, the robot controller and the mechanical frame including the gearbox. A robot does not necessarily have to be able to act completely autonomously. That is why a distinction is made between autonomous and remote-controlled robots.

Robot kinematics

The mechanical structure of a robot is described with the help of kinematics. The following criteria are important:

  • Form of movement of the axes
  • Number and arrangement of the axes
  • Forms of the work area (Cartesian, cylindrical, spherical)

A distinction is also made between open kinematics and closed kinematics. Open kinematics are characterized by the fact that all axes of the kinematic chain lie one behind the other, like on a human arm. So not every link in the chain is connected to two other links. In closed kinematics, however, each link is connected to at least two other links (example: hexapod robot).

The terms forward kinematics and inverse kinematics (also backward kinematics) refer to the mathematical modeling of the movement of robot systems. In the forward kinematics, setting parameters are specified for each joint in the kinematic chain (depending on the joint type, angles or distances) and the resulting position and orientation of the end effector in space is calculated. With reverse kinematics, on the other hand, the position and orientation of the end effector are specified and the required setting parameters for the joints are calculated (forward and backward transformation).

Form of movement of the axes

A distinction is made here between translatory and rotary axes .

Number and arrangement of the axes

Both the number and the arrangement of the axes are used to describe robots. The order and position of the axes must be taken into account. In the case of serial (open) kinematics, these can be described with the so-called Denavit-Hartenberg transformation .

Forms of the work space

The above criteria in connection with the distances between the axes or their "traverse paths" result in the shape and size of the working area of ​​a robot. Common workspaces are: cube, cylinder, sphere or cuboid.

Math and robots

Frequently used coordinate systems in industrial robots

The most important coordinate systems (abbr. KOS) for robots are

  • the base or world KOS , which is usually located in the robot foot,
  • the tool KOS , which is located in the robot flange. With regard to this KOS, the Tool Center Point (abbreviation TCP) must be measured, which describes the working point of the installed tool. The TCP can usually be taken from the CAD data or is determined with the help of the robot through measurement runs,
  • the workpiece KOS , which describes the position of the process or workpiece and defines or measures it. The positions to which the robot moves are usually described in this KOS. The advantage of a workpiece coordinate system becomes apparent when changes are made to the system, since it makes restarting easier simply by measuring the workpiece KOS. Routines from the robot manufacturers are usually available for measuring the workpiece KOS. Basically, a level is usually described by three points .
Mathematical description of robots

In order to be able to set robots in motion, they have to be described mathematically. This is done through transformations (see also coordinate transformation ). The transformation T describes the position of a coordinate system in relation to a reference coordinate system. Since the position of the KOS can generally result from rotations as well as from translation, a rotational component - the vectors A, B and C as unit vectors - and a translational component P, a shift, are necessary for the calculation.

Mathematically, the three-dimensional, rotational component is thus supplemented by a further dimension, a vector , which combined lead to the following homogeneous 4 × 4 matrix :

If a coordinate system is now assigned to each axis, for example according to the Denavit-Hartenberg transformation , it is possible to calculate the position of any number of consecutive axes. In practice, the calculation of six axes can only be carried out with considerable writing effort. In order to calculate only one pose (position and orientation), an aid such as a spreadsheet can be helpful. If the calculation of several poses is necessary, it is advisable to use appropriate mathematically oriented software products such as Matlab or FreeMat .

Direct kinematics

The direct kinematics is used to identify the TCP from the given joint angles, that is the displacements of the joints of a robot, the Cartesian coordinates and the orientation. If the Denavit-Hartenberg parameters ( ) are known, then with

the transformation between two axes can be determined. Generalized it results:

This transformation must therefore be carried out five times for industrial robots with the usual six axes. Another transformation is added to take a TCP into account. The forward transformation therefore results in a six-axis robot with a tool

This means that the position and orientation of the TCP can now be calculated in relation to the robot foot. In addition, this calculation is also unique for robots with more than six axes.

Inverse kinematics

The so-called inverse kinematics is used to calculate which joint parameters (angle or displacement) must be set in the individual links in order to achieve this goal, given the position and orientation of the TCP. It is thus the reverse of the forward transformation. There are basically two approaches, one geometric and one analytical.

Robot selection

When choosing a robot, various criteria are important: payload, its center of gravity and intrinsic inertia, the work area in which the process is to take place, the process speed or cycle time and the accuracy of the robot. The latter is determined on the basis of ISO 9283. A distinction is essentially made between the accuracy of the position (this is also referred to as a pose) and the path accuracy. For the pose as well as for the path, both the so-called absolute and the repeat accuracy are usually determined. The absolute accuracy reflects the difference between the actual and the theoretical, the programmed, pose or path. In contrast, the repeat accuracy results from several journeys or measurements of the robot on theoretically the same position or path. It is therefore a measure of the spread, which in most practical applications is of greater importance than the absolute accuracy. Incidentally, the absolute accuracy of a robot can be improved by a robot calibration , but the repeat accuracy results essentially from the gear backlash and can therefore practically not be compensated for in terms of software.

Types of robots

Portal robot with linear guides

The term “robot” describes a broad field, which is why robots are classified into many categories. Some of them are:

according to design
according to purpose

Autonomous mobile robots

Autonomous, mobile robots move independently and complete a task without human help. The construction of autonomous, mobile robots is a popular branch of hobby electronics . Typical functions of such robots are e.g. E.g .: following a line on the ground, avoiding obstacles, following robotic sumo or a light source. There are competitions for some of these types of robots. The construction of autonomous, mobile robots is also chosen by students as a thesis. Even in childhood, such robots can be built with kits such as B. build with Lego Mindstorms .

With Compressorhead, there is a rock band consisting entirely of robots, which covers various well-known metal and punk songs.

Humanoid robots

ASIMO humanoid robot
Humanoid robot Kotaro

As already mentioned, the image of the humanoid robot in literature was significantly shaped by the stories of Isaac Asimov in the 1940s. For a long time, humanoid robots were not technically feasible. There are many important problems to be solved for the development of humanoid robots. They should be able to react autonomously in their environment and, if possible, also interact, whereby their mobility is limited by two legs as a means of transport. In addition, they should be able to do work through two artificial arms and hands. Since 2000 ( ASIMO from Honda ) the fundamental problems seem to have been solved. New developments in this area are now regularly presented (see e.g. atlas ).

Most humanoids belong to the genus of walking robots , while some systems are also equipped with a mobile base on wheels.

Industrial robots

In 1954 George Devol applied for a patent for industrial robots for the first time. Today's industrial robots are generally not mobile. In principle, they can be used in many ways, but in connection with the tool used, they are specifically defined for one or a few areas of application. The tool is usually firmly mounted on the flange of the robot and, in the simplest case, is a gripper that predestines the robot for handling tasks. If the robot is to be used in a more versatile manner, couplings are used that allow the tool to be exchanged even during operation.

In 1961 they were first used in production lines at General Motors . In Germany, industrial robots, for example for welding work in the automotive industry , have been used since around 1970. Other areas of application for industrial robots are handling, palletizing, loading, joining, assembling, gluing , spot and path welding and also measuring tasks.

Due to the versatility of industrial robots, these are still the most widespread today. The industrial robots also include the so-called portal robots , which are used, for example, in the production of wafers , in potting systems or in measurement technology as coordinate measuring machines. Today many handling tasks are also carried out by industrial robots.

Medical robot

Medical robots are used in various areas of medicine. These include surgery, diagnostics and care. The best-known commercial representatives are the Da Vinci operating system (Intuitive Surgical, Sunnyvale, CA, USA), the Artis Zeego (Siemens Healthcare, Erlangen, Germany) and the Care-O-bot (Fraunhofer IPA, Stuttgart, Germany; not commercial available). There are also a large number of scientific medical robot systems in research.

Service robot

Service robots for private individuals

Service robots do household chores independently. Known uses include:

Professional service robots

Professional service robots provide services for people outside the household. A professional application was e.g. B. researched in the environmental sector in the PV-Servitor research project. As a professional service, the automatic cleaning and inspection of large-area photovoltaic outdoor systems in Europe was examined.

  • Service robot for cleaning and inspecting solar power plants

Toy robots

The toy robot Aibo in the tournament

Most robot-like toys are not robots, otherwise all self-moving objects would be considered robots. Nevertheless, there are robots that are referred to as play robots, since their automated range of functions is essentially of no use in terms of work or research. An example of this is the dog-like walking and gaming robot Aibo from Sony or the Robosapien from WowWee . These player robots are used in the Four-Legged League at the annual robot football . Its production was stopped anyway. Another example is the Lego Mindstorms series , which is used for educational purposes in schools. However, more extensive machines can also be manufactured with the Mindstorms, the functionalities of which correspond to those of professional service robots .

Scouting robots

Global Hawk at ILA 2002

Under exploring robots are understood robots that operate in places that are dangerous or even inaccessible to humans (vitally) and remotely or (partly) operate independently. This applies to areas in which a military conflict is being carried out. But also for areas that were previously very difficult or impossible to reach for humans, such as the surface of the moon or Mars. Because of the huge distance between the other planets, remote control from Earth is impossible because the signals there and back would take hours. In these cases, the robot must be programmed with a large number of possible behaviors, from which it must choose and execute the most sensible one.

Robots equipped with sensors have already been used to explore narrow pyramid shafts that humans cannot penetrate . Thought is also being given to lowering a so-called cryobot, which melts through ice, into Lake Vostok . This is hermetically sealed off from the outside world by a layer of ice over three kilometers thick. Researchers suspect that this is an untouched ecosystem, which in no case should be contaminated by "above-ground" microbes.

Military robots

Military robots are robots that are used for military reconnaissance and combat purposes. These can move independently in the air, on land or on and under water. Examples of this are the air-based Global Hawk or the land-based SWORDS . These can carry weapons with them both for pure self-defense and for active attack on targets.

Rover and Lander

In space travel, a rover is a robot that moves around the surface of other celestial bodies. Examples of this are the twin robots Spirit and Opportunity on Mars. The latter can find their way independently of the ground control. Non-mobile units, so-called landers , can also be referred to as robots. The moon rovers of the Apollo missions were not robots because they were directly controlled by humans.

Personal robots

Personal Robots (short PR , English for "personal robots") are robots that, in contrast to industrial robots, are designed to communicate and interact with people and other personal robots in networks. Personal Robots can be operated, used and controlled by a single person.

A subdivision into publicly used personal robots such as service robots and person-bound personal robots such as toy robots makes sense, as is the case with personal computers. Due to the completed construction of the PR, these machines function largely independently, autonomously, self-sufficient and autonomously. The personal robots are increasingly capable of learning. Multiple interfaces enable communication in networks. So with other robots, computers etc. Personal robots react with their sensors to external influences such as touch, tones, sounds, optical changes etc. Personal robots store data and information. Acquired experiences influence them and so the PRs use this knowledge to implement their further actions.

Other scouting robots

Israeli police robots investigating a suspicious item
Minenentschärfroboter tEODor the Bundeswehr when destroying a simulated roadside bomb

Also called robots are mobile units that are used to track down, defuse or blow up bombs or mines, such as the so-called TALON robot. There are also robots that can search for buried people in rubble, so-called rescue robots. Meanwhile there is also the so-called killer robot (see also combat robot ).   Autonomous Underwater Vehicles are autonomous diving robots for tasks in the sea.

Social robotics

Social robotics explores ways of interaction between robots and their environment. Possible uses are autism therapy for children and the care of the elderly . Important researchers in the field are Cynthia Breazeal and Frauke Zeller .

Social robotics can be seen as an alternative to industrial robots. It lacks a practical function, they build social relationships and adapt to their environment. In some discourses the role of “social robotics” is defined even more broadly. Robots are viewed as living beings and there is talk of subordination in the form of a social gradient .


William Gray Walter built turtle robots in the 1940s. These have become known under the name "Tortoises". Mark W. Tilden invented so-called BEAM robots in the 1990s :

"The BEAM robots follow a similar approach to the early Braitenberg Vehicle designs in that they use simple interlinked behaviors and mostly direct connections between sensors and actuators."

- p. 63

From the 2000s on, there was a boom in developments:

technical realization

The hardware consists of a fluffy fur, googly eyes and sound output, mostly based on a teddy bear , plus actuators to move the legs and arms. It is usually controlled manually as in the models used in autism therapy. However, there are first approaches to use artificial intelligence , more precisely the BDI architecture , to implement autonomous social robots.

Other types of robots

In particular, mobile robot systems are increasingly used in schools and universities for training purposes. These robots are characterized by good manageability, simple programming and expandability. Examples of so-called training robots are Robotino or Lego Mindstorms .

In the now emerging play Frankenstein by the Salzburg artist group gold extra, robots work in a hospital and "recreate a person according to old plans".

Adoption of the term in computer science

In computer science , computer programs that largely automatically process repetitive tasks are called bot (short for robot ).



Film documentaries

See also


  • Gero von Randow : Robots. Our closest relatives . Rowohlt, Reinbek 1997, ISBN 3-498-05744-8 .
  • G. Lawitzky, M. Buss et al. (Ed.): Service robot. Focus issue of the magazine it - Information Technology. Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich 49 (2007) 4
  • Wolfgang Weber: Industrial robots. Methods of control and regulation. With 33 exercises . Fachbuchverlag Leipzig, 2002, ISBN 3-446-21604-9 .
  • Bodo-Michael Baumunk: The robots are coming. Man, machine, communication . Wachter Verlag, Heidelberg 2007, ISBN 978-3-89904-268-9 (accompanying volume to the exhibition of the same name in the Museums for Communication).
  • Anne Foerst: About robots, humans and God. Artificial intelligence and the existential dimension of life . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2008, ISBN 978-3-525-56965-8 (translated from the English by Regine Kather).
  • Daniel Ichbiah: Robots: History - Technology - Development . Knesebeck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-89660-276-4 (from the French by Monika Cyrol).
  • Cosima Wagner: Robotopia Nipponica. Research on the acceptance of robots in Japan . Tectum Verlag, Marburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-8288-3171-1 .
  • Enrico Grassani: Automi. Passato, presente e futuro di una nuova specie, Editoriale Delfino, Milano 2017, ISBN 978-88-97323-66-2 .


Web links

Wiktionary: Robots  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Robots  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Robot (n.): Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved February 21, 2018 .
  2. robots. In: Retrieved February 21, 2018 .
  3. ^ Tomáš Sedláček : The economy of good and bad. Hanser Verlag, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-446-42823-2 , p. 36.
  4. Michael Naval: Robot Practice . Vogel, Würzburg 1989, ISBN 3-8023-0210-9 .
  5. accessed on April 16, 2012.
  6. Bill Gates: A robot in every household until 2013.
  7. The robot industry is booming: German companies are expecting strong growth
  8. 2014: By far the highest volume ever recorded Archivlink ( Memento from March 27, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) , accessed on February 9, 2015.
  9. ↑ No need for drivers from 2018 . In: Spiegel Online . January 7, 2008.
  10. CES: General Motors plans cars without human drivers
  11. Chaotic robot warehouse accelerates delivery
  12. Honda's humanoid robot runs faster and safer
  13. PV-Servitor: Autonomous cleaning robot for solar power plants in Europe
  14. Roberta - Learning with Robots An initiative by Fraunhofer IAIS
  15. Robot assistance for exploration in rescue missions ( Memento from July 14, 2014 in the Internet Archive ); Rescue robot wp.en
  16. ^ Robin R. Murphy: Disaster Robotics. MIT Press, Cambridge 2014, ISBN 978-0-262-02735-9 .
  17. Samsung develops killer robots for object security
  18. Robocop is supposed to protect the inner-Korean border
  19. a b Aleksandra Savicic: Conversation acceptance by robots . Master thesis. University of Vienna, Vienna 2010 ( [PDF]).
  20. Thomas Hirmann: The possibilities and effects of social-emotional robots, especially the Paro seal, in use in care . In: Departmental work . 2015 ( [PDF]).
  21. CP Scholtz: And the robot greets you every day . In: Analyzes and reflections on everyday life with the robot dog Aibo, Folklore in Rhineland-Palatinate. Information from the Society for Folklore in Rhineland-Palatinate . tape 23 , 2008, p. 139--154 ( [PDF]).
  22. Maren Krähling: In Between Companion and Cyborg: The Double diffracted Being Else-where of a Robodog . In: Ethics in Robotics . tape 6 , 2006, p. 69 ( [PDF]).
  23. ^ Reuben Hoggett: W. Gray Walter and his Tortoises . In: . 2011 ( ).
  24. Micah Marlon Rosenkind: Creating Believable, Emergent Behavior in Virtual Agents, Using a 'Synthetic Psychology'Approach . University of Brighton, 2015 ( [PDF]).
  25. a b Marius Klug: Human-robot interaction . Bachelor thesis. 2012 ( [PDF]).
  26. David Harris Smith, Frauke Zeller: Post-hitchBOT-ism - Interviewed by Andrea Zeffiro . In: Wi: Journal of Mobile Media . tape 10 , no. 1 , 2016 ( [PDF]).
  27. ^ Cosima Wagner: Tele-Elderly Care and Robot Therapy: Living with Robots as a Vision and Reality for Japan's Aging Society . In: Japanese Studies . tape 21 , 2009, p. 271-298 ( [PDF]).
  28. VolksBot-Lab. ( Memento from September 18, 2012 in the web archive ) Training robotics system from Fraunhofer IAIS
  29. Robots as Actors, of December 24, 2013.
  30. , art , February 16, 2017, Michael Baas: Vitra Design Museum illuminates the relationship between man and machine (February 17, 2017)