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The advantages of robotics have become more apparent as industrial robotics technology has grown and developed in the 50+ years since the first industrial robot, Unimate, was put into use in the 1950s. About 90% of the robots in use today are in the industrial robotics sector in factories. As of 2004, about 140,000 industrial robots were in use in the U.S., as reported by the Robotics Industry Association (RIA). Robots are now also used in warehouses, laboratories, research and exploration sites, energy plants, hospitals, and outer space.
The advantages of robotics can be classified into four major categories: 1) quality/accuracy/precision; 2) Efficiency/speed/production rate; 3) Ability to work in environments that are unsafe or inhospitable for humans; 4) Freedom from human limitations such as boredom and the need to eat and sleep.
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Advantages of Robotics #1: Quality/Accuracy/Precision
Many industrial robots are in the form of a robotic arm. The image at the left shows Unimate, the first industrial robot, which has the appearance of a robotic arm. The image in the next section shows a contemporary industrial robotics arm. Due to its mechanical nature and computerized control, a robotic arm can carry out a repetitive task with great precision and accuracy, thus providing improved, consistent product quality. This would apply to quite a variety of production line tasks, like welding, assembling a product, spray painting, or cutting and finishing.
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Advantages of Robotics #2: Efficiency/Speed/Production Rate
The same features of industrial robotics technology mentioned above, the mechanical nature of the equipment and the computerized control, make industrial robotics technology more efficient and speedy, leading to higher production rates than with human labor. Another aspect of efficiency is that robots can be mounted from the ceiling and have no problem with working upside down. This can lead to a savings in floor space.
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Advantages of Robotics #3: Ability to Work in Environments that are Inhospitable to Humans
This is an interesting set of advantages of robotics. There are a number of tasks that are too dangerous, too exposed to toxins, or just plain too dirty for humans to conveniently do them. These are ideal robotics tasks. This includes tasks as simple as spray painting, because there is no need to worry about the robot inhaling the paint fumes! It also includes such daunting tasks as defusing bombs and such dirty tasks as cleaning sewers.
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Advantages of Robotics #4: Freedom from Human Limitations like Boredom
This set of advantages of robotics is due to the fact that human characteristics like boredom from doing a repetitive task don't interfere with the functioning of a robot. There is some overlap with the first two categories of advantages of robotics, because the lack of interference from boredom leads to greater accuracy, quality, and rate of production. There is more to this set of advantages of robotics, however. Since a robot doesn't need to rest or eat, and never gets sick, a robotic arm can work 24/7, with only limited occasional downtime for scheduled maintenance.
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Limitations of Robotics
An article about the advantages of robotics wouldn't be complete without some discussion of the limitations of robotics. In spite of the very useful set of advantages of robotics discussed above, there are some tasks for which human beings are better suited than robots. For example:
- Robots are not suited for creativity or innovation
- Robots are not capable of independent thinking
- Robots are not good at learning from their mistakes
- Robots are not as suitable for making complicated decisions
- Robots can't as readily adapt quickly to changes in the surroundings
Human beings are needed for these types of tasks, so there is hope that we will not become superfluous in a world dominated by robots at some point in the future, as projected by some science fiction authors!
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The advantages of robotics in an industrial setting, where most of them are used, are notable, including increased product quality and quantity, ability to work in inhospitable environments, and freedom from natural human needs like food and rest. There are, however, some limitations of robotics, in areas such as creativity, innovation, independent thinking, and making complicated decisions, that lead to a projection that humans will remain in charge of robots rather than vice versa.
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Unimate image - http://www.contrib.andrew.cmu.edu/~sshaukat/Robotics.html
Industrial Robotics Arm - http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/410462775