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About This Technology

Robotic systems perform physical manipulations loosely based on human abilities. The strict definition of robots requires that those manipulations be programmable or performable autonomously or by programmable teleoperation. The International Federation of Robotics classifies robots in two ways: manipulating industrial robots and others. According to the IFR, a manipulating industrial robot is an automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose, manipulative machine with three or more reprogrammable axes that users may either fix in place or make mobile for industrial-automation applications. In other than manufacturing industries, a robot is a machine that users can program to perform manipulative and in some cases locomotive tasks under automatic control. In manufacturing, robots improve quality and productivity by reducing process variance and lowering total production costs. In many applications, both manufacturing and nonmanufacturing, robots free humans from hazardous, noisy, strenuous tasks, or they operate where humans simply cannot.

More than 1 million industrial robots are in daily operation around the world (more than 40% in Japan), and the market for industrial robots has matured. In manufacturing, robots can be a core technology of flexible manufacturing or computer-integrated manufacturing. As computer processors increase in power and decrease in cost, robots will provide increasing flexibility and operate more autonomously than current robots do. Such capabilities will broaden future robots' applications into such areas as medicine, personal assistance, construction, cooperating robotic teams, and many others that require sophisticated operation.

Manufacturing companies will continue to benefit from evolutionary developments in robotic systems and related technologies. Service-industry applications of robots are an emerging area, and service industries are likely to see further benefits from the technology within the next decade. Military applications will drive the development of many mobile robots. Personal robots are emerging, especially for applications such as floor cleaning. Questions remain about the range of applications for such robots: Homes have become increasingly mechanized, and robots may be an unnecessary addition to people's living environments. Researchers and large manufacturers continue to develop advanced personal robots, especially in Japan. Such robots may start to have significant impacts on people's lives in the next 15 to 20 years.