The inherent creativity of the human spirit manages to find expression in invention as much as in art.
This is extremely apparent in the field of robotics, where scientists have imagined and created ai and robots of wildly different shapes to fit a whole host of jobs. Even with the relative youth of the industry, roboticists have invented machines that are worlds away from the classic conceptualization of the bipedal “metal man.”
While new robots are being dreamed up all the time, you can find the most common categories here:
Robots are primarily differentiated based on two categories: use and movement.
Of course, there is a great deal of overlap in many of these categories; drones, for example, can be classified as either aerospace, consumer, or exploration. To keep this article from devolving into a jumbled mess, I’ve given broad definitions for each different type and given relevant examples based on my estimation of what the intent of development is for a particular device.
Each of these different categories of robots contains machines of all shapes and sizes. One thing that’s true across the entire field of robotics is that a robot’s appearance will often be informed by the way it moves through the it’s environment.
Despite this, many robots that look and move the same might have vastly different applications in the real world, which requires us to consider our mechanical companions from a variety of angles.
Industrial robots often comprise the most basic form of machine — a stationary or semi-stationary device that executes a repetitive task. These robots are generally some of the least intelligent due to the fact that the work they do is incredibly simple and the environments in which they work are fairly free of external influences that could disrupt their routines.
TIP: Many industrial robots have have made the jump to managing software as well as the physical construction of products, most notably in marketing automation. G2 has thousands of real user reviews dedicated to helping you find the best marketing automation software for your needs:
These cybernetic adventurers can range in complexity from simple probes to fully autonomous spacecraft. They are used to explore the farthest reaches of space and the darkest trenches of the ocean floor, boldly going where no man has gone before.
Some of the more famous examples of these, such as the Mars Rover Opportunity, are a type of robot known as ‘Remotely Operated Vehicle’ (or ROV) that performs some autonomous functions while having the capability of being operated by a remote operator or pilot. These robots typically come equipped with advanced observation or manipulation features. These features allow them to gather data from their assigned environments in a more focused way than their less complex aerospace cousins.
Consumer robots are so commonplace that many people fail to see them as robots at all! These are the little household helpers that unobtrusively improve the lives of countless homeowners the world over. The classic example of a consumer robot is the roomba, an autonomous cleaning machine complete with sensors to help it navigate any space you put it in.
The infamous 'DJ Roomba'
More recently, simplistic AI has started to fuse with consumer robots and the internet of things to give us devices such as the Amazon Alexa or Google Home. These stationary robots come equipped with what’s referred to as a ‘conversational AI’ that can read things such as tone and context to make an educated guess as to the intent of the speaker. While these devices are still far from perfect, it’s exciting to imagine the quality of life they could provide us in the next half century.
Aside from production, exploration, and menial tasks, robots can also be literal lifesavers.
Medical robots can range from autonomous arms that help surgeons perform delicate operations to the emerging field of mind-controlled robotic prosthetics and exoskeletons. While we probably won’t see fully autonomous surgeons for many years to come, doctor-operated robots have pushed the boundaries of medicine in terms of what can be accomplished without having to resort to risky invasive procedures. Devices such as the daVinci system have made it possible to perform dangerous operations with a fraction of the normal risk.
Aerospace robots are, in some capacity, able to fly. They differ from exploration robots in that they don’t include aquatic automatons or surface rovers. Common forms of these robots are autonomous or remote controlled drones or spacecraft that can be used for a variety of purposes such as research, military intelligence, or deep space exploration.
Aquatic robots go far beyond deep-sea exploration. They can work with the coast guard as unmanned boats and have often been used by marine biologists and conservationists to help supplement parts of marine ecosystems that have been ravaged by climate change and industrialization efforts like off-shore drilling.
Interestingly, Aquatic robotics is also one of the subfields at the forefront of biorobotics, where the robots developed take inspiration from organic animals in the wild for how they move.
Many researchers have found great success with modeling their swimming robots off of common underwater species such as fish or eels, whose innate abilities to navigate the underwater seascape is far superior to traditional methods of locomotion for human-made sea-craft.
A cybernetic menagerie
With so many different possibilities and applications in the field of robotics, it can be difficult to identify the inventions you need from the countless others with a similar function. So long as you keep the intent of the inventor in mind, you should have no trouble when it comes to identifying a robot in all of your future endeavors.
If you're interested in learning more about the development and research behind these different types of robots, check out our guide: What is Robotics.
Piper is a former content associate at G2. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, they graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in Sociology. Their interests include podcasts, rock climbing, and understanding how people form systems of knowledge in the digital age. (they/them/theirs)