When we think of robots, we normally think of electronic machines in the shape of humans – like cyborgs or androids – or other computerized autonomous devices like the Roomba. But the definition of the word ‘Robot’ covers much more than that.
The definition of Robot is any machine or mechanical device that operates automatically or semi-automatically. This means that what is considered “a robot” need not be limited to being powered by electricity. Though, over the last century, we’ve seen an explosion in devices that are powered by some form of electricity. By far, the most prevalent usage of modern robots is in the workplace on production lines. They are used specifically to make production more efficient for the company, cheaper for the consumer and safer for the employees. But where did the word come from?
Origin Of The Word “Robot”
The word “Robot” was coined in 1920 by Karel Capek and his brother, Josef Capek. Karel was a Czech writer looking for a word to call the artificial creatures in his play. Unhappy with the word laboři (or ‘workers’ in Latin), his brother suggested roboti from the Latin word robota (meaning ‘serf labor’).
In 1944, science fiction writer Isaac Asimov decided to expand on that and coined the word “Robotics” for use in his short story ‘Runaround‘. It later became a recurring theme in many of his books which helped to spur popularity and increase usage of the word.
What Was The World’s First Robot?
Aside from mythological tales which include mechanical servants built by the Greek gods, the clay golems of Jewish legend and clay giants of Norse legend, the first real documented instance of a robot was in the 4th century BC by the Greek mathematician Archytas. He created a wooden, mechanical steam-operated bird that he called “The Pigeon”.
The bird is believed to have been suspended from the end of a pivoted bar, while the apparatus revolved by puffs of compressed air and steam. Documentation of “The Pigeon” was found in the writings of Heron of Alexandria, who described it as “operated by water, falling weights, and steam”. Not only does it lay claim to the first known robot, but it is also the first documented record of a scientist attempting to figure out how birds fly.
What About Modern Robots?
Robots and robotic technology is evolving at an ever increasing pace. We’ve sent robots into space to explore planets for us, into nuclear reactors, and even into hostile situations in place of soldiers in the war on terror. The industry itself is branching out in unpredictable, yet exciting ways. For instance, this strangely life-like (yet unsettling) robot shown in the video below is a robotic “pop star” which sings and dances for an audience (be warned, it is a tad creepy):
Bonus Fact: The first person ever killed by a robot was Kenji Urada in 1981. Urada was working maintenance on a broken robot at a Kawasaki plant in Japan. Failing to turn it off completely, the robot pushed him into a grinding machine which resulted in his death.