Robots have been a fascinating — and, at times, terrifying — part of pop culture for decades. But these depictions are often an exaggerated, humanoid version of the robots we see used across numerous industries every day.

In reality, robotics involves programming machines to carry out a series of actions. Most of the time, these robots are autonomous — although some, such as telerobots, are entirely controlled by a human operator.How far can robotics go?

The scope of robotics

Until recently, robots were primarily used to assemble cars in automotive factories. However, as technology progresses, so too does the scope of robotics.

Self-driving vehicles could be widespread on our roads in a matter of decades — helping to improve road safety, reduce congestion and make transport more accessible.

But robotics also lends itself well to a range of other applications where the task at hand is time-consuming or lacking resources, requires high levels of accuracy and consistency or is too dangerous for a human to do.

For example, drones can explore some of the world’s harshest terrains or emergency sites — reducing the time and cost of using a fully crewed helicopter. Robotics is also frequently used for bomb disposal and similar tasks where sending in a human team could be a death sentence. Equally, when it comes to manufacturing, a robot can produce the product in precisely the same way each time to ensure there are no discrepancies.

A shortage of caregivers in the UK means robots are now also starting to assist with many facets of healthcare. For instance, nursing care robots which mimic human movement can help when lifting and moving a patient in care. In hospitals, equipment such as drug infusion pumps can also dispense correct doses of medication automatically, alleviating pressures on medical staff and eliminating human error. 

Addressing limitations

Despite the many advantages of robotics, there are some limitations. That fact that robots are programmed means they are not intelligent — they do what they are instructed to do and cannot make decisions for themselves.

Up until quite recently, industrial robots could only be programmed to carry out a defined, repetitive series of instructions and were relatively limited in their functionality.

Now, the lines are blurring with the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI). AI algorithms are necessary to allow robots to perform more complex tasks and enable them to mimic human intelligence to some degree. For example, a drone might use autonomous navigation to return home when it is about to run out of battery.

However, these algorithms are still ‘trained’ to respond to a particular input in a certain way based on known inputs and outputs — meaning robotics are only as good as the programmer.

Algorithms are also just one part of the extensive robotic system, which includes sensors and other electronic components. As such, quality across all aspects is crucial. In safety-critical industries such as healthcare, you cannot afford to have a failure in the field, so testing and high-quality standards are paramount throughout the manufacturing process.

A question of job security

Whenever the topic of robotics comes up, there is inevitably also the question of what this advancing technology will mean in the context of human job roles. Will robots take over and make many people’s roles redundant?

To some extent, yes. However, robotics will also produce more jobs as engineers are recruited to build, programme, supervise and service the equipment — whereas people working in areas like automotive manufacturing will likely be reassigned. For example, those currently making petrol and diesel cars will be drafted in to produce self-driving models. Robotics also means workers can concentrate on other, more meaningful tasks whilst the robots tackle mundane and repetitive jobs.

Chances are we will see humans and robots come together in sectors like healthcare, where care robots could work in tandem with medical professionals to assist with tasks and help to relieve pressures on resources.

Who knows what type of robots we will see in the future? But one thing is certain: here at EC Electronics, we have a wealth of experience producing quality PCB and cable assemblies for use in a range of robotics applications. To find out more, get in touch with our team today.