What Is Robotics?

Robotics is the intersection of science, engineering and technology that produces machines, called robots, that substitute for (or replicate) human actions. Pop culture has always been fascinated with robots. R2-D2.

Optimus Prime. WALL-E. These over-exaggerated, humanoid concepts of robots usually seem like a caricature of the real thing or are they more forward thinking than we realize?

Robots are gaining intellectual and mechanical capabilities that don’t put the possibility of a R2-D2-like machine out of reach in the future.

What are the main Components of a Robot?

Robots come in all shapes and sizes all of which require different parts for construction. These are the three general categories of robotics:


While saying a robot has a “brain” does a disservice to what we have in our own heads, they do have a central processing unit called a controller that determines the actions they take in a given situation.

These controllers can be programmed to complete tasks as simple as turning a screw or as complex as emulating human social graces and expressions.


As autonomous units, robots need specific mechanical parts to allow them to move freely without direct physical intervention from their human operators.

These parts include things like wheels that allow them to travel and motors that propel them. Other components such as grippers allow them to interface with the world around them in a direct and targeted way.


Sensors are what allow robots to recognize their surroundings. They give them the ability to determine things like the size and shape of an object or detect heat, cold, or other properties.

These capabilities allow the processors to collect data about the surrounding environment, then move accordingly.

Types of Robots

Mechanical bots come in all shapes and sizes to efficiently carry out the task for which they are designed. All robots vary in design, functionality and degree of autonomy.

From the 0.2 millimeter-long “RoboBee” to the 200 meter-long robotic shipping vessel “Vindskip,” robots are emerging to carry out tasks that humans simply can’t. Generally, there are five types of robots:

1) Pre-Programmed Robots

Pre-programmed robots operate in a controlled environment where they do simple, monotonous tasks. An example of a pre-programmed robot would be a mechanical arm on an automotive assembly line.

The arm serves one function to weld a door on, to insert a certain part into the engine, etc. and its job is to perform that task longer, faster and more efficiently than a human.

2) Humanoid Robots

Humanoid robots are robots that look like and/or mimic human behavior. These robots usually perform human-like activities (like running, jumping and carrying objects), and are sometimes designed to look like us, even having human faces and expressions.

Two of the most prominent examples of humanoid robots are Hanson Robotics’ Sophia (in the video above) and Boston Dynamics’ Atlas.

3) Autonomous Robots

Autonomous robots operate independently of human operators. These robots are usually designed to carry out tasks in open environments that do not require human supervision.

They are quite unique because they use sensors to perceive the world around them, and then employ decision-making structures (usually a computer) to take the optimal next step based on their data and mission. 

An example of an autonomous robot would be the Roomba vacuum cleaner, which uses sensors to roam freely throughout a home.

4) Teleoperated Robots

Teleoperated robots are semi-autonomous bots that use a wireless network to enable human control from a safe distance. These robots usually work in extreme geographical conditions, weather, circumstances, etc.

Examples of teleoperated robots are the human-controlled submarines used to fix underwater pipe leaks during the BP oil spill or drones used to detect landmines on a battlefield.

5) Augmenting Robots

Augmenting robots either enhance current human capabilities or replace the capabilities a human may have lost.

The field of robotics for human augmentation is a field where science fiction could become reality very soon, with bots that have the ability to redefine the definition of humanity by making humans faster and stronger. 

Some examples of current augmenting robots are robotic prosthetic limbs or exoskeletons used to lift hefty weights.