Comp.robotics FAQ

Comp.robotics FAQ
July, 2003 [No Changes Since June, 2003]
** Table of Contents **
1 About this FAQ
1.1. Purpose
1.2. All the fun legal stuff: copyright, usage, history, and disclaimers.
1.3. Additions, submissions, and questions
1.4. Thanks and special thanks.
2 Introduction: What are robots?
2.1 So, what is a robot? robotics? roboticist? Does anyone know what they
are talking about?
2.2 Origin of the word: Rossum's Universal Robots
2.3 What is the growth rate of robotics? How many robot critters of each
type are out there anyway?
3 A vocabulary for describing robots: gizbots and simbots and
flightbots, oh my!
3.1 Summary and usage
3.2 How Modular Is Your 'bot: Gizbots, Morphbots, and Unibots
3.3 Where does your 'bot live? Stationbots, Floorbots, Terrainbots, and
the Envirobots of air, sea, and space.
3.6 How independent is your 'bot: Autobot, Taskbot, RCbot, and Telebot
3.4 How big is your 'bot: Microbot, Macrobot, and Megabot Sizes
3.5 How real is your 'bot: Thoughtbot, Fantasybot, Simbot, Tinkerbot, and
Workbot Development Phases
4 Getting started - Joining the People of Robotics
4.1 Watching the art: surveying robotics
4.2 A most enjoyable hobby: building your own robots
4.3 Studying for a living: universities and research
4.4 Working for a living: the robotics industry
5 Using the Newsgroups
5.1 Which newsgroup should I use?
5.2 How should I ask a good question of the community?
5.3 How do I answer a question for the community?
5.4 Robots thinking, learning, and dreaming
1 About this FAQ
1.1. Purpose
Every Frequently Asked Questions document (FAQ) hopes to answer some of
the frequently asked questions and to provide some framework of knowledge to
people new in the field. The hope is that the FAQ will have enough new
information to justify taking your time to read it. Also, this FAQ may provide
a framework of robotics knowledge and some pointers for you to find your own
answers through research, reading, and experience.
1.2. All the fun legal stuff: copyright, usage, history, and disclaimers.
This document copyright 2001, 2002, 2003 by Charles Merriam. This FAQ
was written from scratch in 2001 and should be updated every three months. You
may mirror this document for noncommercial use. If you are reading this copy
on a CD-ROM, then it is probably out of date. You can find a copy of the
current FAQ at
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If you are at all confused
about using or distributing the FAQ, just contact Charles at This document is unrelated to an older comp.robotics FAQ
maintained until 1996 by Kevin Dowling, then of Carnegie Mellon University.
This older FAQ can be found at
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The information in this FAQ is probably accurate but not guaranteed.
Use at your own risk and watch for the occasional bad pun.
1.3. Additions, submissions, and questions
Both the questions and the answers in this FAQ will change over time.
I will have made mistakes and omissions, and the field of robotics will
continue to mature. I appreciate your help in identifying errors I made in this
FAQ and for bringing up new information. Please send all comments, submissions
and glamorous resources to Charles at, and please put the
section number in the header line. I'll try to integrate in all corrections,
some new resources, and additional details into each new version. Also, if you
are willing to be on the 'proof-reading' list, let me know.
Feedback on the FAQ is greatly appreciated. I expect to add another
section looking at the core systems a robot: sensors, manipulators, controls
and intelligences, and chassis. If you feel there is another core area, please
let me know.
Finally, some writers of FAQs dedicate time to answer every question
emailed to them. I ask that questions be posted the comp.robotics.misc and
comp.robotics.research newsgroup for answering, as they were before the FAQ.
1.4. Thanks and special thanks.
Many people will be open and helpful in improving this FAQ, and I hope
to give credit to as many as possible. For now, let me give a special thanks
to my wife, Judith, for the ideas, proof reading, and patience that allowed me
to write this document.
Also, thanks to Bill Benson and Wayne Gramlich of the Robobricks
project for edits and suggestions.
2 Introduction: What are robots?
2.1 So, what is a robot? robotics? roboticist? Does anyone know what they
are talking about?
There are many definitions for robot, meaning that there is none.
I define a robot as a computer that moves outside molecules.
Webster's defines a robot as a machine that looks like a human and
performs various complex tasks. Alternatively, Webster's also defines a robot
as a device that automatically performs complicated, often repetitive tasks.
Various robotics books define robots as machines that move, respond to stimuli,
run programs, or mimic life. Some computer books define robots as computer
programs that simulate a human user for other computer programs. Finally, some
people with thick Boston accents define robots as oar driven water vehicles.
Almost every book feels it important to spend a couple of pages
defining an exact meaning for the term robot in the context of the book. Some
define robots by required components; e.g., moving parts and computation. Some
define by function or philosophy, e.g., a machine that aspires to intelligence.
This lets you know there isn't a single definition. You can start long
arguments about the 'robot-ness' of 2001's HAL, Stiquito, BattleBots, BEAM
robots, automobiles, humans, and garage door openers. You will find people who
challenge your definitions and understanding in these discussions, and you will
find people who try to convince you by bellowing. When in doubt, it is easiest
to agree that everything is a robot and recognize that you, personally, are
only interested in some robots.
Robotics is the study of robots. Robotics may be the broadest cross
disciplinary subject. It integrates mechanical engineering, computer science,
vision processing, electrical engineering, and some biology, psychology, and
art. Advances in all of these other fields are instantiated as advances in
A roboticist is someone who builds or studies robots. Next time you
meet a roboticist, ask how many robots he or she has built. The result may
surprise you, and will certainly get them talking.
2.2 Origin of the word: Rossum's Universal Robots
In 1920, a Czech playwright named Karel Capek wrote a play named
"Rossum's Universal Robots". His manufactured factory workers were biological
drones, called 'robots'. The Czech term 'robot' means slave or drone. The
robots in the story, of course, try to rebel and extinguish the human race.
'Robots' sounds better than 'automations', 'automatons' or 'androids' so the
name stuck. You can read more about the play at Dr. Dennis Jerz's site,
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The concept of robots as self-motivated creatures endured from this
story. People generally assign robots names and genders and there is a rush to
ascribe algorithms, glitches and unexpected behaviors as the emotions of some
new life come alive. It's a powerful tendency.
The image of metal mechanical men came later; it is easy on the special
effects budgets of movies to put someone in a shiny metal suit with flashing
lights. Fictional robots are often workers gone amok and are always more
capable than what's available; it's the nature of fiction.
2.3 What is the growth rate of robotics? How many robot critters of each
type are out there anyway?
Robotics grows by about 30% per year, meaning the trend is that every
year there will be nearly one third more roboticists and nearly one third more
robots. The only formal census I've run across is the United Nations reporting
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which concentrates on
the established industrial robotic market. Robotics growth concentrates in new
applications. It would be an interesting graduate project to make a census and
to chart the health and profitability of robotics companies over time.
3 A vocabulary for describing robots: gizbots and simbots and
flightbots, oh my!
3.1 Summary and usage
Vocabulary is the starting point for any discussion and is especially
necessary in the broad field of robotics. Interesting discussions between the
scientists, engineers, designers, and artists involved robotics need a clear
vocabulary. The vocabulary below describes the basic design choices of robots
and facilitates a good discussion. For a new roboticist, reading these terms
will provide an overview of the basic design categories for robots. These
terms are a pretty good way to describe a robot in a single sentence.
Each term describes a design choice for a robot. Taken together, these
terms will describe the robot's construction, environment, size, control
system, and current phase of construction. For example, you may be tinkering
with a tiny, terrain traveling, autonomous, modular robot. In a conversation,
you might describe it as an autobot or a terrianbot as short hand for it's
autonomous or terrain traveling aspect. This chart shows a quick reference to
the terms.
Gizbot - Assembled from modular building blocks. Snapped together
gizmos. Reconfigurable.
Morphbot - Self modifying, shape changing, self reassembling.
Unibot - Statically constructed. Hand assembled.
Stationbot - Stationary robot. Pedestal or arm robot.
Floorbot - Travels on floors, building interiors, and nearly level
Terrainbot - Travels outside over unfriendly ground terrain, and navigates
Envirobot - Works in a challenging environment, including air, water, and
Microbot - Under two inches. Microrobotics, nanorobotics.
Macrobot - Bigger than a microbot, but easy for one person to
handle. Under two feet in any direction.
Megabot - Bigger than a macrobot. Larger than one person can carry.
Large hobbyist robots, automated vehicles.
Thoughtbot - Robot that has not been, will not be, or cannot be built. A
thought experiment.
Fantasybot - An artistic representation of a thoughtbot. A robot for film,
anime, or art.
Simbot - Robot that exists in a simulation.
Tinkerbot - A robot being constructed or constantly being tinkered with as
Workbot - A robot used to do work or in commercial production. A
completed robot in use.
Autobot - Autonomous control, completely self controlled robot.
Taskbot - Handling set of tasks. Self controlled for some sequences.
Telebot - Teleoperations robot. Provides sensing and action under remote
control of operator.
RCbot - Remote controlled robot. Provides action under control of
Groupbot - A member of a group of cooperative robots.
3.2 How Modular Is Your 'bot: Gizbots, Morphbots, and Unibots
Robots are assembled in radically different ways. Most robots are
constructed like an automobile: they are a collection of parts joined more or
less permanently into a usable machine. Some others are made from
interchangeable parts that can be reassembled into other robots quickly.
Finally, a few robots reconfigure themselves during operation.
A gizbot is a robot assembled completely from modules or gizmos.
Gizbots snap together using only screws or other temporary fasteners. The same
parts can usually be taken apart and assembled into new robots by a competent
roboticist or innovative six-year-old. Lego Mindstorms is a good example of a
gizbot building kit, and allows you to build robots from gizmos including
bricks, motors, wheels, and belts. See
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for more
information on Lego Mindstorms.
Morphbots are self reconfiguring modular robots that reassemble or
reconfigure themselves while they work. These robots are cool to watch, and
are generally still in research laboratories. See Xerox PARC's Modular
Reconfigurable Robots page,
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for some examples.
Unibots are put together to stay, more or less, as a unitary machine.
Glue, welded metal, and soldered wires hold together the motors, sensors,
wheels, and chips into a single machine. Most robots fall into this category;
a robot is probably a unibot unless otherwise noted.
3.3 Where does your 'bot live? Stationbots, Floorbots, Terrainbots, and
the Envirobots of air, sea, and space.
A key design aspect of a robot is the expected environment in which the
robot will operate. Just as cars, boats, and airplanes are designed
differently, so are robots destined for level floors, rough terrain, or
underwater use. In special environments, the rigors of operating in the
environment affects every aspect of the robots design and operation. Robots
have been made for all sorts of special environments from high radiation
corrosive environments to the insides of sewer pipes. However, most robots
operate in three surface environments.
Stationbots live in one place. They stay at their station, and don't
wander by themselves. Stationbots generally have a solid base with some moving
parts on top. For example, industrial arm robots can reach out and work with
manufactured goods, but require some sort of conveyor to bring the work to
them. Other stationbots include computer controlled fine tools such as robotic
lathes and CNC mills. You can see a variety of industrial stationbots at
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Floorbots wander around level floors and down hallways. They have
wheels or legs or treads to wander around linoleum or carpet and often have
sensors appropriate for navigating walls and simple obstacles. Floorbots
aren't built to handle the rigors of outdoor life; they are built for flat
surfaces with the occasional stair. For example, Honda's humanoid robot at
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can walk down stairs, but not over rough terrain.
Terrainbots wander over rough terrain. They are designed for outdoor
use and can navigate boulders, gorges, and unstable ground. They usually can
handle inclement weather, foliage, and rocks. The Nomad in the Antarctic is an
example of a big, autonomous terrainbot; see
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Envirobots is the general term for robots designed to operating in
specialized or hostile environments: The three most common special
environments are air, water, and space. Airbots fly in the air. They resemble
airplanes, helicopters, and flying balloons. For example, robotic observation
planes are currently workbots, see
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swim in the water. Seabots include the traditional, such as Rob Haz's
tinkerbot seabot at
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artificial fish such as Aquaroid's zoo at
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Spacebots are built
for use in outer space, where high reliability, temperature fluctuations, and
radiation are issues. There are also hundreds of niche environments, each with
their own envirobots.
Robots built for extreme environments can be simply described as an
envirobot, or special environment robot. You can also specifically name the
environment planned for the robot, e.g., the Sojourner,
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is a Mars envirobot.
3.6 How independent is your 'bot: Autobot, Taskbot, RCbot, and Telebot
Robots are designed to function with different levels of independence.
Independence is the degree to which a robot relies on control from a human or
remote computer. Independence ranges from autonomous robots that function
without any human guidance to remote controlled robots where every action of
the robot is controlled by a human or remote computer. Independence is not a
measure of the complexity of the robot's actions.
Autobots, or fully autonomous robots, are robots that are let loose to
run without any further control by a human or remote computer. There is a wide
range of complexity in autobots, from robots attempting to mimic humans to
phototropic floorbots. Autobots can be turned on and let go; they can function
without additional communication. Some autobots will communicate information
to another machine, e.g., status and results. Some people like to argue that
only autobots are truly robots.
Groupbots are a specific class of autobot; they are a collection of
autobots sharing sensor data and working together. See Oakridge National
Laboratory's CESAR system at
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Taskbots, or task-oriented robots, perform some steps on their own and
pass messages back and forth with a remote computer or human for more
directions. Most industrial robots are taskbots, and rely on a remote, central
computer to tell them when to run tasks. For example, an assembly line
computer might command a welding taskbot to "run welding program 9; trust me
that there is an automobile chassis positioned correctly in front of you." The
taskbot has some of its own capabilities, but cannot function without direction
from outside itself.
RCbots have no onboard decision processing. A remote controller
triggers the machinery to move and makes all the decisions for the robot.
Radio Controlled (RC) vehicles are RCbots because a human controls them and
makes all the decisions via a radio controller, e.g., the robots in BattleBots
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Telebots, or teleoperated robots, are versions of taskbots or RCbots
that try to extend a human operator's perception and capabilities. The
operator can see from cameras located on the robot, and many telebots have
manipulators on the robot that mimic the operator's hand movements. Telebots
are often used in hazardous areas, such as Robominer's mining robots,
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They are also used in difficult to reach areas,
such as inside the human body. See an article of robotics surgery at
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A robot is probably a
telebot if it transmits real-time video.
Many robots might fit in multiple categories of independence and may be
hard to classify. For example, a manufacturing taskbot might switch modes to
become an autobot to shutdown safely during an emergency or when communications
are lost. An airbot might fly itself, but could also switched into a telebot
mode. To be complicated, if an RCbot were controlled by a remote computer that
made all decisions then the RCbot and the remote computer together would be
considered an autobot.
3.4 How big is your 'bot: Microbot, Macrobot, and Megabot Sizes
Robots come in every size from smaller than eye can see to large enough
to crush your minivan. The way a robot is designed and constructed changes
significantly if it is smaller than your fingernail, portable by one person, or
huge. Joining two pieces on a microscopic robot uses different tools than
joining two pieces on a huge mining robot. Three distinctions for size are
sufficient to scope a discussion.
Microbots, or miniature robots, are shorter than a two inches in any
direction . This term includes Sandia's miniature bots,
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as well as Sweden's
microscopic robots,
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Microbots are
still new, and most are still thoughtbots.
Megabots are larger than can easily be handled by one person. They are
heavier than 65 pounds (about 50 kilograms) or longer than two feet (about 0.6
meters) in any direction. Megabots typically need several people and some sort
of vehicle to carry them from place to place. Alternately, they are the
vehicle. They range from large hobbyist robots to huge monstrosities like the
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Macrobots are everything else. A macrobot is a robot that is between
two inches and two feet in it's longest dimension, with its arms folded.
Macrobots can usually be worked on by one person with hand tools. You can
carry a macrobot. When the size of robot isn't mentioned to be a Microbot or a
megabot, it's probably a macrobot.
3.5 How real is your 'bot: Thoughtbot, Fantasybot, Simbot, Tinkerbot, and
Workbot Development Phases
The science of robotics is constantly evolving. Being clear about what
can built, what has been build, and what just looks pretty helps your
conversations convey useful information. It also allows you to quickly decide
if a conversation is interesting to you; long discussions about robots in film
are often uninteresting to people working on robotic simulations and vice
versa. Robots exist as thought or fantasy, in simulations, as experiments and
works in progress, or as finished products performing some job.
Thoughtbots are robots that have not been built yet or cannot yet be
built. These are robots people thought about, wrote papers about, or designed,
but have not started building. Many long conversations of thoughtbots concern
philosophy and predictions on the effect of future robots on society and
humankind. Other conversations read like a planning session of synthesizing
several avenues of research into a new robot. It's polite to mention that your
new creation is a thoughtbot if you haven't built it yet; our grip on reality
is shaky at best.
A fantastybot is a robot that exists only in films, games, art, toys,
or other fiction. Fantasybots are a type of thoughtbot that is never planned
to be implemented, they exist solely as art. Many people follow the
fantasybots or movies and anime as an enjoyable hobby. See
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for examples of many fantasybots
mixed in with real robots, and
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for robots from the
Japanese animation series Robotech. My apologies to the angry artists for
having called these "filmbots" in a previous FAQ.
Simbots are robots that exist in simulation environments that provide
a graphical, simulated view of the robot interacting with its environment.
Simulations are useful for testing new programs for later use with physical
robot. Simulation environments also allow research on reasoning, complex
interaction of multiple robots, testing designs, and creating innovative
software. See IBM's RoboCode software at
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for an example
of a simbot software environment. See
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for a
directory of simbot software packages.
Tinkerbots are robots that are experiments, works in progress, and
working prototypes. They are usually works in progress, but not all tinkerbots
will ever 'finish' or become workbots. Many tinkerbots are built as
continually evolving experiments to test new theories and advance science.
A workbot is a robot in its final form that is used to produce a useful
goal. Workbots may be mass produced, such as a robotic lawn mower, or one of
kind such a meteor retrieval robot. Useful is loose determination; both mowing
the lawn and amusing children count.
Note that each of these types of robots inspires the others.
Thoughtbots are argued about, simulated, and then someone builds a tinkerbot.
A cool tinkerbot becomes the foundation for a company creating workbots. Real
robots often end up as art, such as the real robots in the original Star Wars
movie. Art sometimes inspires cool tinkerbots, such as those of Survival
Research Labs at
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Reality is what you make in
the workshop.
4 Getting started - Joining the People of Robotics
First, congratulations on entering an amazing quest. Good luck; may it
be fascinating, fun, educational, and profitable for you.
The most common question in any newsgroup is "I'm new; how do I get
started?". There are different ways of getting started depending on your
background and your interests: you may start as an observer, reading about and
watching robots; you might start as a hobbyist, building robots for fun; you
may want to study and research robots in academia; or you may want to join the
robotics industry in hopes of making some money. Wherever you start, robotics
is a rich and fascinating field.
4.1 Watching the art: surveying robotics
You many want to start with a survey of robotics to find out what is
being done with robotics. You can find out what's real and what's only in the
movies. This can be fascinating and give you enough background in case you
want to become more involved.
If you want to start with a book, I recommend "Robo sapiens: Evolution
of a New Species". This is a coffee table book, but includes plenty of text in
addition to some amazing pictures. It came out in early 2000 and surveys
people, institutions, and robots. It is a good way to see what's out there and
what is in the laboratories. See
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On the web, check out NASA's Cool Robot of the week site at
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This site
features a cool new robot each week, and has a history of cool robots since
1996. NASA also provides a page of resources for educators at
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Almost everything about robotics
is available on the web; for example,
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hundreds of links to other sites.
Popular press coverage can also be found on the web. You can read
daily news from
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I prefer Google News at
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?q=robots and
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For straight entertainment, check out
the Robotica and RobotWars television shows, or watch streaming video at
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Finally, if you want to build or play with some robots, you can buy
robots from most toy stores and hobby stores. The Robot Store has a
particularly large selection of kits and assembled robots at
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Tell them I sent you and you can receive a zero
percent discount!
4.2 A most enjoyable hobby: building your own robots
A wonderful way to enjoy robotics is to build robots. There are many
hobbyists, lots of enthusiasm, and can be a great social activity. There are
lots of clubs, web sites, and online communities to help you build robots and
let you help others build robots. Most people play with different types of
hobby robots without specializing on a particular type. Over time, most
hobbyists learn a bit about electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and
computer programming.
Most people start with gizbots, specifically the Lego Mindstorms kit.
Lego Mindstorms can be made into many types of robots, are used in several
types of competitions, and are surprisingly powerful. On the down side, a set
of MindStorms will cost about $200, and requires access to a personal computer.
You can find too much information by looking through the Lego Mindstorms web
ring at
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In contrast to the Lego Mindstorms kit, the BOEbot (Board of
Education) BasicStamp is another high end kit that also costs about $200 and
also requires a personal computer. It can be rebuilt into different types of
robots. While MindStorms emphasizes creativity and programming, the BOEbot
teaches more electronics and mechanics. The BOEbot comes with thousands of
pages of experiments and teacher guides. You can read about the BOEbot at
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Many people also build unibots, either from kits or from scratch. The
kits range in complexity from an afternoon's diversion to a long project. If
you want to build your own robot, or transform your kit based robot, I heartily
recommend the book "Robot Builders Bonanza". It provides an overview of the
methods and tricks of finding wheels that work, using batteries with motors,
circuitry, programming microcontrollers, and other advice for putting all the
parts together. See
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Finally, a more difficult, but cheap, introduction is BEAM robots,
which are small, autonomous unibots. These have the advantage of being
inexpensive, usually under $20, and do not require computer programming skills.
They usually require some soldering and patience. These robots are a
fascinating attempt at using biology, electronics, aesthetics, and mechanics as
design goals. Both they and the related subsumptive architecture approach are
the subject of a lot of research. See
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for more information.
You will probably find it fun and helpful to meet people from a local
robotics club. There is a list of some robotics clubs at
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Online, you can be
part of an online community such as comp.robotics.misc or Yahoo's
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Finally, you can join a league or team, see
the section on competition for more information.
4.3 Studying for a living: universities and research
Robots are cool, and, well, you have to go to college anyway. People
commonly ask about finding the best university to study robotics at the
undergraduate, graduate, and post-doc levels. The simple answer is "it
depends," and you will need to do some research to find a good match.
First, recognize that the study of robotics is at the confluence of
many different fields, each progressing rapidly. Robotics is a new field, and
educators are still learning what to emphasize to efficiently create people
skilled in researching and building robots. Every department will be
different, and will focus on the large or small, practical or ambitious, with a
hardware focus or software focus. Many universities will have robotics groups
within their Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering or Computer Science
departments. Most universities will have some graduate students studying
robotics in fields ranging from Environmental Engineering to Behavioral
The universities are all different, and you can learn a lot from the
web pages for each college at each university. Robotics is coming to age in a
world with the Internet. If you can't get a sense of the focus and direction
of the research groups from the web pages, then there is no focus or direction.
If the web pages have no gallery of pictures or movies of previous robots then
the department probably hasn't built any. Count how many students, professors,
projects, and facilities are mentioned to get an idea of the community. Try to
get a sense of how they teach about robots; figure out if there are formal
classes and at what level. When counting up how many faculty, students, and
facilities are involved, check multiple colleges at the university. Finally,
try to see if the graduates work in robotics instead of programming computers
for a living.
If you are already at a university and are looking for access to more
resources, try reading the news:comp.robotics.research newsgroup or joining the
IEEE Robotics and Automation Society at
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Calls for
papers and announcements of seminars are routinely posted to
news:comp.robotics.research. Robotics is a rapidly changing field.
4.4 Working for a living: the robotics industry
Capitalism is unforgiving: people don't want robots; they just want the
job done. Money is made when robots deliver on promises and money is lost when
companies over-promise and fail. Because the robotics industry has had periods
of outrageous claims, some companies will avoid the taint of the term 'robot'
with their customers by using terms such as industrial machinery, automated
machinery, or machine control systems. You can find all of the robotics
companies by using the Thomas Register, at
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searching for "robot".
The billion dollars per year in the U.S. robotics industry is divided
among manufacturing robotics, clean room robotics for computer chip
fabrication, and a number of smaller fields. Because firms in each field sell
to different customers, they usually read different magazines, attend different
trade shows, and have different priorities.
Manufacturing robotics is a mature field selling a variety of robots
for welding, painting, assembling, and conveying goods. Almost all of these
robots are stationary unibots, and most are taskbots. High throughput, low
cost, and extreme reliability are primary goals. A good place to start
exploring this segment of the industry is through the Robotics Industry
Association (RIA) at
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and through the Society of
Manufacturing Engineers at
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The clean room robotics field makes machines used in computer chip
fabrication facilities (fabs). These include floorbots moving wafers around
the fab, and the machines that manipulate wafers in controlled environments.
Extreme reliability, consistency, and precision manipulation are primary goals.
This field makes fewer, but more expensive robots than manufacturing robotics.
A good place to start exploring this field would be SEMI's resource page at
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Finally, there are a number of new companies that are at the forefront
of new applications. As these companies generate more technology and profits,
they will be followed by more competitors until a full industry emerges. For
example, robotic pharmacists moved from concept to mature industry in a
surprisingly short period. Similarly, robotic surgery is growing from a few
innovative companies to a new industry. The risks are higher in an emerging
field, but so are the rewards. In robotics, you can expect your career to be
interesting and dynamic.
5 Using the Newsgroups
5.1 Which newsgroup should I use?
The two primary newsgroups are comp.robotics.misc and
comp.robotics.research. Comp.robotics.misc is the most active newsgroup, hosts
all sorts of discussions on building unibots, debates on which components work
best, and a raft of other discussions helpful to the hobbyist, enthusiast, and
everyone else. The group is unmoderated, meaning anyone can post questions and
Comp.robotics.reseach is a moderated newsgroup aimed at academics and
researchers. It generally announces CFPs (calls for papers to be submitted for
publication), announces jobs for researchers, announces contests, and makes
more announcements. It also hosts short discussions on questions of known
research or current areas of research. As a moderated newsgroup, there are
only a few messages each day and each is approved by Iain Shigeoka. (crr @
The other available newsgroups are comp.robotics itself, which holds
only the FAQ and occasional spam, several groups on fantasybots including the
rec.arts.anime.* tree, a group for RobotWars fans at,
and a group for Lego Mindstorms gizbots at There are
also numerous groups for the fields that contribute to robotics, e.g.,*
, sci.electronics.*.
5.2 How should I ask a good question of the community?
First, do a little research. Spending a few minutes searching Google
and Google Groups
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will often answer your question,
or at least clarify and refine your question.
Second, write a good, long question. Think of trying to ask a question
to your car mechanic via a letter and be extra descriptive. Ask the basic
question in the first line, and then follow with all the details on the type
and model of the robot, what equipment it has, the exact problem you are
trying to solve, and the budget you have to solve it. Try to give an idea as
to your experience and what solutions you have already tried. Most questions
that are left unanswered are simply to broad for a knowlegable person to guess
at which answers apply.
Third, check for the answers on the newsgroup. It may take a few days
for the first answer, and you may be asked for more information. The questions
and answers will generally be posts in the newsgroup, not private emails. If
you ask that answers be mailed to you because you don't read the newsgroup,
everyone will ignore you.
Finally, be prepared for spam. Any email you use in posting to the
Usenet will be harvested and spamed unmercifully. Consider using a one use
yahoo email address or a temporary address from
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5.3 How do I answer a question for the community?
First, read the other answers already posted. This allows you to make
exactly the correct comment to help people, win praise, and advance world
Second, make a clear response. Quote only the part of the post that
you are answering. Add as much information as makes the answer clear. Include
sources, links, and your background as necessary. Call no one an idiot.
Reread your response before you post it to remove spelling errors, bad links,
and personal attacks. If your news poster gives you a 'distribution' option,
choose 'world'.
Finally, be prepared for spam. Any email you use in posting to the
Usenet will be harvested and spamed unmercifully. Consider using a one use
yahoo email address or a temporary address from
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5.4 Robots thinking, learning, and dreaming
"Are robots intelligent?" is a common question that comes up on the
newsgroup and leads to 2,000 year old questions about the nature of
intelligence, the context of thinking, and the limits of learning. For good
ammunition for this type of discussions, you may like to read Ray Kurtzweil's
book, Age of Spiritual Machines. See
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* End of FAQ *
************** comp.robotics.research (moderated) **************
Summary: Academic, government & industry research in robotics.
Archives and information:
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Charles Merriam
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