Robots perform jobs that humans find dull, dangerous or difficult. Either labor intensive or mundane, robots can be adapted to a variety of tasks. Industry, farming, medicine, the military, and space have all seen the expansion of robotics in their practice. The home has also become a hotbed for technology, as many appliances have now become "smart" devices over the years. The impact on humans is varied, but the utilization of robots will continue throughout this century and beyond.
In 1961, General Motors installed the Unimate in a New Jersey factory. This was the first industrial robot. Created by George Devol, Unimate was designed to weld die-casts onto auto bodies. This revolutionized the automobile industry and had lasting impact on various other factories as they took GM's cue and began installing robots of their own.
Today, industrial robots perform a variety of tasks such as spot and gas welding, sealing, assembly, and handling various tools. Any form of heavy labor can now be performed by a robot. Companies such as Caterpillar are making headway in automating even more of its heavy equipment. They have successfully launched the first remote controlled cranes and plan for full automation by 2021.
Most robots work under the supervision of humans. Farmers have begun to utilize robotic harvesting equipment to handle a larger volume of land with less human labor. Workers in dangerous or hazardous environments have begun to utilize remote reconnaissance robots to test conditions and structural integrity of various environments. The Pioneer robot used at the Chernobyl disaster site is an example of this. It allowed investigation of the still-radioactive environment without endangering any human lives.
The United States military has begun to automate much of its forces. With the development of unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicles like the Predator, the pilot has been removed from combat and placed in a safe environment far away. Front line ordinance robots have saved many lives by remotely detonating improvised explosive devices. The U.S. Navy also plans to turn portions of its fleet into fully remote controlled vehicles controlled from a central location such as an aircraft carrier.
The robot has permeated its existence inside every home in America. Simple appliances like toasters, microwaves and stoves are now essentially robots. They are complete with microprocessors and low-level artificial intelligence designed to prevent damage or fires. The Roomba, a small robotic vacuum cleaner, has become a highly marketed success with homemakers, taking on a redundant task with proficiency. "Smart" appliances, such as talking refrigerators and alarm clocks that walk away from you when you hit snooze, are beginning to make their way into the marketplace.
Toys have been one of the boons for the robotics industry. Beginning with the success of the very low-level Furby, toy robots have grown more interactive. They are supplanting other forms of entertainment for children. Advances in development have made these toys more interactive, and their learning speed has increased.
Humanity as a whole benefits from the existence of robots and their various tasks. This can be seen most effectively in the medical industry. Remote surgery is a reality due to robotics, allowing a doctor to perform detailed surgical procedures from anywhere on the planet. The Da Vinci robotic assistant is the best example of how doctors have implemented this fact. Laboratories have begun to utilize robots of their own to handle redundant analysis and perform basic procedures to allow human technicians to focus on other tasks. With the rising demand for health care, the continued expansion of robots in the medical industry will prove to be a fast growing field.
One of the facts of robots in the workplace is their replacement of human beings for certain tasks. This can be seen most dramatically in space exploration. Missions that used to need a human to perform are now more conveniently and safely being conducted by robots, either autonomous or remote controlled from Earth. The Mars landers Spirit and Opportunity have performed their missions above and beyond what was originally predicted, lasting years longer than a human expedition could have and retrieving information over greater distances than would otherwise have been possible. The fact that NASA has chosen to move in the direction of unmanned spacecraft and probes has greatly driven down costs. It allowed for more expansive missions that continue for years.