Throughout history, the enduring fascination with intelligent machines assisting us has paved the way for a promising future in the robotics industry. Rapid advancements in artificial intelligence and software are the driving force behind this progress.
From the simplest mechanical arm found on assembly lines for building cars to the extraordinary Amazon home robot Astro, which seamlessly integrates Alexa, AI, cutting-edge hardware, software, and computer vision, the evolution of AI in robotics is nothing short of remarkable.
In this article, we will explain the differences between robotics and AI and explore the role of AI in cutting-edge robotic technology.
What is Robotics?
Robotics is an interdisciplinary domain that combines elements of electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and computer science to design, create, manufacture, and control robots. The ultimate goal: empowering these intelligent entities to aid humanity in countless ways.
In the present day, robotics has undergone a significant transformation, embracing a broader and more advanced scope.
This entails the innovation and deployment of various bots with diverse capabilities, such as:
- Venturing into extreme environmental conditions,
- Aiding law enforcement operations,
- Optimizing surgical processes,
- Executing daring rescue missions.
In the expanding world of robotics, these mechanical marvels possess distinctive and vital attributes:
- Mechanical Construction: Robots are built with intricate mechanical structures tailored for specific tasks. For instance, the Mars 2020 Rover boasts individually motorized wheels made of titanium tubing, ensuring a firm grip on the challenging terrain of the red planet.
- Electrical Components: Essential electrical elements empower and regulate robotic machinery. Whether it’s a battery or another power source, electrical currents serve as the lifeblood for most robots.
- Computer Programming: Robots are not mere machines; they require intelligent programming to function effectively. Inserting a well-crafted program enables a robot to understand when and how to execute tasks with precision.
What Are AI Robots?
AI-powered robots possess intelligent capabilities and operate with minimal human intervention, bringing flexibility and learning capabilities to previously rigid applications.
The convergence of AI and robotics has led to smarter, more precise, and more profitable robots, bridging the gap between computer science and the physical world.
These AI-enabled robots are equipped with a diverse array of sensors, including 2D/3D cameras, proximity sensors, vibration sensors, environmental sensors, and accelerometers. These sensors continuously provide real-time data, enabling the robots to analyze and respond to their surroundings.
Understanding the intelligence behind AI robots is crucial. AI encompasses a wide range of systems that empower machines to replicate advanced human capabilities.
The most common AI-powered robot types today include:
Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs):
AMRs are on-the-go robots that make real-time decisions as they navigate their surroundings. Equipped with sensors and cameras, they absorb information about their environment, while onboard processing enables them to make informed choices. AMRs function independently, with minimal human intervention.
Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs)
Unlike AMRs, AGVs follow predetermined paths or tracks and often require human supervision. They are commonly deployed in controlled settings such as factories and warehouses, efficiently transporting materials and goods.
Also known as robotic arms, articulated robots imitate human arm movements. Boasting anywhere from two to 10 rotary joints, these robots offer exceptional flexibility, making them ideal for tasks like arc welding, machine tending, material handling, and packaging.
Mobile humanoid robots share some similarities with AMRs but focus on human-centric tasks and often have human-like appearances. Powered by similar technology components as AMRs, humanoids can perform functions like offering concierge services or providing directions.
Cobots (Collaborative Robots)
Designed to collaborate directly with humans, cobots are unique in their ability to share workspace with workers. Unlike other robots, cobots work alongside employees, relieving them of manual, hazardous, or physically demanding tasks. In some cases, cobots learn and respond to human movements, enhancing their adaptability.
Hybrid solutions merge different robot types to perform more complex tasks. For instance, combining an AMR with a robotic arm creates a powerful robot capable of efficiently handling packages within a warehouse. This integration of functionalities also leads to consolidated computing capabilities, enhancing overall efficiency.
Difference Between Robotics and AI
Forecasts suggest that robots could potentially replace around 800 million jobs globally, which could make nearly 30% of all occupations obsolete.
Moreover, only a small fraction of companies, about 7%, are not currently employing AI, though they are considering its adoption.
These figures often lead to misconceptions, with many people incorrectly assuming that robots and AI are the same. However, this is not accurate.
To better understand the relationship between the two, one could think of AI as the “brain” or software. It provides intelligence, decision-making abilities, and learning capabilities.
Conversely, robots can be seen as the “body” or hardware. The field of robotics focuses on designing and building physical machines that can interact with the physical world and carry out specific tasks.
Now, let’s look at three main differences between AI and robotics more closely:
1. Conceptual differences
AI is about enabling machines to make complex decisions autonomously. It involves hardware and software tools that can solve intricate real-world problems by analyzing vast amounts of data and identifying patterns not visible to humans.
Robotics, on the other hand, is a field of technology that concentrates on the conceptualization, development, and assembly of robots.
These machines are programmable and interact with other devices or humans through actuators and data collection sensors. They can perform autonomous or semi-autonomous tasks.
2. Functionality differences
Both AI and robotics contribute to a common goal – AI-driven automation. However, the degree of automation varies.
Simple automation entails employing gadgets, software applications, sensors, or other forms of technology to carry out duties typically performed by a person or a team of employees.
Robotics also involves automation but combines it with other fields – computer science, mechanical engineering, and, in many cases, AI.
AI-driven robots can perform functions and tasks autonomously with machine learning algorithms.
3. Interaction Differences
AI propels robotics into uncharted domains, including the notion of self-conscious robots.
The fusion of AI and robotics, along with machine learning and sensory technology, facilitates the development of robots that are aware of their surroundings and can “detect” the existence of humans in their vicinity.
AI also allows robotics developers to create concepts such as Sophia, one of the world’s most renowned social robots.
Unlike AI, traditional automation robots are not designed to “learn”, make decisions, or analyze data during their design, development, and manufacturing stages or even while executing the tasks they were created for.
In numerous cases, the use of artificial intelligence may not be essential in robotics, especially when tasks are predictable, repetitive, and do not require complex decision-making.
Still, the synergy between AI and robotics leverages the automation capabilities of robots and the cognitive and learning capabilities of AI models, creating a potent tool for diverse applications.
Applications of AI in Robotics
The integration of AI in robotics is a rapidly expanding area, with applications spanning across various sectors.
Currently, the world is home to nearly three million industrial robots, and this number is growing at a significant pace with about 400,000 new robots being introduced to the market each year.
These robots are primarily used in manufacturing electronics, the assembly of vehicles, and military equipment.
Let’s look at some of the key applications of AI in robotics:
- Manufacturing: AI robots in manufacturing can perform tasks with high precision and efficiency, such as assembling, welding, packaging, and shipping. They can also inspect machinery and infrastructures for damages or inconsistencies, ensuring timely maintenance and damage control.
For instance, General Electric (GE) uses its advanced “Brilliant Manufacturing Suite” to monitor diverse manufacturing process metrics across its global network of 500 factories, creating a seamlessly integrated and intelligent system for design engineering, manufacturing, and supply chain management.
- Healthcare: In the healthcare sector, AI robots can accelerate surgical processes and improve patient outcomes. They can perform various tasks, from distributing equipment and assisting patients to even performing surgical procedures, including orthopedic and minimally invasive torso surgeries.
For instance, the Mako robot developed by Strykere, equipped with advanced features like 3D imaging, intelligent robotic arms, and data analytics, assists in orthopedic surgeries, particularly hip and knee replacements, providing more predictable outcomes by utilizing spatially defined boundaries to aid surgeons during the procedures.
- Agriculture: AI robots in agriculture help farmers understand weather conditions and advise on the use of fertilizer, water, and harvesting time. They can automate manual labor, improving efficiency and saving time.
As an illustration, the Dexterous Hand developed by Shadow Robot is a remarkably nimble sophisticated robotic arm trained through reinforced learning, perfectly suited for delicate fruit picking without causing damage.
- Transportation: One of the most talked-about applications of AI in transportation is self-driving cars. These vehicles combine computer vision and sensor readings to maneuver themselves.
For example, Cruise, the autonomous driving division of General Motors, is leveraging AI and robotics to pioneer self-driving cars, conducting testing and data collection to familiarize their fleet with diverse road conditions and gather valuable insights.
- Entertainment: Robotics has experienced significant growth in the entertainment sector over the past decade. From movies and animations to games and cartoons, robots are increasingly becoming a part of the entertainment landscape.
For instance, camera-wielding robots are employed to shoot movie scenes repeatedly without fatigue or frustration, ensuring perfection. One prominent player in this field is Disney, which has deployed numerous robots that contribute to enhancing the quality and efficiency of movie production.
- Mining: Robotics has proven highly beneficial in mining, excelling in tasks like excavation, dozing, haulage, surveying, mapping, explosive handling, and drilling. Mining robots autonomously navigate flooded passages, identify valuable minerals using cameras and sensors, and detect hazardous gases to protect human workers.
Beyond terrestrial mining, advanced robots contribute to space exploration with rock climbers, such as NASA’s Perseverance rover, which uses AI to better explore Mars’s surface. They also aid ocean exploration with underwater drones, enabling remote and challenging exploration.
The Benefits of AI in Robotics
AI has a remarkable impact on robots, giving them a boost in their abilities to handle intricate tasks with impressive precision and efficiency.
Thanks to the smart AI algorithms at play, robots become incredibly adaptable, effortlessly navigating through ever-changing environments and smoothly tackling diverse scenarios.
What’s even more fascinating is how AI-powered robots change processes, unlocking higher levels of productivity and cost-effectiveness across multiple industries. It’s like having an efficient co-worker who always knows the best ways to streamline operations.
Furthermore, the advantages of AI-driven robots extend to safety. In hazardous work environments, these intelligent machines take charge by autonomously assessing risks and steering clear of potential dangers, offering peace of mind to everyone involved.
Disadvantages of AI Robots
AI is a powerful tool that empowers robots, but it comes with its fair share of challenges and risks. One major concern is the possibility of human workers losing their jobs in certain industries, which could have significant economic implications.
Moreover, as we rely more on AI in robotics, ethical questions arise, particularly concerning the decision-making abilities of autonomous robots.
Ensuring the security of AI-powered robots is crucial, as any vulnerabilities in their programming could be exploited for malicious purposes.
Finding the right balance is the real challenge here. We need to make the most of AI’s benefits in robotics while also figuring out how to tackle its downsides. It’s an ongoing puzzle that researchers and policymakers are working hard to solve.
AI in Robotics: Key Takeaways
The integration of artificial intelligence (AI) in robotics has ushered in a new era of intelligent machines, paving the way for a promising future in the robotics industry.
The benefits of AI in robotics include enhanced precision, adaptability to dynamic environments, increased productivity, and improved safety in hazardous work settings.
However, the reliance on AI in robotics also raises concerns, including potential job displacement, ethical dilemmas, and security vulnerabilities in AI-powered robots.
Striking a balance between the advantages and disadvantages of AI in robotics remains an ongoing challenge, requiring continuous research and careful consideration by researchers and policymakers.
Robotics extends far beyond science fiction, showcasing incredible progress and potential. From exploring the deepest oceans to venturing into the far reaches of outer space, robots will surely accomplish feats that were once beyond human imagination.