History Of Robotics

The term robot, taken from the Czech word robota, meaning forced labor, was coined by the Czech playwright Karel Capek in 1921 in his play Rossum's Universal Robots. Since then, man has had a fascination with "the robot." The robot conjures up many, and often contradictory, images. The robot is at the same time a symbol of the future of technological advancement and limitless possibilities as well as the subservient machine performing menial, repetitive tasks. The robot alternatively liberates man, as worker and friend, or enslaves him, with the sinister possibility of robots rising up against their makers.

Such a conception of robots is reflected in the work of Isaac Asimov, first coining the phrase "robotics" in 1941 in a short story called "Runaround." As both a scientist and a writer of science fiction, he proposed three laws of robotics, to which he added a "zeroth" law later (1).

The Laws of Robotics:

■ Law Zero: A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

Key attributes of current robots:

■ Programmability, implying computational or symbol-manipulative capabilities, which a designer can combine as desired (a robot is a computer);

■ Mechanical capability, enabling it to act on its environment rather than merely function as a data-processing or computational device (a robot is a machine); and

■ Flexibility, in that it can operate using a range of programs to manipulate and transport materials in a variety of ways.

■ Law One: A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm, unless this would violate a higher-order Law.

■ Law Two: A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with a higher-order Law.

■ Law Three: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with a higher-order Law.

In contrast to this imaginative code of "ethics" of robotics, the robots of today possess three key attributes, which serve as a more useful definition. As currently defined, robots exhibit the following attributes: Key attributes of current robots:

■ Programmability, implying computational or symbol-manipulative capabilities, which a designer can combine as desired (a robot is a computer);

■ Mechanical capability, enabling it to act on its environment rather than merely function as a data-processing or computational device (a robot is a machine); and

■ Flexibility, in that it can operate using a range of programs to manipulate and transport materials in a variety of ways.

With the merging of computers, telecommunications networks, robotics, distributed systems software, and the multiorganizational application of the hybrid technology, the distinction between computers and robots has become increasingly arbitrary.

Westinghouse first designed actual robots in 1940, with the creation of "Sparko," a motorized dog that barked and stood on its hind legs, and dancing to "Elektra." The first practical application of robots was during 1962, when General Motors used industrial robots for the first time. Since then, robotics has flourished. The benefits of modern robotics, including precision, reliability and speed of operation, have been widely employed to relieve humans of mundane work and dangerous tasks in industries and researches. Although robotics has been widely embraced outside of medicine, its acceptance in the field of medicine has been gradual.

Robots have many attributes that can aid the modern surgeon. Although humans are clearly superior to robots with regard to clinical judgment, decision making, and flexibility, robots offer precision, stamina, strength, lack of tremor, and reproducibility.

Robotic surgery also offers the well-described benefits of minimally invasive surgery and laparoscopy.

Overcoming the disadvantages inherent to conventional laparoscopy, and expanding the benefits of minimally invasive surgery are major aims of surgical robotics.

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