What is an Autonomous Robot?

Soo Owens

An autonomous robot is a virtual or mechanical artificial entity capable of carrying out selected tasks without human intervention regardless of its surroundings. It is capable of gathering information and processing the acquired data. The robot can also move in whatever manner it needs to in order to carry out its primary task.

Though currently operated by human soldiers or police officers via remote control, combat and bomb-defusing robots may be autonomous in the near future.
Though currently operated by human soldiers or police officers via remote control, combat and bomb-defusing robots may be autonomous in the near future.

Autonomy refers to the capacity or ability to make an uncoerced, informed decision. In order to make such decisions, an autonomous robot must be able to carry out other functions as well. The primary ability necessary to accomplishing any goal is the ability to gain information, both about itself and its surroundings.

Autonomous robots have many industrial applications.
Autonomous robots have many industrial applications.

There are many types of autonomous robots. Each is designed to carry out a specific duty. Usually these duties are actions that would normally be dangerous, tedious, unhealthy, costly or, as is often the case, boring for humans to undertake. Examples might include a robot designed for medical purposes that can sense and remove shrapnel from a wounded person, a robot working in a factory under conditions that might be deemed too hazardous for human work and a small robot vacuum cleaner.

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At its most basic level an autonomous robot would undergo the following process. The robot perceives the environment, and the software installed within the robot interprets the data collected from the environment. Using a set of pre-installed condition-action rules and if-then constructions, the robot determines the proper or necessary course of action based on information it has gathered. It does these things without interference from or contact with humans.

An autonomous robot must be able to understand its own spatial orientation. If it operates close to people or in an adverse environment, the importance of self monitoring increases. A variety of sensors also ensure that no necessary environmental data is overlooked. The robot may be able to detect sound, touch and temperature. It may also be able to determine the distance to and from objects and to detect electromagnetism or various chemicals.

The robot's software will determine how the information gathered from these sensors is interpreted. The different types of software the robot is equipped with depend on its primary duties. At a more advanced level, the autonomous robot will not only analyze but also adapt to unfamiliar environments.

Depending on the autonomous robots tasks, either indoor or outdoor autonomy is necessary. In each case, the internal and external sensors give the robot information about its current location and its desired location or movement. Indoor autonomous robots navigate by means of handicapped-accessible methods. They are capable of controlling electronic doors and elevators.

The difficulty of outdoor autonomy depends on the medium through which the autonomous robot will be traveling. Due to the absence of obstacles and the complete range of mobility in the air, programming robots to operate in the air is significantly easier than programming those that operate on the ground.

The usefulness of unmanned military vehicles in otherwise dangerous situations has continuously advanced the science of robotics, as has their usefulness in space and extraterrestrial exploration. Many unmanned aerial vehicles used by the military for reconnaissance and other tasks are capable of completing their duty in its entirety, including take-off and landing, without the aid of a human. Space exploration has yielded autonomous robots capable of gathering enormous amounts of information and performing many different primary tasks in environments that are hostile to humans.

Autonomous robots need to understand spatial orientation.
Autonomous robots need to understand spatial orientation.

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