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22 ANATOMY OF A ROBOT
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Robot eyesight is a completely different matter. The visual scene surrounding the robot must be electronically rendered into a form the circuits on the robot can accept, and the machine must be programmed to understand and act on the shapes it sees. A great deal of experimental work is underway to allow robots to distinguish objects, but true robot vision is limited to well-funded research teams. 37, Robotic Eyes, provides the basics on how to give crude sight to a robot. In robotics, the sense of touch is most often confined to collision switches mounted around the periphery of the machine. On more sophisticated robots, pressure sensors may be attached to the tips of fingers in the robot s hand. The more the fingers of the hand close in around the object, the greater the pressure detected by the sensors. This pressure information is relayed to the robot s brain, which then decides if the correct amount of pressure is being exerted. There are a number of commercial products available that register pressure of one kind or another, but most are expensive. Simple pressure sensors can be constructed cheaply and quickly, however, and though they aren t as accurate as commercially manufactured pressure sensors, they are more than adequate for hobby robotics. See 35, Adding the Sense of Touch, and 36, Collision Avoidance and Detection, for details. The senses of smell and taste aren t generally implemented in robot systems, though some security robots designed for industrial use are outfitted with a gas sensor that, in effect, smells the presence of dangerous toxic gas.
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Output devices are components that relay information from the robot to the outside world. A common output device in computer-controlled robots (discussed in the next section) is the video screen or (liquid crystal display) panel. As with a personal computer, the robot communicates with its master by flashing messages on a screen or panel. A more common output device for hobby robots is the ordinary light-emitting diode, or a seven-segment numeric display. Another popular robotic output device is the speech synthesizer. In the 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, Hal the computer talks to its shipmates in a soothing but electronic voice. The idea of a talking computer was a rather novel concept at the time of the movie, but today voice synthesis is commonplace. Many hobbyists build robots that contain sound and music generators. These generators are commonly used as warning signals, but by far the most frequent application of speech, music, and sound is for entertainment purposes. Somehow, a robot that wakes you up to an electronic rendition of Bach seems a little more human. Projects in robot sound-making circuits are provided in 40, Sound Output and Input.
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Smart versus Dumb Robots
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There are smart robots and there are dumb robots, but the difference really has nothing to do with intelligence. Even taking into consideration the science of artificial intelligence,
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THE CONCEPT OF ROBOT WORK 23
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all self-contained autonomous robots are fairly unintelligent, no matter how sophisticated the electronic brain that controls it. Intelligence is not a measurement of computing capacity but the ability to reason, to figure out how to do something by examining all the variables and choosing the best course of action, perhaps even coming up with a course that is entirely new. In this book, the difference between dumb and smart is defined as the ability to take two or more pieces of data and decide on a preprogrammed course of action. Usually, a smart robot is one that is controlled by a computer. However, some amazingly sophisticated actions can be built into an automaton that contains no computer; instead it relies on simple electronics to provide the robot with some known behavior (such is the concept of BEAM robotics). A dumb robot is one that blindly goes about its task, never taking the time to analyze its actions and what impact they may have. Using a computer as the brains of a robot will provide you with a great deal of operating flexibility. Unlike a control circuit, which is wired according to a schematic plan and performs a specified task, a computer can be electronically rewired using software instructions that is, programs. To be effective, the electronics must be connected to all the control and feedback components of the robot. This includes the drive motors, the motors that control the arm, the speech synthesizer, the pressure sensors, and so forth. Connecting a computer to a robot is a demanding task that requires many hours of careful work. This book presents several computer-based control projects in later chapters. Note that this book does not tell you how to construct a computer. Rather than tell you how to build a specially designed computer for your robot, the projects in this book use readily available and inexpensive microcontrollers and single-board computers as well as readybuilt personal computers based on the ubiquitous IBM PC design. You can permanently integrate some computers, particularly the portable variety, with your larger robot projects.
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