What is a robot? Definition and examples

A robot is a machine, usually one that engineers can program, that is capable of carrying out a series of actions. In most cases, they are a series of complex actions which robots carry out automatically.

The term, in computing, also may refer to a ‘crawler.’ This is a program that systematically browses through the World Wide Web as it creates an index of data.

Science fiction

In science fiction, a robot is a machine with artificial intelligence that resembles a human being. Artificial intelligence refers to software technologies that make devices think and behave like human beings.


If we use the term to describe a person, it means that we think they behave in an unemotional and mechanical manner. If somebody says “I am not a robot,” they are trying to say that they have feelings.

Merriam-Webster has the following definitions of the word robot:

“1. A machine that resembles a living creature in being capable of moving independently (as by walking or rolling on wheels) and performing complex actions (such as grasping and moving objects), often, such a machine built to resemble a human being or animal in appearance and behavior.”

“2. A device that automatically performs complicated, often repetitive tasks (as in an industrial assembly line). 3. a person who resembles a machine in seeming to function automatically or in lacking normal feelings or emotions.”

A robot that somebody has in the home as a companion is usually humanoid, i.e., it has arms, legs, and a head. However, robots that carry out tasks in, for example, factories do not resemble humans physically.

Etymology of ‘robot’

Etymology is the study of where words came from. It is also a study of how the meanings of words have evolved or changed.

‘Robot’ is a fairly new term in the English language. It did not emerge until 1923, from the English translation of the 1920 play ‘Rossum’s Universal Robots’ or ‘R.U.R.’ by Karel Čapek (1890-1938). Čapek was a Czech writer who became famous for his science fiction stories.

The term comes from the Czech word ‘Robotnick,’ which means ‘forced worker.’ It came from Robota, which means ‘drudgery, forced labor, compulsory service.’

Robot – types

Internal/external controls

A robot is a device or machine. It is a machine that a computer has programmed. Robots may have an internal or external control device which guides them.

Humanoid robots

Some robots are ‘humanoid.’ In other words, they have two arms, two legs, a torso, and a head, just like humans do.

However, most robots do not look like humans. Engineers designed them to perform specific tasks with no regard to their appearance.

According to allonrobots.com, there are: industrial, domestic, medical, service, military, and entertainment robots. There are also hobby, competition, and space robots.

A robot may also be a virtual software agent. In such cases, we call it a ‘bot.’ Bots, internet bots, or web robots are software applications that run scripts over the Internet. The word ‘scrips,’ in this context, means automated tasks.

In most cases, bots perform simple and structurally repetitive tasks. They work at a much faster rate than we can on our own.

Web crawlers are bots. Web crawlers fetch, analyze, and file data from web servers. They do this many thousands of times faster than a human can.

In an Imperva Incapsula article, Igal Zeifman writes that bots represent more than half of all web traffic.

Some experts say that bots today steal many online advertising budgets.

Mobile robot

A mobile robot can move around in its environment. In other words, it is not stuck in one physical location.

AGVs, for example, are mobile robots. AGV stands for Automatic (automated) Guided Vehicle. AGVs follow wires or markers in the ground. Some of them, on the other hand, use lasers or vision.

Mobile robots today exists in military, security, and industrial environments. People also buy them as consumer products which perform certain tasks such as vacuum cleaning.

Mobile robot research is a fascinating and rapidly-growing field. Nearly every major university has at least one lab that focuses on mobile robot research.

Cambridge University scientists are currently looking at possible future scenarios for artificial intelligence. Is AI a blessing or will it eventually become our worst nightmare?


Robots and artificial intelligence are gradually replacing human workers in factories and offices. We call the process of replacing humans with clever machines ‘automation.’

Automation boosts efficiency and increases productivity. In other words, workers’ production per hour increases  thanks to automation.

Many economists and sociologists today worry that automation will become so advanced that human labor will be superfluous. If nearly everybody became unemployed, what would society be like?

Video – What is a Robot?