Scientists Say: Robot

These machines — by definition — get the job done

on rugged, reddish-brown terrain under a pinkish sky, a shiny metal rover stands beside a smaller drone-sized helicopter

NASA’s robotic explorer, the Perseverance rover, took this selfie on Mars in April 2021. In the background stands its robotic helicopter sidekick, Ingenuity.


Robot (noun, “ROW-bot”)

A robot is a physical machine built to carry out tasks on its own. Robots follow sets of coded instructions to get their jobs done. Those tasks can include everything from household chores to surgery.

Robots come in many sizes and designs. The term “robot” can refer to different kinds of machines among different people and different industries. Still, most robots share some common features.

Robots generally carry out tasks automatically and independently. This ability usually comes from a computer program. Programs give robots instructions for doing a task.  

Robots also sense things about what’s around them. They do this by carrying tools called sensors. Sensors might be thermometers, microphones or motion detectors.

Robots also interact with things around them. For example, robotic arms attached to space stations allow astronauts to make repairs without ever donning a spacesuit.

Many industries use robots. In manufacturing, robots can carry out repeated tasks on assembly lines. Robots attach wheels to cars or screw on toothpaste caps. Some restaurants even have burger-flipping and sushi-making robots at work in their kitchens. 

Robots also explore places too dangerous or difficult for humans to reach. They scout our deepest oceans as well as other planets. In 2011, NASA sent a robot named Curiosity to explore Mars. It has been sending data back to Earth since it landed in 2012. In 2021, the robot Perseverance joined it.

Like robots, computer ‘bots’ carry out tasks. The difference is that ‘bots’ are just computer programs. Actual robots are physical machines.

In a sentence

A new robot pill contains a tiny spring-loaded needle that can deliver medication directly through the stomach lining.

Check out the full list of Scientists Say.

Katie Grace Carpenter is a science writer and curriculum developer, with degrees in biology and biogeochemistry. She also writes science fiction and creates science videos. Katie lives in the U.S. but also spends time in Sweden with her husband, who’s a chef.

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