What Are the Differences between Automation and Robotics?

Alex Newth

The fields of automation and robotics are often confused, because many people do not fully understand the differences between automation and robotics; those differences are revealed through how each works. One of the major differences between automation and robotics is whether the machine performs a single set of operations or if the sequence can be mixed up or changed for better efficiency. If the machine receives sensory feedback, then the machine can change sequences automatically for the best results. Some machines are able to learn from mistakes, or through constant exposure, while others will lack this ability. The level of movement also is different between automation and robotics, with one being faster and more complex.

The movements of the Canadarm -- a type of robotic arm commonly used in space missions -- are controlled by its users.
The movements of the Canadarm -- a type of robotic arm commonly used in space missions -- are controlled by its users.

Machines are programmed to follow operations, such as picking up a computer chip or moving a part around. Automation can only follow one set of operations, and it cannot be changed once programmed. Robots are made to perform several jobs at once, and the sequence of operations can be switched around to make the processes more efficient. The timing of the operations also can be changed in robotics, if needed.

Robots working on an automobile assembly line.
Robots working on an automobile assembly line.

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In both fields, the machine will be exposed to outside stimuli, but only one type of machine will react to this stimuli. The automated machine will not react; even if there is an object blocking the automation, it will continue doing the same operation. Robots are made to react so, if something blocks or stops the robot, it will change operations to best fit the situation.

A robot that is used to defuse bombs, yet is entirely controlled by a remote human operator, is not entirely automated.
A robot that is used to defuse bombs, yet is entirely controlled by a remote human operator, is not entirely automated.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a programming method in which the machine is able to collect information about the outside world and can then apply that knowledge to best perform its function. Automation and robotics treat this knowledge differently. Automated machines are unable to collect knowledge and can't be programmed with any form of intelligence. Robots can be made with intelligence and they are able to learn from mistakes; this allows the robot to fix problems, if it is exposed to them long enough.

Nanorobotics uses nanotechnology to develop microscopic robots that are far smaller in width than a strand of human hair.
Nanorobotics uses nanotechnology to develop microscopic robots that are far smaller in width than a strand of human hair.

The amount of movement and overall velocity of both a robot and automation are generally very different. Automated machines are made for slow work and are typically programmed with very simple movements. For example, an automated arm may be able to pick up a chip, rotate and then place the chip somewhere else. A robot can work faster and is able to accommodate complex movements.

Domestic robots that are designed to make decisions as they navigate homes are not pure automatons, as they can analyze and adapt to their environment.
Domestic robots that are designed to make decisions as they navigate homes are not pure automatons, as they can analyze and adapt to their environment.

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Discussion Comments

sweetPeas

I think that a lot of companies are still using assembly workers and automated machines to put products together. I'm sure the robotic systems cost a lot of money and many mid and small-sized companies can't afford them.

I guess it's a good thing because a lot of people depend on these lower-skilled jobs - some permanently and some until they can get higher skills and find a better job. With all the things that robots can do, I hope not too many people will be put out of a job.

BabaB

The automation machines sound like they do the same work as the first assembly line workers. Many of these workers did the same small task over and over and over! If things have to be done this way, better that an automated machine do it than a human!

I didn't realize that the robot machines that are in use now were so complicated and sophisticated. The fact that robotics automation machines can gather information and then figure out how to change their functioning is pretty amazing.

starrynight

I've seen some new vacuums that are called robotic vacuums, but after reading this article I don't think that's the proper name for them! They sound more like they should be called automated vacuums instead.

The vacuum robots pretty much just perform the task of vacuuming. You have to program a perimeter for them and they don't "learn" while performing the task. Definitely sounds like automation to me!

Azuza

@KaBoom - That does seem to be a recurring theme in sci-fi doesn't it? I personally don't think that robots will ever evolve to the point where they can really think for themselves, but I suppose you never know.

I know robots kind of have problem solving skills, but I think automation is still a useful technology. I saw something online awhile back about home automation that was really interesting.

Apparently you can pretty much automate anything in your home that is electric. You can program your lights and your thermostat, which can help save money on your energy bill. While not as sophisticated as a robot, this still sounds awesome to me!

KaBoom

Very interesting. I always thought robotics and automation were the same thing, but they're clearly very different! The ability to react to external stimuli or not is a really big deal, I think.

Also, a lot of science fiction movies that feature robots use the idea of robots learning and evolving as a theme. Of course, in a lot of those movies robots evolve and turn on their makers!

But it still brings up an interesting point. Will robots ever get to the point where they would be considered conscious or sentient? Definitely something to think about.

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