The image usually thought of by the word robot is that of a mechanical being, somewhat human in shape. Common in science fiction, robots are generally depicted as working in the service of people, but often escaping the control of the people and doing them harm.
The word robot comes from the Czech writer Karel Capek's 1921 play "R.U.R." (which stands for 'Rossum's Universal Robots'), in which mechanical beings made to be slaves for humanity rebel and kill their creators. From this, the fictional image of robots is sometimes troubling, expressing the fears that people may have of a robotized world over which they cannot keep control. The history of real robots is rarely as dramatic, but where developments in robotics may lead is beyond our imagination.
Robots exist today. They are used in a relatively small number of factories located in highly industrialized countries such as the United States, Germany, and Japan.
Robots are also being used for scientific research, in military programs, and as educational tools, and they are being developed to aid people who have lost the use of their limbs. These devices, however, are for the most part quite different from the androids, or humanlike robots, and other robots of fiction. They rarely take human form, they perform only a limited number of set tasks, and they do not have minds of their own. In fact, it is often hard to distinguish between devices called robots and other modern automated systems.
Although the term robot did not come into use until the 20th century, the idea of mechanical beings is much older. Ancient myths and tales talked about walking statues and other marvels in human and animal form. Such objects were products of the imagination and nothing more, but some of the mechanized figures also mentioned...