Topic D Automation and Robotics
(detailed objectives) (available resources)
Goal: Realize the significance of industrial automation and robotics.
Curriculum for our EST Pipeline
(please license the curriculum if you wish to view Enrichment Module PowerPoint presentations)
At the beginning of the 19th century, mechanization changed the world. Now, it looks as if automation might have a similar impact on society. Automating difficult, hazardous, and tedious jobs makes a better work environment for humans. Robots are remarkable automation tools that have captured our imaginations. The diversity of robotic applications is sure to inspire engaging class discussions.

The invention of the steam engine at the end of the 18th century marked the advent of the Industrial Revolution. The social and economic impact of the Industrial Revolution on all countries that embraced it can hardly be overstated. Though individual strains quickly resulted and a host of new social problems, none can argue against the increased standard of living that resulted. There are those that argue the current expansion of automation and robotics will have an equally profound impact on our society.

Machines have been enhancing human productivity throughout history, but it wasn't until the Industrial Revolution that mechanization escalated to alleviate drudgeries of manual labor and increase productivity across the board. Machines became the backbone of production and manufacturing, but human operators retained their essential role in controlling the machines. Slowly, technologies have been developed to reduce this dependence on human controllers. Pre-Industrial-Revolution controllers included water delivery controlled by clock type mechanisms and wind aims that kept windmills facing the dominant winds. There were, in fact, examples of machines exhibiting some type of "automatic" behavior as far back as 300 B.C. Yet, the most recognized advances in automation were those that were instrumental in the Industrial Revolution itself.  They are the self-regulating centrifugal governor for steam engines (made famous by James Watt in 1788) and the automated loom (invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1801). When numerical control of machines was made possible in the 1950's, automation really began to take off.

The distinction between mechanization and automation is whether open-loop control or closed-loop control is implemented.  Automated systems utilize sensors, controllers, drives, actuators, and self-regulating mechanisms to maintain intended process conditions and progress (i.e., they use these components to close the control loop).  Robots are probably the most recognized automation tools in industry.  Because a robot's manipulator, internal sensors, controller, and power conversion unit represent a self-contained automation system, they are easily integrated into many automated environments. Flexibility to be integrated into various applications is probably the best selling point of a robot. Robots come in many shapes and sizes. Though robots in humanoid form dominate pop culture, most of the robots in existence today are used in industry and are hardly human in form. Robots are distinguished from other complex machines (like prosthesis, teleoperated machines, and locomotive mechanisms) because they are easily re-programmable, multifunctional, and appropriate for a variety of different tasks.

Robot sensors provide the controller with information about the internal state of the robot and information about the robot's environment. Though humans only have five basic senses, artificial sensors can be contrived to measure just about anything including position, motion, chemical composition, electrical properties, thermal properties, and many other characteristics in addition to visual, auditory, and tactile sensing. Robots are typically powered by electrical motors, hydraulic cylinders, pneumatic cylinders, or some combination of the three. Each power source has its advantages, and no single type is appropriate for all robotic applications. Robots (and automation in general) should be considered whenever a job involves heavy lifting, contaminated environments, highly repetitive work, or continuously high levels of concentration. Robots generally outperform human labor with higher precision and repeatability while their performance does not deteriorate with fatigue, whereas humans are more mobile, can learn, and can make decisions based on incomplete information. The most common industrial applications for robots are welding and assembly.  These two combine for over 50% of all robots today. 

Once installed, a robotic system can yield attractive returns but it is not without significant initial capital investment. Automation and robotics professionals work to optimize the investment and maximize the returns. Their responsibilities begin with conducting feasibility studies and continue through the operation and maintenance of the system. Their other responsibilities are not unlike other engineering specialists. They define the appropriate system, design the conceptual solution, develop the detail requirements, and eventually coordinate the deployment of the system.

Teacher Preparation
  1. Prepare related videos that will be both informative and exciting
  2. Compile research links for students to investigate further
  3. Print out select online resources to provide background reading for students
Classroom Activities
Initial discussions should be easy to start since most of students have experienced robots in TV and movies. Discussions should be directed to distinguish automation, robotics, and the many different types of machines that do not employ closed-loop control. Due to the broad nature of the subject matter, much of the time will be spent formally presenting information to the class. Only after students have a good conception of automated and robotic systems will they be able to comprehend the impact that these systems have had on the workplace.

D.1 Defining Automation and Robotics
  • Define and distinguish mechanization, automation, and robotics

Individuals share preconceptions about "robots".
Engage students with teacher presentation.
Watch video-an example automated cell.
D.2 Anatomy of a Robot - I
  • Define and distinguish telecherics, robotics, and automation
  • Discuss the major components of a robot
  • Classify robots based on work envelope

Class discusses preconceptions about complex mechanisms that are not really robots.
Engage students with teacher presentation.
Watch video-an example automated cell.
D.3 Anatomy of a Robot - II
  • Identify the roll of sensors
  • Describe various types of sensors and the significance
  • Recognize distinctive requirements of an industrial controller
  • Distinguish advantages of electrical, pneumatic, and hydraulic systems
  • Describe special class of mobile robotic platforms

Engage students with teacher presentation.

D.4 Typical Automation and Robotics
  • Distinguish microcontrollers from PC processors
  • Describe the role of typical input and output devices in an automated system
  • Describe the role/advantages of robots in industry
  • Recognize most common uses of robots in industry
  • Describe diversity of applications of  robots

Individuals discuss concept of input/output hardware for a familiar digital processor.
Engage students with teacher presentation.
Students participate in small group discussions.
Watch various robot application videos.

D.5 Automation, Robotics, and Society
  • Recognize timeframe for various significant mechanization and automation achievements
  • Describe advantages of automation
  • Describe human advantages over today's robots
  • Explain why some people fear the current trend towards automation
  • Describe the general responsibilities of automation professionals
  • Recognize the involvement of automation professionals throughout the life-cycle of an automated system

Individuals share preconceptions about mechanization and automation's impact on society.
Engage students with teacher presentation.
Watch robot company's corporate video.
Additional resources available to licensed users:
In addition to 75 animated PowerPoint customizable slides...
Student Resources

Supplemental reading materials (printable or web linked)
Practice and Assessment Templates

Template for assessing learning objectives
These pages and all content Copyright 2005-2006
All rights reserved.  Use of material on this website
is subject to the curriculum license agreement.