Understanding the 5 Primary Areas of Robotics

March 21, 2023

As the fields of robotics and automation grow ever more sophisticated, a greater number of technicians are required to lend their talents to the design, programming, and maintenance of robots and robotic automation systems. Not surprisingly, the complexity of these machines and autonomous systems has spawned five specialized areas within the field of robotics: 

  1. Operator interface
  2. Mobility or locomotion 
  3. Manipulators & Effectors
  4. Programming
  5. Sensing & Perception 

Technician using Robot arm welding robot

Since the development of today’s most advanced robotic systems is no easy endeavor, those tasked with their design, programming and maintenance often look to hone in on a particular field of expertise. This article will explore those fields in greater detail.

  1. Operator Interface

A robot -even those that perform autonomously - is only as good as its ability to effectively communicate with a human controller.  It’s important to note that while robotic automation technologies have truly revolutionized industrial manufacturing processes, human workers are still a very necessary part of the equation. For that reason, the operator interface commonly referred to as a Human Robot Interface is very important; it is the medium that allows the user and the robot to communicate with one another. Most specifically, it is the method by which a human operator can give pre-programmed commands for the robot to execute. 

A gaming controller is an example of a basic Human Robot Interface (HRI). It allows a player to issue a set of commands to the system, which are then executed in the game.  Even if the game itself is able to execute functions autonomously, in order for it to operate as intended, human interaction using the gamepad is essential. In manufacturing, an industrial touchscreen computer installed on a piece of equipment or in a centralized control room is also a form of HRI. The operator can issue commands to the conveyor or other device to execute on the factory floor.

A great deal of care needs to go into the design of HRIs. They must be intuitive to use, and enable operators to communicate effectively with the robot, in order to execute tasks accurately and efficiently.

  1. Mobility or Locomotion

In order for a robot to complete a task, it needs to be able to move in its environment. In robotic automation, this movement is called locomotion. Mobility in robotics is achieved in many different ways. For example, some robots mimic human movement, like those used on assembly lines or those whose design is based on human anatomy. Flying robots and drones make use of propellers and other propulsion systems. Other robots, such as the rovers deployed on Mars and other celestial bodies, require wheels to get around. In short, the environment a robot will be used in often determines how the engineer will design the mobility system. While mobility systems can vary in sophistication, autonomous robotics rely heavily on cameras, lidar, and radar to collect information about their surroundings. Robots can then use that data to make real time corrections or adjustments to their movements in order to complete tasks or avoid collisions

  1. Manipulators & Effectors

For any robot to be worthwhile, it must be able to interact with its environment; that’s where manipulators and effectors come into play. These are the parts of the robot that allow it to pick up objects and move them, or manipulate items that are separate from the system. Human-like robots will employ appendages and digits that work like human hands, in order to complete a given task. In industrial settings, manipulators and effectors are perhaps more commonly represented by pincers, claws, or pushers which are all uniquely suited to move heavy pieces of equipment or materials. Like the other disciplines listed in this article, having the foundational knowledge received from robotics technician training  can prepare aspiring robotics engineers and technicians for specializing in this area of robotics. 

  1. Programming

Programming is essentially the language an operator uses to communicate with the robot. Traditionally, any action that an autonomous individual robot was required to perform had to be programmed. These days, advanced programming allows automated robotic systems to learn and adapt to changes within its environment, which is truly a remarkable feat of engineering. 

Generally speaking, commands can be provided by the user in real time for the robot to perform, or the robot can be programmed to perform a series of tasks, in sequence, autonomously. Regardless of the method the commands are given, each robot can be programmed using one of more than a thousand different programming languages, so an engineer looking to specialize in this particular field of robotics will have a lot to become proficient in. Interestingly, some state of the art autonomous robotics are able to self-program using artificial intelligence. This isn’t to say that human-based programming will one day be obsolete; instead, autonomous robotics will be able to “fill in” gaps in their programming that can result from, say, a change in their environment.

  1. Sensing & Perception

Robots use sensors to gather information. This information lets the robot know the physical space it occupies, where it needs to go, and if any obstacles block its path. Sensors also collect information to help the robot decide how to react to objects it encounters. The right sensor must be selected for each robot’s specific application to ensure that the correct decisions are made. 

As the field of robotics expands with integration across industries, so too will the demand for experienced robotics technicians to maintain these technologies. Check out the complete Robotics Technician Training Program outline to decide if you’re ready to kickstart an exciting career in this field.

updated March 2023


Submitted by iris on Thu, 01/13/2022 - 08:31

There are various types of sensors used in Industrial Robots. Some of them are temperature sensors, proximity sensors, photoelectric sensors, capacitive and ultrasonic sensors, etc. If you would like to learn in detail about different types of sensors and their purpose, please refer to the Module 7 of the Robotics Technician program.

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