Category Archives: Terminology


Electrical engineers have nice definitions for the foundations of their field:

We can define

and so forth.  But in robotics every term is subject to change without notice.  There is no common definition of robot, or autonomy, or intelligence.  The only common element is that researchers are still, after three or four decades, able to argue about what the definitions ought to be.

Are “Animal Robots” Robots At All?

IEEE Spectrum had an article from a Chinese lab on “animal robots”. When I was back in grad school, we worked on a proposal for a similar project. We were going to connect moth antennae to a robot and use them as sensors to drive the robot around. Various people have worked on similar ideas over the years, and they’re a little disturbing but generally very informative.

This paper had a diametrically opposed approach. Instead of replacing the animal’s actuators with a robotic interface, they mounted a controller on the back of a rat and connected it to the rat’s motor neurons. Instead of creating a robot with biological sensors, they created a remote control animal.

First Question … Nomenclature

What should our discipline be called? Should it be called Robotics Science, or Robotics Engineering, or neither? Why?

Neither. It should be called Robotics.

We don’t say “Chemistry Engineering” or “Physics Science”.  Robotics is not Robotics Engineering or Robotics Science.  But the problem isn’t really one of nomenclature.  The real problem is that Robotics doesn’t fit smoothly into these categories.

We could acknowledge the existing separations in the discipline between the hardware-centric researchers in Mechanical Engineering and the more theoretically oriented Computer Science groups, but the process that seems to be occurring is one of merging rather than separation.