Educational Materials: August 2017 Machines

August 2017: Machines


Robots are machines made to carry out a specific series of jobs. They can be controlled by computers that tell them what to do. Computer programmers use coding languages to instruct the robot. Robots that look like humans are also called androids. Many things in our lives are partially made by robots. For example, many car factories use robots to help put the cars together.

Parts of a Robot

Robots are made up three main parts:

  1. Mechanical parts: The pieces that make the robot move and perform actions
  2. Sensors: The parts that provide the robot with information to be able to make decisions
  3. Controller: The controller is the electronics and coding that act as the "brains" of the robot.

The sensors give the robot's controller the information to make decisions and create the movement of the mechanical parts. Mechanical parts can include anything from the body of the robot to tires or handgrippers.

Robotic arms

Robotic arms are becoming much more common in manufacturing, and could potentially come into our home as well. Startup, Carbon, is working on personal robotics arms that can do everything from 3D print to frost a cake. On the manufacturing floor, robotic arms do everything from welding cars to sorting parts. Some work independently, while others, called cobots, work alongside humans.

Robots on Mars

As of November 5, 2016, there are about 14 spacecraft missions on the surface of Mars, some of which consisted of multiple vehicles. Of these, there have been four successfully operated rovers. The first devices to contact the surface were two Soviet probes, the Mars 2 lander on November 27, 1971 and Mars 3 lander on December 2, 1971. However, the failed on descent or shortly after landing. The Opportunity and Curiosity rovers are still operational on the surface.


A drone is an a flying device without a human in it that can be controlled remotely. Essentially, it is a robot that can fly. You may have seen some smaller ones for sale at your local store. These robotics are used for a variety of purposes ranging from fun races to helping farmers plan out their fields. They give us the ability to see things from the sky more easily.

Robot Fast Facts

  • The word "robot" was first used in a play from 1921.
  • More than a million industrial robots are now in use, the majority of which are in Japan.
  • Over 2 million Roombas, robotic vacuum cleaners, have now been sold.
  • The first robot was a steam-powered “pigeon,” created around 400 to 350 BCE by the ancient Greek mathematician Archytas. He created the robot to study the flight of birds.

August STEM Star

Ayanna is a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the chief technology officer of Zyrobotics, a company that she founded that designs smart mobile technologies for educational and accessible play. But don't let us tell you about her, why not hear it from our August STEM Star herself! 

How did you get involved with robotics in the first place?

So, I was interested in robotics almost all my life. Throughout undergrad I took robotics courses, I did robotics research and I worked in the summer at JPL (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory) doing robotic AI related stuff. I wanted to do robotics ever since middle school when I saw The Bionic Woman, so that was my inspiration of life. 

Read our full interview here!