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The Robotics Primer: Chapter 1


In addition to the use of telephones, telegraphs, and televisions, another example of teleoperation might be the practice of telecommuting, “working remotely”, or “working from home”. Telecommuting involves the operation of several devices such as a camera, microphone, display, and speakers to allow people to work collaboratively even while they are not physically together. Telecommuting may be considered an amalgamation of several types of teleoperations since the operation of several devices may be needed to make the collaborative work possible.

A fictional example of teleoperation is telepathy. Telepathy involves sending or receiving information directly from or to one’s brain or mind. This type of teleoperation may be considered possible via supernatural means or after humanity has achieved significant technological advancements.

One last example of teleoperation would be the ability to change the colour or brightness of a lightbulb using an app on a mobile device. Some lightbulbs, such as the Philips Hue line of lightbulbs, can connect to users’ mobile devices via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and receive information from them, such as commands to turn the light on or off, or to change its brightness or colour.


A thermostat is an autonomous system because it is not controlled by humans or any other living being. Even if all the people in the world disappeared, thermostats would continue to operate normally.

Thermostats exist in the physical world. It may be possible to create a simulated thermostat, but at least some thermostats are made of real molecules and exist physically.

Thermostats can sense the temperature in their environment. There are several different ways in which different types of thermostats sense temperature.

Thermostats can act on the information that they sense by displaying the temperature or sending signals to air conditioning or heating equipment to adjust the temperature.

The goals that a thermostat may be trying to achieve are to inform people of the temperature in a certain area or to regulate the temperature of the area.

Since a thermostat is autonomous, physical, can sense its environment, can act on its senses, and may achieve some goals, it is a robot.


A toaster is not a robot because it is not an autonomous system. Toasters require people to operate them. If there are no people to push its lever, the toaster will not do anything.


Software such as web crawlers are not robots because they do not exist in the physical world. They could be considered simulated robots since they are autonomous systems that “sense” or read data in the virtual world and perform operations based on that data to achieve some goals, but they are not robots because they do not exist in the physical world.


In the context of reality, HAL is not a robot because he is a fictional character and does not exist in the physical world.

In the context of the movie 2001, the Space Odyssey, HAL is still not a robot. HAL is an autonomous system that can sense the physical world through cameras and other sensors and can perform actions based on what he senses to achieve his goals, but he does not actually exist in the physical world even though he can sense it and affect it by operating the spaceship’s components. Some may consider the Discovery One spaceship to be HAL’s body and conclude that HAL does exist in the physical world. However, HAL does not have a body, since the spaceship is not a part of HAL, but HAL is a part of the spaceship. The fact that HAL is a part of the spaceship rather than the other way around becomes clear when one considers that the human crewmembers could shut down HAL and continue flying the spaceship, but if the spaceship were shut down or destroyed then HAL would cease to exist. Since the spaceship is not HAL’s body, and in fact HAL is merely a piece of software run on the spaceship’s computer to assist in its operation, HAL is not a robot, although he may be a “softbot”. The Discovery One spaceship itself including the HAL 9000 computer may be a robot if HAL can operate the spaceship without the help of any human crewmembers.

Biological systems

It seems that biological systems, including humans and other animals, also fit the definition of being a robot. We are autonomous, we exist in the physical world, we can sense our environment, and we can perform actions based on our senses to achieve some goals.