Contact FutureLearn for Support
Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Glossary of terms

We have provided you with a glossary to help you grasp some words that you might not be used to, however we might not have included everything.

Now is your chance to suggest some words or terminology you have come across that might seem confusing to be added to the glossary. The course team will review the suggestions to be added to the glossary for the next run of the course.

  • Acceleration - A change in velocity (that is changing speed and/or direction of travel).
  • Accelerometer - A device for measuring acceleration or force. These are related by Newton’s second law:

      force = mass * acceleration
    
  • Active sensor - A sensor which instigates an action and then waits for a response - such as transmitting a signal and measuring the response when it comes back.
  • Actuator - A device which makes something happen - such as a motor for movement or an emitter (of say light or ultrasound).
  • Aggressive Light seeker - A form of Braitenberg vehicle which accelerates towards lights.
  • Algorithm - A set of actions which, if followed, achieve a particular task. These are typically expressed in language a human can ‘understand’ and may be converted into specific commands that a machine such as a computer can obey.
  • Android - A robot which looks (to an extent) like a human.
  • Artificial Intelligence - Intelligence associated with a machine.
  • Assembly robot - A robot used typically in a production line manufacturing (e.g. cars).
  • Autonomous robot - A robot which works on its own, as opposed to being controlled by a human.
  • Baxter robot - A modern industrial robot designed specifically to interact safely with humans.
  • Boids Examples of artificial life, first produced by Craig Reynolds which appear to flock.
  • Braitenberg vehicles - A form of robot, proposed by the Italian-Austrian cyberneticist Valentino Braitenberg, which actions are determined by its light sensors and neurons.
  • Closed Loop control - A feedback loop used to control a device.
  • Control Engineering - A study of how to achieve control.
  • Controller - A device which forms part of a control system – often taking the error between the desired state and the actual state and generating data used to affect an actuator.
  • Cybernetics - The science of control and communication (in the animal and the machine) – the science of feedback systems – incorporating control, learning and interaction.
  • Daisyworld - An imaginary planet, populated with artificial life, created by James Lovelock and Andrew Watson to demonstrate aspects of Gaia Theory.
  • Echo location - A process where the position of an object is determined by emitting a signal and seeing how long before that signal returns.
  • Electronics - The science of the flow and control of electrons from devices such as batteries through electric components such as resistors and motors.
  • Encoder - In robotics this is a device used to generate pulses as a wheel turns, which can be used to measure velocity.
  • End effector - A device or tool at the end of a robot hand.
  • Error - In a control system, the difference between the desired state and the actual state.
  • Excitatory - connection between neurons which enhances action (as used in Neural Networks and Braitenberg vehicles).
  • Feedback - The process of returning information about the output of a system.
  • Feedback Loop - A circular path along which information is passed.
  • Flocking behaviour - The coordinated movement of a number of real or simulated animals e.g. birds flying, sheep moving together, schools of fish, or boids.
  • Force - The strength associated with action or movement.
  • Force Feedback - A method whereby a sensor conveys to the user the force felt when touching an object.
  • Fuzzy Logic - A form of logic which deals with approximate values, as opposed to logic signals which are true or false only.
  • Gaia Theory - As proposed by James Lovelock: Earth and the Life on it act together to influence the environment – such as its temperature.
  • Gain - The size of the output of an element divided by its input – in a Proportional Controller, its output is the error * the gain.
  • Grimblebot - A self-balancing robot designed at the University of Reading.
  • Gripper - An end effector used for sizing or holding something (a simple hand).
  • Haptics - Interaction involving the sense of touch.
  • Industrial robot - A multi-functional manipulator which can be programmed to do various tasks.
  • Inhibitory - A connection between neurons which inhibits action (as used in Neural Networks and Braitenberg vehicles).
  • Input device - One of many different devices which allow a human to interact with a machine like a computer or robot – including keyboard, mouse, touchpad.
  • Insect robot - A small mobile robot.
  • Instruction - A piece of a program commanding the computer to do something.
  • Integral control - A method used in Feedback Control where the output of the controller depends on its input (typically the error) and previous values of its output.
  • Intelligence - The ability to acquire and apply skills and knowledge.
  • Intelligent robot- A robot whose actions are at least in part determined by the robot.
  • Joint - A part of a robot manipulator which allows some form of rotation (humans also have joints at our wrist, elbow, shoulder, for instance).
  • Laser - Stands for Light amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. A device which emits a beam of light – can be used in sensing.
  • Light phobe - A form of Braitenberg vehicle which steers away from lights.
  • Light seeker - A form of Braitenberg vehicle which steers towards lights.
  • Linear motion - Movement in a straight line, as opposed to rotating.
  • Link - A rigid part of a manipulator.
  • Logic - A branch of mathematics concerned with signals that can be only true or false, and which form the basis of modern computers.
  • Machina Speculatrix - A robot developed by W. Grey Walter in the 1940s which seeks light.
  • Magnetometer - A device for detecting magnetic fields .
  • Manipulator - A robotic mechanism typically comprising a series of fixed elements joined together at joints.
  • Motor - A power mechanism used to produce motion – either in a straight line or by rotating.
  • Neural Network - A set of neurons connected together.
  • Neuron - A simple processing element in a brain – the human has billions of them.
  • Optical Encoder - A device for measuring linear or rotary motion by detecting beams of light as the encoder passes by a light.
  • Passive sensor - A sensor which just ‘listens’ for information (in contrast with an active sensor).
  • Pheromone - A chemical signal emitted by a body which triggers response in others.
  • Position - Where something is.
  • Program - A series of instructions which can be obeyed (by a computer or a robot) to achieve a task.
  • Proportional Control - A strategy where the controller outputs a value which is the error multiplied by a constant (is proportional to the error).
  • R2-D2 - A robot in the Star Wars films and books.
  • Robot - That is what the course is about!
  • Rotary motion - Movement where something turns on the spot, or around a joint.
  • Sensor - A device which is used to measure a quantity – such as the distance to an object or the speed of a robot.
  • Shy Light seeker - A form of Braitenberg vehicle which seeks lights but slows when it approaches them.
  • Simulation - A computer program which tries to emulate the behaviour of something – in this course we use simulations of robots moving around an arena.
  • Subsumption architecture - A method proposed by Rodney Brooks to determine which course of action is more important for a robot than others.
  • Touch sensor - A sensor which measures some aspect of the physical contact with an object.
  • Transducer - A device which converts energy from one form to another – e.g. motor speed to an electrical signal.
  • Ultrasound - Sound that is at a frequency higher than humans can hear.
  • Ultrasonic sensor - A sensor which emits ultrasound and then detects any ultrasound that returns.
  • Velocity - The speed at which an object is travelling and the direction in which it is travelling.
  • Vision Sensor - A device which gives a visual representation of something – typically from a camera.

Share this article:

This article is from the free online course:

Begin Robotics

University of Reading