Much of the research in robotics focuses not on specific industrial tasks, but on investigations into new types of robot, alternative ways to think about or design robots, and new ways to manufacture them. It is expected that these new types of robot will be able to solve real world problems when they are finally realised.
A nanocar made from a single molecule
- Nanorobots: Nanorobotics is the still largely hypothetical technology of creating machines or robots at or close to the scale of a nanometre (10-9 metres). Also known as nanobots or nanites, they would be constructed from nanoscale or molecular components. So far, researchers have mostly produced only parts of such a machine, such as bearings, sensors, and Synthetic molecular motors, but functioning robots have also been made such as the entrants to the Nanobot Robocup contest. Researchers also hope to be able to create entire robots as small as viruses or bacteria, which could perform tasks on a tiny scale. Possible applications include micro surgery (on the level of individual cells), utility fog, manufacturing, weaponry and cleaning. Some people have suggested that if nanobots were made which could reproduce, they could have serious negative concequences, turning the earth into grey goo, while others argue that this is nonsense.
- Soft Robots: Most robots, indeed most man made machines of any kind, are made from hard, stiff materials; especially metal and plastic. This is in contrast to most natural organisms, which are mostly soft tissues. This difference has not been lost on robotic engineers, and some are trying to create robots from soft materials (rubber, foam, gel), soft actuators (air muscles, electroactive polymers, ferrofluids), and exhibiting soft behaviours (fuzzy logic, neural networks). Such robots are expected to look, feel, and behave differently from traditional hard robots.
Molecubes in motion
- Reconfigurable Robots: A few researchers have investigated the possibility of creating robots which can alter their physical form to suit a particular task, like the fictional T-1000. Real robots are nowhere near that sophisticated however, and mostly consist of a small number of cube shaped units, which can move relative to their neighbours, for example SuperBot . Algorithms have been designed in case any such robots become a reality.
A swarm of robots from the Open-source micro-robotic project
- Swarm robots: Inspired by colonies of insects such as ants and bees, researchers hope to create very large swarms (thousands) of tiny robots which together perform a useful task, such as finding something hidden, cleaning, or spying. Each robot would be quite simple, but the emergent behaviour of the swarm would be more complex. The whole set of robots can be considered as one single distributed system, in the same way an ant colony can be considered a superorganism. They would exhibit swarm intelligence. The largest swarms so far created include the iRobot swarm, and the Open-source micro-robotic project swarm, which are being used to research collective behaviours. Swarms are also more resistant to failure. Whereas one large robot may fail and ruin the whole mission, the swarm can continue even if several robots fail. This makes them attractive for space exploration missions, where failure can be extremely costly.
- Evolutionary Robots: is a methodology that uses evolutionary computation to help design robots, especially the body form, or motion and behaviour controllers. In a similar way to natural evolution, a large population of robots is allowed to compete in some way, or their ability to perform a task is measured using a fitness function. Those that perform worst are removed from the population, and replaced by a new set, which have new behaviours based on those of the winners. Over time the population improves, and eventually a satisfactory robot may appear. This happens without any direct programming of the robots by the researchers. Researchers use this method both to create better robots, and to explore the nature of evolution. Because the process often requires many generations of robots to be simulated, this technique may be run entirely or mostly in simulation, then tested on real robots once the evolved algorithms are good enough.
- Virtual Reality: Robotics has also application in the design of virtual reality interfaces. Specialized robots are in widespread use in the haptic research community. These robots, called "haptic interfaces" allow touch-enabled user interaction with real and virtual environments. Robotic forces allow simulating the mechanical properties of "virtual" objects, which users can experience through their sense of touch.
 Dangers and fears
Although current robots are not believed to have developed to the stage where they pose any threat or danger to society, fears and concerns about robots have been repeatedly expressed in a wide range of books and films. The principal theme is the robots' intelligence and ability to act could exceed that of humans, that they could develop a conscience and a motivation to take over or destroy the human race. (See The Terminator, The Matrix, I, Robot)
Frankenstein's Monster, as played by Boris Karloff
Frankenstein (1818), sometimes called the first science fiction novel, has become synonymous with the theme of a robot or monster advancing beyond its creator. Probably the best known author to have worked in this area is Isaac Asimov who placed robots and their interaction with society at the center of many of his works. Of particular interest are Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. Currently, malicious programming or unsafe use of robots may be the biggest danger. Although industrial robots may be smaller and less powerful than other industrial machines, they are just as capable of inflicting severe injury on humans. However, since a robot can be programmed to move in different trajectories depending on its task, its movement can be unpredictable for a person standing in its reach. Therefore, most industrial robots operate inside a security fence which separates them from human workers. Manuel De Landa has theorized that humans are at a critical and significant juncture where humans have allowed robots, "smart missiles," and autonomous bombs equipped with artificial perception to make decisions about killing us. He believes this represents an important and dangerous trend where humans are transferring more of our cognitive structures into our machines. Even without malicious programming, a robot, especially a future model moving freely in a human environment, is potentially dangerous because of its large moving masses, powerful actuators and unpredictably complex behavior. A robot falling on someone or just stepping on his foot by mistake could cause much more damage to the victim than a human being of the same size. Designing and programming robots to be intrinsically safe and to exhibit safe behavior in a human environment is one of the great challenges in robotics. Some people suggest that developing a robot with a conscience may be helpful in this regard.
Isaac Asimov's book I, Robot
Main article: Robots in literature
See also: List of fictional robots and androids Robots have frequently appeared as characters in works of literature; the word robot comes from Karel Čapek's play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), premiered in 1920. Isaac Asimov wrote many volumes of science fiction focusing on robots in numerous forms and guises, contributing greatly to reducing the Frankenstein complex, which dominated early works of fiction involving robots. His three laws of robotics have become particularly well known for codifying a simple set of behaviors for robots to remain at the service of their human creators.
Numerous words for different types of robots are now used in literature. Robot has come to mean mechanical humans, while android is a generic term for artificial humans. Cyborg or "bionic man" is used for a human form that is a mixture of organic and mechanical parts. Organic artificial humans have also been referred to as "constructs" (or "biological constructs").
See also: Robot competition
Robot Plen practicing for Robocup
Botball is a LEGO-based competition between fully autonomous robots. There are two divisions. The first is for high-school and middle-school students, and the second (called "Beyond Botball") is for anyone who chooses to compete at the national tournament. Teams build, program, and blog about a robot for five weeks before they compete at the regional level. Winners are awarded scholarships to register for and travel to the national tournament. Botball is a project of the KISS Institute for Practical Robotics, based in Norman, Oklahoma.
The FIRST Robotics Competition is a multinational competition that teams professionals and young people to solve an engineering design problem. These teams of mentors (corporate, teachers, or college students) and high school students collaborate in order to design and build a robot in six weeks. This robot is designed to play a game that is developed by FIRST and changes from year to year. FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is an organization founded by inventor Dean Kamen in 1992 as a way of getting high school students involved in and excited about engineering and technology.
The FIRST Vex Challenge (FVC) is a mid-level robotics competition targeted toward high-school aged students. It offers the traditional challenge of a FIRST competition but with a more accessible and affordable robotics kit. The ultimate goal of FVC is to reach more young people with a lower-cost, more accessible opportunity to discover the excitement and rewards of science, technology, and engineering.
FIRST LEGO League (also known by its acronym FLL) is a robotics competition for elementary and middle school students (ages 9-14, 9-16 in Europe), arranged by FIRST. Each year the contest focuses on a different topic related to the sciences. Each challenge within the competition then revolves around that theme. The students then work out solutions to the various problems that they're given and meet for regional tournaments to share their knowledge and show off their ideas.
Competitions for Talha robots are gaining popularity and competitions now exist catering for a wide variety of robot builders ranging from schools to research institutions. Robots compete at a wide range of tasks including combat, fire-fighting , playing games , maze solving, performing tasks  and navigational exercises (eg. DARPA Grand Challenge).
A contest for fire-fighting is the Trinity College Fire-Fighting Robot Contest. The competition in April 2007 was the 14th annual. There are many different divisions for all skill levels. Robots in the competition are encouraged to find new ways to navigate through the rooms, put out the candle and save the "child" from the building. Robots can be composed of any materials, but must fit within certain size restrictions.
Most recently, Duke University announced plans to host the Duke Annual Robo-Climb Competition aimed to challenge students to create innovative wall-climbing robots that can autonomously ascend vertical surfaces.
Since 2004, DARPA Grand Challenge tests driverless cars in an obstacle course across the desert.