Skip to main content

What’s the difference between AI and Robotics?

qihan robotics

source: wikipedia


What’s the difference between AI and Robotics?

How does the field of artificial intelligence differ from robotics? They’re often used interchangeably, so the differences can be difficult to understand. In short, the two fields overlap a little but aren’t the same thing. Robotics involves designing, building and programming physical robots. While there are some conflicting opinions about what precisely constitutes a robot, it’s generally accepted that they interact with the physical world via sensors and actuators, are programmable, and either autonomous or semi-autonomous.

If you’ve heard of mechatronics, you may be wondering if that’s the same thing and how this field might relate to artificial intelligence. In short, they are all different disciplines. Mechatronics is a blend of mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering. While similar to robotics, inputs are provided in mechatronic systems and not in robotic systems where they acquire them on their own. Mechatronics, like robotics, can overlap with AI but doesn’t necessarily have to.

On the other hand, artificial intelligence is a different field entirely. It’s a branch of computer science that involves developing computers to complete tasks that usually require human intelligence These algorithms can deal with learning, perception, problem solving, language understanding, or reasoning. And are used everywhere, from Amazon’s recommendations engine, to Siri, to your spam folder. Additionally, you may hear the term machine learning. This is a special way to train an AI algorithm based around the idea that giving machines access to data and letting them learn for themselves is an efficient way to develop artificial intelligence. Not all AI is powered by machine learning, but an increasing segment of it is.

There are robots that have nothing to do with artificial intelligence, and artificial intelligence that doesn’t involve robotics. Programs that don’t involve AI just carry out a defined sequence of events, whereas AI programs attempt to mimic some form of human intelligence. These two fields don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, but there are some times when the two disciplines overlap. This is the space where we find artificially intelligent robots.  

How AI is applied in Robotics

Artificially intelligent robots are powered and controlled by AI programs. These AI algorithms allow robots to perform more complex tasks than ever before. This combination is potent, and has the capability to transform the way we do tasks in a variety of sectors, from healthcare to food to manufacturing. Though there isn’t necessarily overlap, artificial intelligence has become increasingly common in robotic projects. That’s because it introduces flexibility and fresh learning capabilities. Previously robots could only perform pre-programmed tasks, artificial intelligence allows them to learn how to perform tasks in a variety of contexts.

For example, manufacturing has long made use of robotic technology. And with the advances of artificial intelligence, these robots can do things that they’ve never done before.  With present-day technology, AI can help robots recognize and detect items in much greater detail, determine the best way to grasp or lift an object, and avoid obstacles when in motion. These all help save time and money, an advantage that can be replicated across industries. Supply chain and logistic applications are also some key industries that are taking early advantage of the current capabilities of artificially intelligent robots, and these technologies are poised to have a transformative effect on many other sectors.

Examples of AI in Robotics Today

The applications are really limitless, and many have already hit the commercial market. Artificially intelligent robots may soon be coming to your home, if they aren’t there already. The makers of the popular vacuum Roomba have created a smarter version (Roomba 980) that uses artificial intelligence to detect room size, locate obstacles, and create efficient routes for cleaning.

You might be seeing the effects of AI robotics in the classroom soon, too. In Japan, the education ministry is planning to spend nearly half a million dollars to roll out AI robot teachers to 500 classrooms across the country. Their mission? Help improve students’ English. These robots are cheaper than English teachers, and are able to give the kind of individualized attention — for example, checking each student’s pronunciation — that human teachers might not have the bandwidth to do.

Kitchens are part of the artificially intelligent robot revolution too. Miso Robotics has created a cooking robot (dubbed Flippy) that has 3D and a thermal kitchen that allows it to not only process its surroundings but learn from them. The Los Angeles Dodgers have already put Flippy to work in their stadium kitchens. And be on the lookout for more advanced robo-chefs in the future: Sony recently partnered with researchers at Carnegie Mellon University for a four-year project developing robots for food preparation and delivery. Team members include experts in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and human robot interaction, and their objective is to execute an entirely robotic counter-to-table dining experience that may someday be replicated commercially.


Combining robotics with artificial intelligence has benefits for both disciplines. Robots with AI benefit from greater power and intelligence than ever before, allowing them to perform increasingly complex tasks. Artificial intelligence is still a field in its infancy, and the more exposure and applications it has, the faster it will develop. Artificially intelligent robots are one of the most exciting technological developments of recent years.