For long, robots were largely used in a controlled environment. However, experts believed that one day we would finally develop autonomous robots. These robots could be anything ranging from drones delivering packages to our doorsteps, to self-driving cars. So technically, an autonomous robot is a robot that can perform tasks without much of human intervention. While this may have seemed improbable once but the onset of autonomous robots is closer than ever. This has largely been made possible by the integration of Artificial Intelligence in the fields of robotics and information engineering.
There are three important characteristics of an autonomous robot: perception, decision, and actuation. Perception here refers to sensors. In an autonomous robot, laser scanners, stereo vision cameras (eyes), bump sensors (skin and hair), force-torque sensors (muscle strain), and even spectrometers (smell) are used as input devices. Just like humans, autonomous robots have a brain in the form of a computer. This computer helps it make decisions on the basis of sensory inputs it receives. The actuators and their motor represent the muscles and the heart of a human body. Once the computer takes a decision, it is ultimately carried out by these actuators. For example, the wheels of a self-driving car are its actuators.
It is crucial for the computer of an autonomous robot to contain all sets of algorithms necessary for its efficient functioning. Rifat Sipahi is an associate professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Northeastern University. He designs algorithms that enable groups of robots to function efficiently even in the presence of inherent communication delays in information sharing. In 2015, Sipahi and his research partner Wei Qiao designed an algorithm that was capable of both improving and quickening cooperation among a trio of robots with information-sharing delays. Sipahi believes that by developing proper cooperation among the different groups of robots present in a robotic system, we could finally have an efficient autonomous robot.