What’s the Difference Between Robotics and Artificial Intelligence?

February 19, 2021 • Shannon Flynn


AI and robotics are two of the most promising fields in technology today. Depending on who you talk to, though, you may hear people use the two terms like they’re the same thing. As close as they may seem, artificial intelligence and robotics are two separate concepts.

When you think of AI, you might picture robots, but that’s not all it is. In the same way, not all robots are examples of AI. While robotics and AI come hand in hand quite a bit, that doesn’t have to be the case.

So what exactly is the difference between robotics and AI? Let’s take a closer look.

What Is Robotics?

To understand how these two concepts differ, it helps to get a better understanding of what each one means. Put simply, robotics is the field of technology that deals with robots. Definitions of “robot” vary, but generally, it refers to machines that perform tasks either autonomously or semi-autonomously.

Different robots need varying degrees of human input, but they all accomplish work, so people don’t have to. More often than not, this work involves interaction with the physical world, like moving or grabbing things. Automatic vacuums like Roombas are robots, and so are the mechanical arms you see in factories.

Engineers developed the first industrial robot in 1959, and it started work at General Motors in 1961. Since then, the field has taken off, and it doesn’t show any signs of stopping. Robotics is now a 19 billion-dollar industry, and technologies like AI are taking it to new heights.

What Is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence is another broad category that deals with developing technology that replicates human intelligence. AI programs work similarly to people’s thought processes, allowing them to complete more complex tasks. Some people consider AI a branch of robotics, but it doesn’t always deal with robots.

You see AI in things like how Google organizes search results to give you the answer you need. Virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa are also examples of artificial intelligence. You wouldn’t consider these programs robots, but they’re shining examples of AI.

Artificial intelligence as a concept dates as far back as robots, but AI as we know it didn’t appear until later. The kinds of AI you see today didn’t come about until the 1990s, and they’ve improved a lot since then. AI today is so versatile, you can find it everywhere, like in robotics.

Where Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Meet

Not all robots are intelligent, and not all AI is in robots, but they still intersect a lot. Movie robots like C-3PO would be an example of AI in robotics, but the world doesn’t have those quite yet. You can still find instances of AI and robotics coming together, though.

Honda’s famous humanoid robot, ASIMO, has some AI functions, although they’re not particularly advanced. Its AI enables it to understand some spoken commands and recognize faces. Most AI-enabled robots you’ll see aren’t humanoids like ASIMO, but industrial bots.

A robotic arm with computer vision that allows it to recognize objects would be an AI robot. Self-driving cars, which also rely on computer vision, are another example of AI-enabled robotics. These are all autonomous machines, making them robots, and replicate human thought, making them AI.

Understanding AI and Robotics

Technology today can be a confusing field, with people throwing so many terms around. Since a lot of these concepts coincide sometimes, it can be tricky to keep track of what the differences are. When you know the differences, though, you can understand the field as a whole better.

Robotics and artificial intelligence are both world-changing technologies. Together, they have even more potential than either one on their own. With a better knowledge of these technologies, you can understand how the world is changing from them.