Mechanical manipulators allow people to do manual labor while separated from the work site. They are used in hazardous environments, like coal mines and in fires, and places that are impossible for humans to have access to. Manipulators have gone into space and underwater to retrieve objects in places where humans could not. They have also been used in microsurgery on eyes and ears.

There are two parts of a mechanical manipulator; the operator's control site, or master part, and the remote task site, or slave part. The operator uses handles and switches to demonstrate exactly what he wants the machine to do. The machine then moves on wheels or tracks, and imitates the controller's movements. The manipulator has many joints and links arranged to resemble an arm. On the end of the arm is a gripper that grasps or picks up objects, and can push buttons or open doors.

The "master" and "slave" parts of a mechanical manipulator, and how they work.


If the operator is nearby the work site, the manipulator is simply mechanical and works like a puppet. However, many times operators must be located far away from the work site, and the manipulator must be run by electric or hydraulic power. Manipulators are often equipped with touch and vision sensors. For instance, when a manipulator is sent into space it may have a TV camera mounted on its "shoulder" or "wrist."

As we continue to explore new and previously unreachable areas, the demand for manipulators increases. Thus, their capabilities must increase. There are now computer-aided manipulators that can retain the information they were sent, and repeat the exact operation at a later time. This is helpful when repetitive operations are required. It allows the computer and sensors at the work site to function for quite some time without the operator intervening. This teaching/memory method is called Supervisory controlled manipulation, and is still being researched.


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