Dictionary of terms

Here we will define a whole wack of terms like….dof, linear actuators, McKibben muscles, the “Uncanny Valley” and more!

ABS Plastic – (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is a type of plastic used in most consumer 3d Printers. Also PLA(polylactic acid) is used. ABS needs more heat but is more flexible. They both are fed into the printer in spools and are melted to form layer upon layer in the FDD(fused deposition modelling) …also called FFF(Fused filament fabrication) 3d printing process. Fumes  can be toxic can come from heating certain plastics in a 3d printer. There are 2 main types of 3d printing FFF and SLA (stereolithography)

Actuators-is a device that causes motion for a robot usually linearly or rotationally. It is usually some electric force which creates a mechanical movement. It can be an electric motor or a hydraulic or pneumatic force. A linear actuator for a robot could be used to make a leg move and would look like a strut on a hatchback car or on a house aluminum door closer. A linear actuator would have a motor controlled by something like an arduino microcontroller board and would have a pole that would go in and out in a linear direction which could make a leg bend at the knee up and down.

AC Power -Simply put, in the old days you called anything that had to be plugged into the wall AC and anything that used a battery DC.  As such people knew they could die if they mistreated AC power and could most likely survive doing anything with low power DC batteries.Technically though, AC (alternating current) means  current which  changes direction while DC (direct current) has the current flow in one direction. Edison and Tesla were both involved in electricity in the early days and you can read all about them online. AC was Teslas great idea and Edison had DC. AC is used in our hydro electric towers because it can transmit electricitly much farther than DC can. You can read and learn about DC motors and AC motors and how they differ. There are various ways to convert AC to DC and DC to AC. 

Accelerometer-is a type of sensor that is put into everything from a cellphone to a robot and is usually used to tell if something is upside down or not, similar to a tilt sensor. Technically it is a device to measure an objects acceleration and can determine an objects frequency and how intensely it is moving. It is also used in vehicles stability systems.

Adafruit Company -is a company started in New York in 2005 by Ms. Limor Fried that is well known to Arduino and DIY electronics people. It is known as an open source hardware company where you can buy various adapters for Arduino boards and hundreds of electronics boards and supplies for use in robot building and more

AD / DA-analog to digital converter or digital to analog converter. It means…

Ampere-or short form an amp means the current in a circuit. It is technically a measure of the amount of electric charge in motion at a moment of time. Most consumer electric goods will have a label that may say something like 120V 2 amps.

ARC- Autonomous Robot Control Software is from the Synthiam company and is control software that allows anyone to easily move a robots arms or legs or body. The owner of the company DJ Sures created a company in 2011 called EZ Robot which was sold in 2019. He has been active in robotics since graduating from Waterloo in Canada. Many of the top 10 roboticists in the world including Mark Tilden and a handful of the originators from Clearpath Robotics were also graduates of Waterloo…a hotbed of hi tech in Canada since the 1980s

Arduino-The Arduino is an Italian brand of “microcontrollers” invented in 2005 which has spawned a handful of competitive brands of Arduino-like boards and all kinds of add on products and countless thousands of DIY (do it yourself) robots and computerized contraptions! The name some say came from a region in Italy but now has almost become such a common household name like Kleenex which is used to refer to computerizing a robot even though the board being used may not be an actual Arduino but an Arduino clone purchased from China. It has created a huge surge of do-it-yourself electronics and robotics hobbyists to build things because the board makes it super easy to attach electronic motors/servos and sensors and copy prewritten code called Sketches (similar to C)  or write your own code to make the motors and sensors work.

Android- This used to be what people called robots. Robots that looked like humans or did not were  were called androids or cyborgs. The other use of the word Android refers to the operating system found on everythning from cellphones to desktop computers.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)-AI can be defined in many ways but one way is to say that it is a simulation of human intelligence in machines. One could put artificial animal intelligence in a machine if one wanted to but we generally refer to its use as it applies to human intelligence. It is usually created through the use of software and it is made to work with machine parts like a robot but it can simply be left as software and can run on a webpage as a chat bot for example. On the internet you may simply type questions to a chat bot that seems to understand you or you may actually see an artificially created human image on your screen that may be impossible to tell if it is real or not. The related terms to AI are machine learning, deep learning and data science. See our more extensive description of AI in other parts of our site.

Alien- An alien is usually some creature from another universe or planet. It can simply refer to something that one is not familiar with.

Animatronics – This basically refers to the technique of animating a puppet or character like a human like doll or animal using electronics. You see them at Disney land or some dinosaur Circus displays and or in the past at restaurants like Chucky Cheese. They can move their eyes or move just about everything and look like a robot. To be a true robot it needs to move autonomously which means without a human operator or without following a script. Animatronics are operated either by a remote control button or by following a prewritten software/mechanical routine. The line is blurring as more animatronic dolls have added sensors so they are becoming more like real robots.

Anode/Cathode – These are electricity terms usually referring to the two magnetic sides of a battery. The anode generally is negative and releases its electrons in the circuit while the cathode is positive and tends to receive the electrons in the same circuit.

Anthropometry – This refers to the study of the measurement of the human body like weight, height, waste size to classify the body. It can be used when building robots to mimic the human. 

Articulated Joint -Is a joint that is able to move like at the elbow or wrist or waste or neck.  This is where we talk about having a certain number of DOF (degrees of freedom) and a certain number of servos at each joint. One can take a one piece mannequin or tiny toy doll and cut the limbs and reattach them with hinges to make them articulated. 

Autonomous – Autonomous robots are robots or machines that can operate in their environment without human interaction by using sensors and other accessories. There are robots that are more autonomous than others such as those robot vacuums which simply move around furniture in a house and those outdoor land robots that can go miles through rough terrain to accomplish some mission.

Balena Etcher- is an older software tool used to prepare (imaging) your SD card for a Raspberry Pi.

Battery- A battery is a container of one or more cells which is able to convert chemical energy to electrical energy to power something like a robot. Most robots use rechargeable batteries like lithium ion or lithium polymer (LiPo). Most toys still use simple alkaline 1.5 volt non rechargeable batteries (sizes like aaa, aa, c, d, 9 volt) or rechargeable NiCd, NiMH. Batteries have 3 parts…the anode, cathode and the electrolyte. You can have dry cell batterie and gel cell etc. With a robot you would either plug it into the wall using AC power or you would use a battery or DC power.

Beaglebone-Is an open source hardware single board computer made by Texas Instrument/Digikey/Newark. An arduino is not a full computer but is called a microcontroller. Both Raspberry pi and Beaglebone Black are called computers and not microcontrollers.

BEAM- (Biology/Electronics/ Aesthetics- Mechanics) Is a simplified robot design methodology created by Mark Tilden who was a pioneer in developing toy robots like the Robosapien in the 1980s for the WoWwee toy company.  The building idea is to keep it simple and not use conventional electric batteries or computers but to try to use alternative power energy like solar power and basic electric devices like capacitors, transistors. There is also a relation to nervous systems like those found in insects. Go watch some of Marks Youtube videos where he talks about neuro nets and BEAM.  The Robosapien was an amazing robot toy which did not have a computer inside but relied on various simpler electronic components.

Biometrics -Is the study of the various measurements of the human body which can be used in various computer applications such as security authentication (iris reading) etc.

Biomorphics -Is an organic design methodology which takes its cues from nature and recurring patterns. It can be used in the design of anything from buildings to robots.

Bionic- This term usually is applied to an artificial limb which is made to function like a real one. It is basically a way to mimic biology in engineering design.

Biped- Is something that is two legged. Usually the term is used in the following way “we are trying to produce a better bipedal robot that will not fall over and break”.

Breadboard- Is usually a plastic board with holes in it where electrical components and circuits can be temporarily inserted as an electronic project is being worked on. After testing circuits on a temporary breadboard, a person could then get an actual permanent printed circuit board made.

Bit- Is the most basic unit of measurement in the digital world. A bit is either a 1 or a 0 and usually represents either an on or off state when writing software for robot applications.

BIW (body in white) – Generally refers to a stage in an automotive plants assembly process when the body has been welded and just needs the engine and its other components to be added. It is used in the robotics plant to refer to a stage in the assembly and automated welding process.

Blender Software –


Bump sensor-


C/C++ –


Cartesian robotics-


Cloud –

Codecraft –

Coral Edge Google –

Cyborg –

Cycloidal gear-

DC Current-


Direct Drive-


DMX/Animatronics –

Drone –

Dr Gero –

Dynamixels –

Effectors –

Electricity –

Electron –

Electrode –

Embedded systems – Unlike a computer which is designed to do a wide variety of computing tasks, an embedded system is a simpler hardware and software device that are designed to do one or a few specific functions. It is usually inside a larger device like a washing machine or mp3 player or remote control. They were popular in the 1970s to 90s and then dropped out of favor but are again back to be used in different forms. They are related to IOT and embedded systems in the cloud. An Arduino is not really an embedded system but is used to build an embedded system. An embedded system will have a microcontroller in it and i/o devices and will operate by itself or with little user input not requiring extra programming or an operating system.

Engineering –

Energy –

Fabrication –

Fembot –

Fiducials –

Frubber Skin (Hanson) –

Furby toy –

Fuse –

Gear –

Gearbox –

Generator –

Genisate Valginate – 

Gimbal –

Gimbal lock –

Gesture –



GPT 3 /Open AI –

Greg Townley –

Gynoid –

H-Bridge –

Hacker –

Hackerspace –

HASEL muscle –

Heel to toe gait – 



Hydraulics –

Integrated Circuit (IC) –

Infrared –

IP –

IOT (Internet of Things) – Basically IOT is what it sounds like. “Internet of, or inside of things like your refrigerator or maybe your hot tub . It is a fairly recent computer technology where the product manufacturers would  put sensors and other devices in our everyday things to allow them to pass information to other devices back and forth using the Internet to make our home or work lives easier. Some say it is the 3rd wave of the Internet where the first wave saw us access the internet only using our desktop computers and then the second wave saw us using more devices like our smart phones and now our refridgerator will be able to call our cell phone and tell us that we need to buy more tomatoes. It has use in self driven cars and of course many forms of robotic equipment and accessories.

Interrupt –

INT/Integer –

Jacobian Matrix- is an advanced type of math usually calculus which tries to calculate the movement of a robot joint as it relates to the end effector/gripper.  It involves rows of numbers called matrixes.

Java – A very popular object oriented programming language similar to C/C++ developed by Sun Microsystems in 1995 and used by almost all programmers these days for just about everything.

Jumper – An tiny metal connector used to complete part of a circuit.

Jupyter Notebook- Is a free open source web based tool used mostly by data scientists (related to AI). Programmers use it to share and edit their code very much like how Gitbhub makes it easy to share and work on code as a team of programmers. There are thousands of Juptyer notebooks on Google that you can go and see how people explain their data research with clear explanations and live code and color charts and videos.  It allows you to do 3 main things as a programmer: work on live computer code, embed visualization and rich explanatory text in one place to make it easier to show your code to other people and improve it. It is part of the overall Jupyter project.  Jupyter is basically a community of users like Github that want to develop open source free software to facilitate research and the study of things like data science.  Jupyter notebook was spun off from iphython notebook. You can find out more on their webpage jupyter.org

Kilowatt – Is 1,000 wats of electrical power.

Kickstarter – Is a webbased platform used to raise money for some business or cause as in “setting up a kickstarter campaign”.

Kinematics- Is a branch of physics and mechanics that deals with motion of objects. There is inverse kinematics which is used in both computer animation and robotics to describe how robot arms and legs move.

Kotlin- is a high level programming language used to make about 70% of the IOS apps. Easier than Java and Python.

Laminated –

Lead by the nose –


Library –


Linear actuator –


Lynxmotion Servo –

LiPo Battery –

Machinist –

Mass Robotics –

Melodics ROS –

Mindstorm EV3

ML Machine Learning –

MRL Machine Robot Language –

Makerspace –

MATLAB – Is a specialized interpreted  programming language used by scientists and mathematicians. Its name comes from matrix and is used for calculations involving deep learning applications. It is not a general purpose language and is considered easier and perfect for scientific use and better than R or Python for those purposes.

McKibben Muscle –

Mechanical Engineering –

Meccanoid –

Microcontroller –

Middleware software –

MIG Welding –

Minsky –

Motor/Servo –

Nano –

Nano Technology –

Nervous net –

Neural Net –

Neuron –

NLP Natural Language Processing –

Object Recognition –

OOP Object Oriented Programming –

Orientation –


Ohm –

Occular – This term refers to the eye. The field is extremely interested in improving robot vision because it is such a core principle in achieving the highest level of artificial intelligence. Your robot must be able to see and recognize objects, faces and more and make decisions based on what it sees or perceives with its other sensors. Here is a link to a site saying how much better than humans robots will soon be able to see. https://www.inverse.com/innovation/building-better-robot-eyes

Open Source Movement – According to the Open source Iniative,  at opensource.org ,”Open Source software is software that can be freely accessed, used, changed, and shared (in modified or unmodified form) by anyone. ” 

Operator control –

Overclock -This refers to making some hardware device perform faster than what it was originally designed for.

Overheat – This is a real concern with robot builders because electronic components including microcontrollers and batteries can get hot inside of an enclosed robot and could cause a breakdown or a fire from over heating. You need to look at ways to calculate the proper power requirements of any robotic device and allow for cooling and include an emergency off button or remote switch.

Pitch/Roll/Yaw – These terms in some form have always been used in camera work, airplanes, boating and more often these days with robot head movements or other joints. It deals with the what is called cartesian coordinates of the x, y and z axis points. You often hear the terms DOF (degrees of freedom) and axis of movement to mean the same thing. A simple fixed human-like robot arm on a table without a gripper/hand has 3 DOF. One at the base or shoulder that spins, one at the elbow that moves up and down and one at the wrist that spins. The wrist part is called an orientation axis (the other axis is the position axis) and this is where you attach a gripper and then you get the  3 terms of pitch/roll/yaw. This is where you compare the movement to that in an airplane. Pitch movement is the nose going up and down. Roll is the wing tipping up or down and yaw is the nose going left or right. Opening and closing of the gripper does not count as a DOF since this movement does not change the position of the gripper or end effector.

PCB Printed Circuit Board – is usually a  flat material used to fasten with solder, electronic components and wires. You find them in almost every electronic device like a tv computer or even in your remote control. Before a company creates the final PCB to install and sell with the product they experiment and test their circuits on temporary circuit boards called breadboards. When you are satisfied with your circuits on the breadboard you would send your design idea usually in a computer file to a PCB printer and they would produce one or thousands of PCBs for you.

Pepper Robot -Was a robot looking full size robot created in 2014 by Softbank Robots and was said to be the worlds first sociable robot that could recognize faces and emotions. It was first used to help promote cell phones in 2014.

Photo Resistor -is a light controlled variable resistor.

PID Control – (proportional ,integral, deriviative). This is a term which is used in both robotics and self driving cars to keep them following the proper path by checking inputs and outputs. It gets complicated to explain because it involves discussions of both open and closed loop systems, process variables and reference signals and then a great deal of mathematics and calculus and complex techniques like using Kalman filters.

Piezo speaker -a very inexpensive basic speaker used in toys to produce a buzzer noise or some speaker sounds and is used in some robotics applications to produce ultrasound in sonar systems.

PLC -Is a programmable logic controller and they were first used in the automotive manufacturing industry in 1968. They were made to withstand touch conditions with dust and moisture and were made to be easy to program with techniques like the ladder language. Now we work with Arduinos which are similar in many ways.

Pololu – Is a company which has been producing robotics devices like motors and boards for years. The word itself also is Hawaiian for long spear.

Potentiometer – Is any type of position sensor and was commonly used as a 3 terminal variable resistor. In the old days you would call it a volume knob on yhour am/fm radio. They are also found in most servo motors. 

Power -In elctronics, power is defined as the amount of energy transfered per unit of time.

Pneumatics – Is a way to use 

Prismatic joint- Is also called a slider. Its a joint where the movement is back and forth in 1 direction or 1 DOF. Imagine  if your foot was stuck in a rut and go only go forward and reverse not side to side.

Programming –

Prosthetics –

Prototyping –

Proximity Detector –

PVC -Polyvinyl chloride is a type of plastic usually seen in a tube form and used for things like plumbing or making a kids soccer net structure. It can be used to make the limbs of a humanoid robot by specially inserting a golf ball in one side and making a ball and socket joint.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQoxY1KeNqE

Python –

PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) –

Raspberry Pi –

Real Time Deterministic Behaviour

Resin –

Robosapien/Roboquad –


Robovalley –

Robot –

Robotics –


ROS Robot Operating System –


Sensor –

Servo –

Serial –

Series Circuit –

Shield –

Sketch (Arduino) –

Sparkfun –

Speech Recognition –

Soft Robotics –

Soldering –


Sophia –


Stereo Pi –

Synthiam –

System –

Teach Pendant –

Telemers –

Tensorflow –

Thingiverse –

Tilt Sensor –

3D Printing –

TIG Welding –

Torque –

Transformer –

Transistor –

Tritium –

Triblock copolymer

Turing Test- Is an often thrown around expression to refer to a machines ability to mimic human intelligence. The idea was penned by Alan Turing in 1950 and was also called “the immitation game”. When asked if machines could ever think like humans he found the question ridiculous  but said that perhaps machines  could  one day perform at certain intellectual games like a human.



Ubuntu – Is a very common Linux Debian distribution sponsored by a company called Canonical. The word is from a Nguni Bantu language which means humanity.

UNO (Arduino) – The Arduino is a brand of microprocessors and the Uno Rev 3 is the common version used in 2021.

Uncanny Valley – This term refers to a theory which equates the resemblance of a robot to a human and the emotional reaction it creates. It is said that if a robot looks “too much” like a human than many people will pick out some odd part of it like its mannerisms or speech and will find the appearance of it to be “creepy” or offsetting. So most roboticists intentionally make a robot look like a robot unless you are very good at design and are prepared to take the risk of having your robots called creepy. Hanson robotics prides itself on making ultra realistic robots despite the uncanny valley theory.

Unix/Linux – Unix is the original operating system developed by ATT and Linux is Unix like operating system which acts like Unix but is not Unix. The Linux symbol was trademarked by its creator Linus Torvalds.

Vector – Is a term in physics which has both a magnitude and a direction. You hear alot about vectors in discussions of Tensor flow and other parts of advanced mathematics and machine learning.

Voltage –

Watt –

Web Services/Cloud –

Welding –

Westworld TV show –

Wandavision TV show –

Wiring types –

Wrist flip/singularity –

X/Y/Z Axis –