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automatic operation and control of machinery or processes by devices, such as robots that can make and execute decisions without human intervention. The principal feature of such devices is their use of self-correcting control systemscontrol systems,
combinations of components (electrical, mechanical, thermal, or hydraulic) that act together to maintain actual system performance close to a desired set of performance specifications. Open-loop control systems (e.g.
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 that employ feedbackfeedback,
arrangement for the automatic self-regulation of an electrical, mechanical, or biological system by returning part of its output as input. A simple example of feedback is provided by a governor on an engine; if the speed of the engine exceeds a preset limit, the
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, i.e., they use part of their output to control their input. Once the automated process is set up, human participation in the manufacturing process involves little more than maintenance and repair of the equipment. In a typical automated manufacturing process, the feeding in of materials, the machine operation, the transfers from one machine to another, the final assembly, the removal, and the packing are all done automatically. In some automated manufacturing, a single robot with interchangeable tool heads performs all of the various manufacturing assignments. At various stages in the operation are inspection devices that reject substandard products and adjust the machinery to correct any malfunction. Since electronic computerscomputer,
device capable of performing a series of arithmetic or logical operations. A computer is distinguished from a calculating machine, such as an electronic calculator, by being able to store a computer program (so that it can repeat its operations and make logical
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 are able to store, select, record, and present data systematically, they are widely used to direct automated systems. Automation is applied in industry to the manufacture of foodstuffs, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and electronic equipment, and is used in steel mills, automobile plants, and coal mines. Another application is its use in the launching, aiming, and guidance of military rockets. Automation has also been applied to information handling, resulting in automatically prepared bills and reports and the solution of many engineering problems. It offers high quality products together with great savings in costs. (see roboticsrobotics,
science and technology of general purpose, programmable machine systems. Contrary to the popular fiction image of robots as ambulatory machines of human appearance capable of performing almost any task, most robotic systems are anchored to fixed positions in factories
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; computer-aided manufacturingcomputer-aided manufacturing
(CAM), a form of automation where computers communicate work instructions directly to the manufacturing machinery. The technology evolved from the numerically controlled machines of the 1950s, which were directed by a set of coded instructions
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See P. Senker, Toward the Automatic Factory? The Need for Training (1986); D. I. Cleland and Bapaya Bidando, Factory Automation Handbook (1990).


The use of electronic equipment, especially computer systems, for the automatic control of instruments and processes and for automatically acquiring and processing information. The applications in astronomy include positioning and tracking of telescopes, direct control of instruments associated with telescopes, the storage of information and its reduction by sampling or simple analysis, and the processing of the information. See also computing; imaging; remote operation.


any form of industrial production in which the productive process is carried out substantially or entirely by machines, with a consequent reduction in the requirement for routine manual labour. As the undertaking and control of productive processes in this manner has become more commonplace (especially with the development of computer technology), the term has tended to fall out of use, being replaced by other general terms such as INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY or simply NEW TECHNOLOGY.

Both popular and sociological debate about automation have been concerned with its consequences for levels of employment: whether it will lead to an overall decline in the requirement for labour, increases in unemployment, the onset of a new age of LEISURE, and so on. What seems clear, however, is that while it may involve a decrease in the demand for unskilled or routine forms of manual labour, the demand for educated labour – necessary in the design and maintenance of the new machines and in the management of the new processes -is likely to increase. However, how far these new jobs will themselves tend to become routinized (e.g. involve routine keyboard work) remains an unresolved issue (see DESKILLING). The implications of automation and new technology for overall



a branch of science and technology dealing with the theory and design principles of control systems which operate without direct human participation; in a narrow sense, it is an aggregate of methods and technological facilities that obviate human participation when carrying out operations of a specified process. Automation was recognized as an independent technological field at the Second World Power Conference (Berlin, 1930), where a section was created for automatic and remote control problems. The term “automation” became common in the USSR in the early 1930’s.

Automation arose as a science based on the theory of automatic regulation which was established in the works of J. C. Maxwell (1868), I. A. Vyshnegradskii (1872–78), A. Stodola (1899), and others; it was formulated into an independent scientific and technical discipline in 1940. The history of automation as a branch of technology is closely associated with the development of automatons, automatic devices, and automated complexes. In the process of its formation, automation drew on theoretical mechanics and the theory of electrical circuits and systems. It solved problems associated with regulating pressure in steam boilers, the piston stroke in steam engines, and the rotation speed in electrical machines, in addition to problems in operational control of automatic machine tools, automatic telephone exchanges, and relay protection devices. Correspondingly, the technical facilities of automation in this period were developed and used in connection with automatic regulating systems. The intensive development of all branches of science and technology in the mid-20th century also induced a rapid growth in the technology of automatic control whose applications are becoming universal.

The second half of the 20th century was marked by further improvement of the technical facilities of automation and a broad but uneven distribution in various areas of the national economy of automatic control arrangements with a transition to more complex automatic control systems, especially in industry; automation of individual units was replaced by integrated automation of shops and factones. An important feature is the use of automation for objects at great distances from one another, such as large industrial and power complexes and control systems for spacecraft. Communication between the individual installations of such systems is achieved through remote control facilities which are combined with control equipment and controlled objects to form remote-controlled automatic systems. Of great significance here are the technical (including remote control) means for collecting and automatically processing information because many problems in complicated automatic control systems can be solved only with the aid of computer technology. Finally, the theory of automatic regulation is giving way to the generalized theory of automatic control, which unifies all the theoretical aspects of automation and forms a basis for a general theory of control.



The use of technology to ease human labor or extend the mental or physical capabilities of humans.
The mechanisms, machines, and systems that save or eliminate labor, or imitate actions typically associated with human beings.


The process of having a machine or machines accomplish tasks hitherto performed wholly or partly by humans. As used here, a machine refers to any inanimate electromechanical device such as a robot or computer. As a technology, automation can be applied to almost any human endeavor, from manufacturing to clerical and administrative tasks. An example of automation is the heating and air-conditioning system in the modern household. After initial programming by the occupant, these systems keep the house at a constant desired temperature regardless of the conditions outside.

The fundamental constituents of any automated process are (1) a power source, (2) a feedback control mechanism, and (3) a programmable command (see illustration) structure. Programmability does not necessarily imply an electronic computer. For example, the Jacquard loom, developed at the beginning of the nineteenth century, used metal plates with holes to control the weaving process. Nonetheless, the advent of World War II and the advances made in electronic computation and feedback have certainly contributed to the growth of automation. While feedback is usually associated with more advanced forms of automation, so-called open-loop automated tasks are possible. Here, the automated process proceeds without any direct and continuous assessment of the effect of the automated activity. For example, an automated car wash typically completes its task with no continuous or final assessment of the cleanliness of the automobile. See Control systems, Digital computer

Elements of an automated systemenlarge picture
Elements of an automated system

Because of the growing ubiquity of automation, any categorization of automated tasks and processes is incomplete. Nonetheless, such a categorization can be attempted by recognizing two distinct groups, automated manufacturing and automated information processing and control. Automated manufacturing includes automated machine tools, assembly lines, robotic assembly machines, automated storage-retrieval systems, integrated computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM), automatic inspection and testing, and automated agricultural equipment (used, for example, in crop harvesting). Automated information processing and control includes automatic order processing, word processing and text editing, automatic data processing, automatic flight control, automatic automobile cruise control, automatic airline reservation systems, automatic mail sorting machines, automated planet exploration (for example, the rover vehicle, Sojourner, on the Mars Pathfinder mission), automated electric utility distribution systems, and automated bank teller machines. See Computer-aided design and manufacturing, Computer-integrated manufacturing, Flexible manufacturing system, Inspection and testing

A major issue in the design of systems involving both human and automated machines concerns allocating functions between the two. This allocation can be static or dynamic. Static allocation is fixed; that is, the separation of responsibilities between human and machine do not change with time. Dynamic allocation implies that the functions allocated to human and machine are subject to change. Historically, static allocation began with reference to lists of activities which summarized the relative advantages of humans and machines with respect to a variety of activities. For example, at present humans appear to surpass machines in the ability to reason inductively, that is, to proceed from the particular to the general. Machines, however, surpass humans in the ability to handle complex operations and to do many different things at once, that is, to engage in parallel processing. Dynamic function allocation can be envisioned as operating through a formulation which continuously determines which agent (human or machine) is free to attend to a particular task or function. In addition, constraints such as the workload implied by the human attending to the task as opposed to the machine can be considered. See Human-factors engineering

It has long been the goal in the area of automation to create systems which could react to unforeseen events with reasoning and problem-solving abilities akin to those of an experienced human, that is, to exhibit artificial intelligence. Indeed, the study of artificial intelligence is devoted to developing computer programs that can mimic the product of intelligent human problem solving, perception, and thought. For example, such a system could be envisioned to perform much like a human copilot in airline operations, communicating with the pilot via voice input and spoken output, assuming cockpit duties when and where assigned, and relieving the pilot of many duties. Indeed, such an automated system has been studied and named a pilot's associate. Machines exhibiting artificial intelligence obviously render the sharp demarcation between functions better performed by humans than by machines somewhat moot. While the early promise of artificial intelligence has not been fully realized in practice, certain applications in more restrictive domains have been highly successful. These include the use of expert systems, which mimic the activity of human experts in limited domains, such as diagnosis of infectious diseases or providing guidance for oil exploration and drilling. Expert systems generally operate by (1) replacing human activity entirely, (2) providing advice or decision support, or (3) training a novice human in a particular field. See Expert systems


1. the use of methods for controlling industrial processes automatically, esp by electronically controlled systems, often reducing manpower
2. the extent to which a process is so controlled


Automatic, as opposed to human, operation or control of a process, equipment or a system; or the techniques and equipment used to achieve this. Most often applied to computer (or at least electronic) control of a manufacturing process.

See also design automation, office automation, manularity, Manufacturing Automation Protocol, PEARL, QBE.


Replacing manual operations with electronics and computer-controlled devices. For example, "office automation" replaced manual typewriters, filing cabinets and paper appointment books with computer applications. Tape and disk libraries have been called "automation systems" because robotic arms pick cartridges out of a stacker and move them to the drives.

Robots continue to replace human workers in factories; online learning displaces teachers and computer-based systems of all kinds are slowly but surely eliminating jobs. In time when driverless cars take off for public transportation, millions of jobs are expected to disappear around the globe. In the 21st century, educating and retraining people for high-tech employment is essential. See automator, robot, computer ethics, naming fiascos, automagic and automata theory.

A Vision of Automation (circa 1895)
More than a hundred years ago, the concept of the future lacked a major ingredient... the computer! Artist unknown. (Image courtesy of Rosemont Engineering.)
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