The word "robot" was first used by the Czechoslovak writer Karel Capek in 1921 in a play entitled R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), a satire on mechanized society in which the automaton created by Rossum and his son to serve mankind goes out of control with disastrous consequences. Modern industrial robots are much more helpful creations, responding tirelessly to sets of programmed instructions. The patent for the first industrial robot was granted in 1957 to English inventor Cyril Walter Kenward. In N America, Joseph Engelberger, for many years associated with Unimation, Inc, is widely regarded as the father of robotics. One of the first industrial robots to be placed in full operation anywhere in N America is reported to have been in a candy factory in Kitchener, Ont, c 1961-64. Robots are typically industrial manipulators - computer-controlled arms and hands. Their uses in the automotive industry include arc-welding, spot welding and spray painting. They are also used for transporting materials in factories and hospitals, exploring unsafe terrain and even for conducting museum tours.

 A widely used definition for a robot is "a reprogrammable, multifunctional manipulator designed to move material, parts, tools or specialized devices through variable programmed motions for the performance of a variety of tasks." Canadian robotics research in universities, industry and government laboratories is highly regarded, although the groups and workers are often considered to be as rather thinly spread. The world took notice in 1981, when the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System known as the CANADARM unfolded from the cargo bay of the space shuttle Columbia. New and more advanced forms of the Canadarm have been developed for the Mobile Servicing System (MSS), built by Canada as a contribution to the International Space Station (ISS), the first part of which was launched on 28 Nov 1998.

Research and development in robotics is conducted at many Canadian universities, the National Research Council (NRC) and industrial companies. Areas of investigation include machine vision and other sensors, man-machine communication, manipulation, locomotion, actuators and industrial applications. The latter includes remotely operated SUBMERSIBLE vehicles and "tele-robotics," an appropriate term for manipulators or robots operated at a distance. The Canadian Institute for Applied Research (CIAR) provides special funds to support research and development in selected disciplines in Canadian universities. In many instances robots form part of a larger system, and as such are frequently closely linked to the general subject of industrial automation. As a result, automation systems developed within particular environmental and application constraints can appear quite different from the typical industrial robot of today. For example, a number of countries have investigated the possible use of robots in mines. By means of remote control, sensing and communications techniques the operator will, in the future, be able to direct all essential operations in greater comfort and safety from a cabin or control room environment.

Government financial support for robotics R&D in Canadian universities is provided to universities through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and to industrial companies through the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) of the NRC, or the Industrial Regional Development Program (IRDP) administered by the federal Department of Regional Industrial Expansion (DRIE).