This questions asks if a printer, implying a 3d printer, is a robot. I think that's a good, fair, question, and is substantially different than the question that it's marked a duplicate of. Especially since that other question's accepted answer punts and says "take a doctorate program to find the answer".

I don't think a 3d Printer is a robot, it irks me when people call it a robot, but I still want to read up on what other people think about the issue.

Therefore, I think this question should be re-opened.


If Is a printer a robot? were asking "Is a printer a robot for the purpose whether it is on-topic for Robotics?" it would be a valid question here on meta but not on the main site, but it is on the main site and asking for an opinion, so should really have been closed as "Primaryily Opinion Based" as suggested.

The question it has been closed as a duplicate of is of historical significance, but is no longer a good example of a question, as it too is "Primaryily Opinion Based", so I have locked the post to mitigate against it being considered an example of an on-topic question.

  • $\begingroup$ That question that you locked should be a fundamental part of the definition of this SE. Even more so since apparently most people can't agree on what a robot is. My mind is so boggled by your behavior and the answers on the question, I feel like I'm trying to explain that water is wet, so I don't know how to break it down barney style for you. $\endgroup$ – YetAnotherRandomUser Nov 28 '18 at 3:43
  • $\begingroup$ Without such a definition, I don't see how asking for help with an angle grinder would not be fair game. $\endgroup$ – YetAnotherRandomUser Nov 28 '18 at 3:45
  • $\begingroup$ It is clear that different people within the robotics community have different opinions on what they consider to be a 'robot', so we need to concentrate on what the scope of the site is rather than some specific arbitrary definition of the word. Since the beginning, our scope has been pretty much "directly or indirectly related to robotics, unless there's a better place for it". Before there was a 3D Printing stack exchange, I was happy for 3d printer questions to be asked here, now they are less appropriate. $\endgroup$ – Mark Booth Nov 28 '18 at 12:03
  • $\begingroup$ Well, I guess that scope is defined well enough to work with. Still seems weird that there's no root definition. $\endgroup$ – YetAnotherRandomUser Nov 28 '18 at 12:49

As I observed in the comments, the main problem is that, without defining what the OP meant by 'robot', there is no way to answer the question. There is no universally accepted definition of a 'robot'.

If you type the question 'what is a robot?' into a search engine you'll find a variety of definitions, some of which would include printers and others that would exclude printers.

If there wasn't already a duplicate question, that question would probably have been closed for being 'Primarily Opinion Based':

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.

Absent any definition of a 'robot', answers to the question could only be based on opinions.


As sempaiscuba says, the big problem with the question is that there is no provided definition of what a robot is.

Without a definition of a robot, it's not really possible to answer whether a 3D printer is or is not a robot. Clearly there is disagreement on everyone's personal opinions of what constitutes a robot.

I believe that, if the OP of that question could clearly define what is or is not a robot, then there would not be a need to ask if a 3D printer is a robot; it should be immediately evident by whether it does or does not meet the definition of a robot.

So then, in my opinion, the essence of the question reduces to, "What differentiates a robot from a machine?" If the OP there could define the difference between robot and machine, then again it becomes evident whether a 3D printer is a robot or "just" a machine.

This is why I marked the question as a duplicate of "What is the difference between a robot and a machine?" The printer question asks if a particular object is a machine. It's a more specific version of the broader "what's the difference between a robot and machine?" question.

If you can answer the broader question (it has an accepted answer) then the more narrow question should be answered by default.

  • $\begingroup$ So, how is there a Robotics.se that fails to answer or address the issue of what a robot is? The linked question fails to offer a definition, so there is no answer to be had at the supposed "duplicate" question. We mark things as duplicates to point people to the answers, not just in a pedantic frenzy to remove duplicates from the site. I think that 3d Printers are sufficiently important enough to warrant their own question (regardless of answer) since 3d printing is a topic here on a robotics Q&A, and good answers should spell out the subtleties of how and when a 3d printer ... $\endgroup$ – YetAnotherRandomUser Nov 28 '18 at 3:41
  • $\begingroup$ ... crosses from machine to robot, and why 3d printing is a topic on a Q&A site geared towards robotics. $\endgroup$ – YetAnotherRandomUser Nov 28 '18 at 3:41
  • $\begingroup$ @YetAnotherRandomUser - The linked question fails to offer a definition It literally offers a definition, so I don't know what you mean. A robot is a mechanical or virtual agent, usually an electro-mechanical machine that is guided by a computer program or electronic circuitry. It then goes on to state, Robotics is the branch of technology that deals with the design, construction, operation, and application of robots, as well as computer systems for their control, sensory feedback, and information processing. $\endgroup$ – Chuck Nov 28 '18 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ You then go on to say, I think that 3d Printers are sufficiently important enough to warrant their own question - warrant their own question about what? There's a 3D-printing tag for questions about 3D printing. If you're saying there "needs" to be a question about if a 3D printer is a robot or not, my first response would be, "Why? What difference does it make if it's a robot or not?" and my second response would be, "Okay, assuming it matters, what is the definition of a robot?" $\endgroup$ – Chuck Nov 28 '18 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ The question I marked does offer a definition of what a robot is in the accepted answer. There are also six other definitions. There is no "standard" definition and so, as has been mentioned many times now, if you want to discuss whether an X is a Y, first you have to define what constitutes a Y. Is a stand mixer a robot? Is a paint-tinting tool a robot? Is a remote control a robot? Are power locks a robotic system? These are specific questions, but if you can answer the single broad question - what constitutes a robot - then you don't need to ask the specific questions. $\endgroup$ – Chuck Nov 28 '18 at 13:46

There is an ISO definition of what a robot is, as one of the answers to the (second) original questions also point out.

The second question raises the Robot vs. Machine question, which I think is the valid question, so marking as a duplicate question I think was OK.

Machine tools and industrial robots are quite similar from every point of view. Their control system has the same structure. Their programming methods are similar. G-Code as a programming language is sometimes also used for programming robots.

The apealing definition "I know a wobot when I see one" leads probably to a definition which takes into account the design of the system (mechanical design, since electrical and software design is almost the same). The mechanical design of a system takes into account the intended task of the system, and I think this is the main and only significant difference between robots and machines, their intended task which reflects in their mechanical structure and design.

Machine tools are designed for cutting and deforming materials, robots are designed for manipulation tasks (incl. welding). Both designs are a trade-off. Robots are trading off precision, machine tools are trading off workspace size against cost.

According to this logic, 3D printers are machine tools since they are trading off workspace size against cost. Also, it feels right to categorize them as machine tools and not robots.

Obviously, there are robots which assume the tasks of machine tools (e.g. Kuka.CNC) (and maybe vice-versa) but their desing reflects a different purpose, and I think this is what counts.

  • $\begingroup$ My daughter liked how "annedroids" differentiates robot from android by their level of will or choice and not by their geometry. There was a "hand" android that was a giant grippy beautiful franken-beastie. $\endgroup$ – EngrStudent Dec 14 '20 at 19:10

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