An industrial robot is officially defined by ISO as an automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose manipulator programmable in three or more axes. The field of robotics may be more practically defined as the study, design and use of robot systems for manufacturing (a top-level definition relying on the prior definition of robot).
Typical applications of robots include welding, painting, assembly, pick and place, packaging and palletizing, product inspection, and testing, all accomplished with high endurance, speed, and precision.
As of 2005, the robotic arm business is approaching a mature state, where they can provide enough speed, accuracy and ease of use for most of the applications. Vision guidance (aka machine vision) is bringing a lot of flexibility to robotic cells. However, the end effector attached to a robot is often a simple pneumatic, 2-position chuck. This doesn't allow the robotic cell to easily handle different parts, in different orientations.
Hand-in-hand with increasing off-line programmed applications, robot calibration is becoming more and more important in order to guarantee a good positioning accuracy.
Other developments include downsizing industrial arms for light industrial use such as production of small products, sealing and dispensing, quality control, handling samples in the laboratory. Such robots are usually classified as "bench top" robots. Robots are used in pharmaceutical research in a technique called High-throughput screening. Bench top robots are also used in consumer applications (micro-robotic arms). Industrial arms may be used in combination with or even mounted on automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to make the automation chain more flexible between pick-up and drop-off.