| John Spacey, April 18, 2016 updated on October 19, 2019
A machine is a physical device that actively performs work. This can be contrasted with an entity that passively performs work such as a drainage pipe. A machine uses power but isn't necessarily electrical. For example, machines can be powered by wind, water, thermal, chemical or human power. The following are common types of machine.
Simple MachineA simple machine is one of six basic mechanical mechanisms that were identified by Renaissance scientists as being the basis for all machines. These are the lever, wheel & axle, pulley, inclined plane, wedge and screw. With the industrial revolution, machines evolved that used hundreds of new mechanisms.
ToolsDevices that people use to perform work such as a hammer, saw or ruler.
VehiclesMachines that transport people or cargo including trains, ships, aircraft, cars, trucks and bicycles.
ElevatorsEquipment that provides vertical transport within a structure such as a building.
Building TechnologyMachines that are used to improve buildings such as an escalator or smart window. In many cases, building technology is passive such that it's not considered a machine. For example, sunlight transport systems that bring sunlight deep into the interior of a building without using any power.
Home AutomationMachines for home automation such as an automated well pump or a self-cleaning swimming pool.
AppliancesMachines that are used in the home for common household tasks such as cooking and cleaning.
HVACHeating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, is a category of machines that provide a suitable temperature and air quality for homes and buildings.
Construction EquipmentEquipment that is used to construct buildings and other built environments such as an bulldozer, crane, dump truck or excavator.
Heavy MachinesMachines that are literally heavy. This includes machines for mining, manufacturing, construction, agriculture, forestry, energy production, waste management, transportation infrastructure and heavy industry. For example, a trash compactor or tunnel boring machine.
ComputersMachines that process data.
Memory & StorageMachines that store data. Memory provides fast access to data for computers. Other data storage devices such as solid-state drives provide large, non-volatile storage that is slower than memory.
SensorsSensors are devices that record the state of the physical world such as a digital camera or an altimeter on an aircraft.
InstrumentsAn intricate tool or data display device. For example, instruments that are used for science, engineering, process control in a factory or by pilots in the cockpit of an aircraft.
ClockInstruments used to measure, keep and indicate time. Essential to a wide variety of machines, including all computers.
RobotsRobots are a class of machines that can respond to their environment in a semi-autonomous or autonomous fashion. For example, a vacuum cleaner that stops when it encounters people, pets and obstacles and figures out what to do.
MicroboticsSmall robots with dimensions less than 1 millimeter or 0.04 inches. These have potential to be used as swarms that may be capable of both intricate and large scale work. As such, microbots could transform the global economy. They may represent a threat to the environment and quality of life but may also be able to clean up large problems such as microplastics.
NanoroboticsSmall robots around the size of a nanometer or 0.00000004 inches. These are small enough to do extremely intricate work such as repairing small parts inside a computer or targeting drug delivery to cancer cells.A machine that can build itself. This may have applications whereby robots build many copies of themselves and then construct large scale things such as solar energy infrastructure in space.
Factory AutomationA class of tools that can fully automate steps in a production process. For example, an industrial robot that can assemble components from parts.
Machine ToolsMachine tools are machines for making other machines. For example, tools for cutting, boring, grinding and deforming various materials such as metal.
Farm MachineryMachines that improve the productivity of farmers such as tractors, combine harvesters and plows.
Energy InfrastructureEnergy infrastructure such as a wind turbines, solar panels or transformers in an electrical grid.
Space InfrastructureSpacecraft and machines in space such as satellites.
Science InfrastructureLarge scale scientific equipment such as a particle collider.
Communication InfrastructureCommunication infrastructure such as the optical transmitters and receivers that are used in fiber optic networks.
FixturesEquipment that is installed in a fixed position in a building. For example, toilets and lighting.
MediaMachines that capture, transmit or reproduce media such as a microphone, camera, audio speakers or television.
PrintersDevices that produce a physical representation of digital information such a digital photograph printed on paper or a 3d model printed with a plastic or metal material.
MedicalMedical equipment and devices such as a defibrillator or pacemaker.
EntertainmentMachines for entertainment such as a roller coaster.
This is the complete list of articles we have written about machines.
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