Robot, which is derived from a Czech word meaning "menial labor," got its modern meaning from a 1920 play, R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), by Czech playwright Karel Capek (1890-1938). The robots in Capek's play develop emotions and overthrow their human masters. A sinister "power struggle" with robots has long been a popular theme in science fiction --- for a change of pace, try Isaac Asimov's "I Robot" stories in which he consciously strove to depict robots as a benefit to society.
Today, robots are used in many ways, from lawn mowing to auto manufacturing. Scientists see practical uses for robots in performing socially undesirable, hazardous or even "impossible" tasks --- trash collection, toxic waste clean-up, desert and space exploration, and more. AI researchers are also interested in robots as a way to understand human (and not just human) intelligence in its primary function -- interacting with the real world.