A unified study of adaptive control and neural network based control schemes for the trajectory tracking problem of robot manipulators is presented. Efficacy of parametrized adaptive algorithms in compensating the structured uncertainties in robot dynamics is verified through extensive simulation. The ability of neural networks to provide a robust adaptive framework in the presence of both structured and unstructured uncertainties is investigated. A case study is carried out in support of a parametrized adaptive scheme using neural networks. Simulation results clearly indicate that the neural network based adaptive controller achieves better tracking in the presence of parametric uncertainties as well as unmodelled effects compared to the simple direct adaptive scheme. © 1994 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.