Brief History of Robots
brief review of robot development is important because it puts the current
machines and interest in them into a historical perspective. The following
list of dates highlights the growth of automated machines which led to the
development of the industrial robots currently available today.
Joseph Jacquard invents a textile machine which is operated by punch cards.
The machine is called a programmable loom and goes into mass production.
American Christopher Spencer designs a cam-operated lathe.
In the United States, Seward Babbitt designs a motorized crane with gripper
to remove ingots from a furnace.
The first reference to the word robot appears in a play opening in London.
The play, written by Czechoslovakian Karel Capek, introduces the word robot
from the Czech robota, which means a serf or one in subservient labour. From
this beginning the concept of a robot takes hold.
Americans Willard Pollard and Harold Roselund design a programmable paint-spraying
mechanism for the DeVilbiss Company.
George Devol patents a general purpose playback device for controlling machines.
The device uses a magnetic process recorder. In the same year the computer
emerges for the first time. American scientists J. Presper Eckert and John
Mauchly build the first large electronic computer called the Eniac at the
University of Pennsylvania. A second computer, the first general-purpose digital
computer, dubbed Whirlwind, solves its first problem at M.I.T.
Norbert Wiener, a professor at M.I.T., publishes Cybernetics, a book which
describes the concept of communications and control in electronic, mechanical,
and biological systems.
A teleoperator-equipped articulated arm is designed by Raymond Goertz for
the Atomic Energy Commission.
The first programmable robot is designed by George Devol, who coins the term
Universal Automation. He later shortens this to Unimation, which becomes the
name of the first robot company.
Planet Corporation markets the first commercially available robot.
Unimation is purchased by Condec Corporation and development of Unimate Robot
Systems begins. American Machine and Foundry, later known as AMF Corporation,
markets a robot, called the Versatran, designed by Harry Johnson and Veljko
General Motors installs the first industrial robot on a production line. The
robot selected is a Unimate.
Artificial intelligence research laboratories are opened at M.I.T., Stanford
Research Institute (SRI), Stanford University, and the University of Edinburgh.
SRI builds and tests a mobile robot with vision capability, called Shakey.
At Stanford University a robot arm is developed which becomes a standard for
research projects. The arm is electrically powered and becomes known as the
The first commercially available minicomputer-controlled industrial robot
is developed by Richard Hohn for Cincinnati Milacron Corporation. The robot
is called the T3, The Tomorrow Tool.
Professor Scheinman, the developer of the Stanford Arm, forms Vicarm Inc.
to market a version of the arm for industrial applications. The new arm is
controlled by a minicomputer.
Robot arms are used on Viking 1 and 2 space probes.Vicarm Inc. incorporates
a microcomputer into the Vicarm design.
ASEA, a European robot company, offers two sizes of electric powered industrial
robots. Both robots use a microcomputer controller for programming and operation.
In the same year Unimation purchases Vicarm Inc.
The Puma (Programmable Universal Machine for Assembly) robot is developed
by Unimation from Vicarm techniques and with support from General Motors.
The robot industry starts its rapid growth, with a new robot or company entering
the market every month.
in 1954 George C. Devol filed a U.S. patent for a programmable method for
transferring articles between different parts of a factory, he wrote:
"The present invention makes available for the first time a more or
less general purpose machine that has universal application to a vast diversity
of applications where cyclic control is desired."
In 1956 Devol met Joseph F. Engelberger, a young engineer in the aerospace
industry. With others, they set up the world's first robot company, Unimation,
Inc., and built their first machine in 1958. Their initiative was a great
deal ahead of its time; according to Engelberger, Unimation did not show a
profit until 1975.
The first industrial robot saw service in 1962 in a car factory run by General
Motors in Trenton, New Jersey. The robot lifted hot pieces of metal from a
die-casting machine and stacked them.
Japan, by comparison, imported its first industrial robot from AMF in 1967,
at which time the United States was a good 10 years ahead in robotics technology.
The enormous effort put forth by Japanese industry is best evidenced by the
fact that Unimation was eventually reduced to handing over its pioneering
robot technology to Kawasaki Heavy Industries in a licensing deal in 1968.
By 1990, there were more than 40 Japanese companies, including giants like
Hitachi and Mitsubishi, that were producing commercial robots. By comparison,
there were approximately one dozen U.S. firms, led by Cincinnati Milacron
and Westinghouse's Unimation. In 1979 the U.S. leader, Unimation, was the
only company in the world actively marketing an advanced assembly robot. In
1982, GM, the largest single user of robots in the world, signed a pact with
Fanuc Ltd. for a joint robotics venture to make and market robots in the United
States. In the first six months of operation, more than half of the 100 robots
sold by the joint venture went to GM, locking out other U.S. companies from
the largest single buyer in the market.
and the robotics industry will continue to grow at a rapid rate. As technology
advances so will the robots that rely so heavily upon these advances.
will become more technical until one day they will become as powerful as we
are. . .