History of Robots

Jul 31, 2020

I am sure you have seen cool acrobatics from “Atlas” at Boston dynamics performing perfect summersaults and doing parkour. Maybe the super cute “Pepper” from the SoftBank Robotics. Perhaps armies of robots working at a production line. These days there are even robots helping spaceships dock at the ISS. These marvelous achievements took decades of hard work by many scientists. As a result, today we see robots in all different forms and fields, be it land, sea, sky, or space. It is impressive how our technology can give birth to such incredible machines. We have come a long way in robotics development and undoubtedly have a long way to go. It is always important to educate oneself about the history of such domains, to know about the foundation blocks that have made it all possible.

The word “Robot” first appeared in Karel Capek’s play “Rossum’s Universal Robots”. ”Robot”, taking its roots from Czech, translates as “Forced Labor.” These plays portrayed robots far different than what we observe today. They were rendered to be evil and malicious, yet far superior to humans and made of different material, fabled, and sophisticated as opposed to everyday metal as we would imagine today.

The definition of ”Robot” is still vague, yet a frequently discussed matter. Thanks to the movies, what comes into the mind with the word ”Robot” is a human-looking machine doing similar or even more superior things incomprehensible to mere humans. Perhaps even, something like WALL-E or R2-D2. However, seeing a regular car does not turn on the “Robot” bulb, yet a yellow Chevrolet Camaro which can transform does. It has something to do with autonomy or intelligence. Which gives machines the power of decision making. One of the key components that aid this is the ability to perceive the environment accurately. Even though as appeared relatively easy for humans, this is a massive hurdle for a robot or for a computer for that matter. Most of the research done today is related to this field of study.

One of the founding bricks for modern technology resides in a scientific paper published by a British mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing in 1936. He introduced the concept of a theoretical computer called the Turing Machine. In 1938 Willard Pollard and Harold Roselund designed a programmable paint-spraying mechanism. With the invention of the computer, developing robots for the electronics industry became almost effortless. One of the early industrial robots were developed in 1954 by George Devol,  named “Unimate”, this robot could be digitally operated and was programmable. It was the father of the modern industrial robotic arms. General Motors was of the first companies to deploy “Unimate” into production lines.

In the early 1970s, Japan became famous for developing humanoid robots. They built the world’s first full-scale humanoid intelligent robot in 1972, the WABOT-1. This was a result of the back-breaking work carried out under the WABOT project. Japanese companies have carried this legacy up to date. ASIMO, manufactured by Honda is one of the most popular humanoid robots that was developed in the year 2000. From WABOT-1 to Atlas, we have come a long way in developing humanoid robots. Unlike in WABOT-1, Atlas has hundreds of sensors to perceive its environment.

In the field of medicine, robots play a massive role today. Robots are performing tasks very precise and without shaking like human hands may do. One of the early robots that got into the field of medicine was the “Cyberknife”. Developed in 1994 at Stanford University, the radiosurgery system integrated image-guided surgery with robotic positioning. This was used to treat patients with brain or spine tumors. Today robots can be seen assisting many surgical procedures as well as handling tasks in medical research. 

During the past few years, we have seen huge advancements in robotics. Automation and robotics have become a common thing in almost every factory. Robots are being used to do much of the explorations, navigation, and data collection tasks in many harsh environments including Mars. We see autonomous vehicles and drones involving in our regular day to day tasks. Not to mention the robots that have started living among us, vacuum robots, lawn mowing robots, pool cleaning robots, personal assistant robots, educational robots and lots more.

“We are entering a new world. The technologies of machine learning, speech recognition, and natural language understanding are reaching a nexus of capability. The end result is that we’ll soon have artificially intelligent assistants to help us in every aspect of our lives”

Amy Stapleton

About the author

Prasadi Gunawardana

Business Development Woking Student

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