A History of Robots

A history of robots can span millennia or start only a few decades ago, depending on how you define "robot." From the industrial robots of the 20th century to the future robots that are just now beginning to emerge, the field of robotics has a short but illustrious history thus far.

DaVinci sets the stage for robotics.
While automata in theory have been around since the ancient Greeks, Leonardo DaVinci is the first person to design automata that move independently in a human-like motion by animating a knight's armor in 1495. "Leonardo's Robot" became a model for other people in the era to build such creations for royalty and the wealthy.

Automata in France.
The next inventor of note to develop impressive automata is Jacques de Vaucanson in France. In 1738, de Vaucanson developed a series of three automata capable of different feats. His most famous automata is a duck that flapped its wings, moved around, quacked and even ate food.

Dolls with a purpose.
Swiss watch makers are next on the scene, with a father-and-son duo creating a series of three automata dolls in 1770. These dolls could draw pictures, write and play music, respectively. Pierre Jaquet-Droz and his son created these pieces for European royalty.

Early computers and machinery unite.
In 1801, Joseph Jacquard developed the automated loom using punch cards that became the precursor to modern computers. This was the first time someone combined a data entry method with a piece of machinery, automating a mechanical process.

Robots in popular culture.
Throughout the early 20th century, robots popped up in various forms of pop culture. A Czech writer first used "robot" in his 1921 play "Rossum's Universal Robots." The 1926 movie "Metropolis" featured a female robot named Maria. Science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov wrote a series of short stories about robots from 1940 to 1950, which were later compiled in a single volume called "I, Robot."

Math-solving computer programs are the next step toward AI.
In 1956, Alan Newell and Herbert Simon create a system whose purpose is to solve math problems. The Logic Theorist is a big step toward artificial intelligence.

More advances in artificial intelligence.
Also in 1956, John McCarthy and Marvin Minsky put together The Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence. The term "artificial intelligence" originates at this conference. In 1959, McCarthy and Minsky go on to create the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT.

Industrial robots emerge.
The first industrial robot emerged as a robotic arm on an assembly line run by General Motors in 1962.

The first robot is born.
Starting in 1966, the Stanford Research Institute created a mobile robot called Shakey, which was the first robot to demonstrate awareness.

The Stanford AI Lab makes more advances.
In 1969 and 1970, the Stanford AI Lab makes more advances in robotics. First, the introduction of the Stanford Arm, which continues to contribute to robotic arm construction in modern-day applications. Next, the Stanford Cart, which follows lines or can be radio controlled via remote control.

Robotic development continues.
From the late 70s through the modern day, robotic development has continued to show great technological growth. Today's robots serve as pets, vacuum the house, explore other planets, provide surgical assistance and perform a host of dangerous or mundane activities in manufacturing. Tomorrow's future robots are likely to continue that trend in ways we can only begin to imagine.

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