Magazine

Table: Robot Milestones (extended)


The dream of smart machines that serve people or relieve humans of tiresome work is almost as old as civilization. The vision is now shifting to robots with enough intelligence to function as companions and entertainers

800 BC Homer describes walking tripods in the Iliad

350 BC Aristotle envisions mechanisms that work by "obeying or anticipating the will of others"

1350 A mechanical crowing rooster is mounted atop the cathedral in Strasbourg, France

1801 Joseph-Marie Jacquard invents an automated textile loom controlled by punched cards

1892 Seward Babbitt designs a motorized crane and gripper to remove steel ingots from a furnace

1890s Nikola Tesla, after working briefly for Edison, demonstrates various radio-controlled vehicles, including a submersible boat

1921 The term "robot" is first used in R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), a play by Czech writer Karel Capek

1926 Fritz Lang's movie Metropolis features Maria, a robot seductress

1930s Hollywood's serial films, such as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, often portray robots as malevolent machines

1938 Willard Pollard and Harold Roselund invent a mechanical arm with joints for an automated spray-painting machine from DeVilbiss Co.

1939 For the New York World's Fair, Westinghouse Electric Corp. builds a mechanical man and dog: Electro danced, counted to 10, smoked, and described Westingouse's products -- and his dog walked, stood on its hind legs, and barked

1942 Isaac Asimov writes Runaround, in which he promulgates the Three Laws of Robotics: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law

1946 George C. Devol patents a general-purpose device for controlling factory machines, using magnetically stored instructions

1947 Alan M. Turing's article on intelligent machinery launches the modern field of artificial intelligence (AI)

1950 I, Robot, a landmark collection of Asimov's stories, is published

1950s At Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Herbert A. Simon, Allen Newell, and J. Clifford Shaw lay many cornerstones of AI

1951 Raymond Goertz designs a tele-operated arm to handle radioactive materials for the Atomic Energy Commission

1951 In the movie "The Day the Earth Stood Still," the robot Gort possesses superior intelligence

1951 Japanese artist Osamu Tezuka creates Tetsuwan Atomu, or Mighty Atom, a cartoon series that influences several generations of Japan's roboticists

1954 Devol designs a programmable factory robot (patent granted in 1961) aimed at "Universal Automation," later trimmed to Unimation

1956 Devol's design prompts Joseph F. Engelberger to champion industrial robots and make Unimation Inc. the world's robot pioneer

1956 Robby the robot is featured in Forbidden Planet -- and later appears in more than a dozen movies and TV shows

1959 A prototype Unimate arm from Unimation is installed in a General Motors Corp. die-casting factory in New Jersey -- where the first commercial industry robot goes online in 1961

1959 Marvin L. Minsky and John McCarthy establish the AI Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1960 AMF Corp. introduces its Versatran industrial robot, developed by Harry Johnson and Veljko Milenkovic

1963 Stanford University forms an AI Lab headed by McCarthy

1965 CMU creates the Robotics Institute

1966 B-9 is the robotic hero in the TV series Lost in Space

1967 At General Electric Co., Ralph Moser designs the Walking Truck, a big four-leg robot, which the Pentagon wanted for hauling loads

1967 Japan imports its first industrial robot, a Versatran from AMF

1968 Unimation licenses its technology to Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. The deal helps precipitate an explosion of robot development in Japan, and by 1990, Japan's 40-odd robotmakers dominate world markets

1968 Shakey, the first mobile robot with vision and AI, emerges from Stanford Research Institute (SRI). The aptly named robot is an unstable box on wheels that figures out how to get around obstacles

1968 Arthur C. Clarke's best-selling 2001: A Space Odyssey inspires many students to take up robotics and AI, including several of today's gurus

1970 Doraemon, a cartoon series featuring a robotic cat from the 22nd century, takes Japan by storm. It becomes a so-called manga series in 1974 and later a TV series

1970 SRI unveils the Stanford arm, an improvement on the Unimate

1971 Cincinnati Milacron Inc. markets T3 (The Tomorrow Tool), a computer-controlled robot designed by Richard Hohn

1972 Shigeo Hirose, a graduate student at Tokyo Institute of Technology, builds a snakelike robot

1973 Wabot-1, a life-size humanoid robot, is born at Tokyo's Waseda University under Ichiro Kato

1974 Victor Scheinman leaves Stanford and founds Vicarm Inc. to commercialize the Stanford arm

1976 NASA provides Mars landers with robot arms for its Viking I and II missions

1977 Asea Brown Boveri Ltd. introduces microcomputer-controlled robots

1977 Unimation purchases Vicarm. Scheinman later starts Automatix Inc.

1977 Star Wars stars an android, C3PO, and a mobile robot, R2D2. By the early 1980s, R2D2 lookalikes are vacuuming floors and singing songs in Japan

1978 Unimation and GM develop Puma (programmable universal machine for assembly), based on Vicarm's technology

1979 Yamanashi University designs the Scara arm for assembly jobs in factories. IBM teams with Sankyo Robotics to market the robots

1980 Marc Raipert establishes the Leg Lab at MIT to develop robots that mimic human walking

1982 Fanuc Ltd. and GM form a joint venture, and Fanuc Robotics North America Inc. quickly becomes a leading supplier in the U.S.

1983 A six-leg walking robot is unwrapped by Odetics Inc.

1984 Waseda University's Wabot-2 reads music and plays an electronic organ at Tsukuba Science Expo

1984 Engelberger starts Transition Research Corp. (later renamed HelpMate Robotics Inc.) to develop service robots for hospitals

1986 Atsuo Takanishi of Waseda University develops advanced controls for a walking robot

1986 Honda Motor Co. launches a secret project to build a humanoid robot

1988 The first HelpMate robot goes to work at Danbury (Conn.) Hospital

1990 Robodoc, developed by Dr. William Bargar and Howard Paul of Integrated Surgical Systems Inc. and the University of California at Davis, performs a hip-replacement operation on a dog -- and in 1992, on a human patient

1993 MIT's Rodney A. Brooks starts building Cog, a robot that is being raised and educated like a human

1994 Dante II, a walking robot built by CMU's Robotics Institute, explores an active volcano in Alaska, collecting samples of volcanic gases

1996 Honda unveils P-2 (prototype 2), a humanoid robot that walks

1997 The first annual RoboCup soccer tournament is held in Nagoya, Japan, as a test bed for the latest technology in robotics and AI. Subsequent events have been staged in Paris, Stockholm, and Melbourne

1997 NASA's Pathfinder lands on Mars, and the Sojourner rover robot explores the Martian terrain

1999 For recent Japanese mileposts, see "Japan Steps Up Robot Development"

2000 At RoboCup 2000, three humanoid robots meet for the first time: Johnny Walker from the University of Western Australia, the Mk-II from Japan's Aoyama Gakuin University, and Pino from Kitano Symbiotic Systems Project

2003 NASA plans to send two separate robot missions to Mars, picking up where Sojourner left off

Data: BusinessWeek


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