booting up … robots through the years

By Julie Baumkel

In the 2012 movie, “Robot & Frank,” an aging man living alone ultimately befriends a domestic robot his son provides him as a companion.

In a more recent flick, “Ex Machina,” the main character has the tables disastrously turned on him when a female robot he created seeks freedom.

Author Martin Ford, an international expert on technology, expects the new economy to evolve in an even more complex way as explained in his 2015 book, “Rise of the Robots.”

Ford believes the introduction of robots to do the mundane tasks of low-skill careers may displace human workers, first for low-skill jobs in the fast food and retail industries and, ultimately, for more highly skilled jobs.

While such assessments may sound far-fetched, futurists say the technological revolution in artificial intelligence is evolving rapidly — for better or worse.

The following brief history of robotics illustrates how humans have progressed in their relationships with “thinking machines” over the years.

The Antikythera Device

The Antikythera Device

77-100 B.C.: In 1901, a diver near Crete finds the remnants of a 2,000-year-old mechanical computer that calculated the position of the sun, the moon and other celestial bodies. “The Antikythera Device” is thought to be of Greek origin.

278-212 B.C.: Mathematician Archimedes invents mechanical systems still used in robotics today.

10-70 A.D.: A mathematician, physicist and engineer known as “The Hero of Alexandria” writes a book titled “Automata,” which describes a variety of automatic devices, including an odometer, a wind-powered organ, animated statues and the forefather of modern steam engines, the Aeolipile.

1709: “The Duck,” a mechanical machine that flaps its wings, eats and excretes, is created by Frenchman Jacques de Vaucanson. Each wing contains more than 400 moving parts.

1865/1885: First the Steam Man, then the Electric Man are created by John Brainerd and Frank Reade, Jr., respectively, to help humans with industrial chores.

1921: The word “robot” is introduced by writer Karel Capek. In his play “R.U.R.” (Rossum’s Universal Robots), the robots revolt against the company and the humans who created them.

1924: R.U.R. is shown in Tokyo, and many Japanese become intrigued by robots. Japanese literature, culture and evolving technology soon reflect it. The play also catches fire in America and fuels the growth of American pulp science fiction magazines like “Amazing Stories.”

1939: Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov tires of the portrayal of robots as evil or noble, publishing stories that highlight the robot’s abilities as tools to benefit mankind. He also establishes the Three Fundamental Laws of Robotics.

1948: Said to be the first two robots, Elmer and Elsie are created by W. Grey Walter.
1956: Unimation, the first and, for years, largest robotics company in the world, is launched, spearheading the growth of industrial robotics. One of its founders, Joseph Engelberger, is known as the “father of robotics.”

1961: The first industrial robot, Unimate, joined the assembly line at a General Motors plant to work with heated die-casting machines.

Honda’s Asimo

Honda’s Asimo

1968: Two innovators at the University of South Carolina invent the first computer-controlled walking machine. The Stanford Research Institute builds Shakey, a mobile robot with a vision system, controlled by a room-sized computer.

1986-1996: Honda creates numerous generations of Asimo, the world’s most advanced bipedal humanoid robot. Asimo, short for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility, is coordinated, agile and designed as a human helpmate.

1998: Dr. Cynthia Breazeal creates Kismet, the first robot designed to create meaningful social interaction with humans.

2000: Sony Dream Robots are unveiled. The robots can recognize 10 different faces, express emotion through speech and body language and walk on flat and irregular surfaces.

iRobot Packbot

iRobot Packbot

2001: iRobot Packbots search the rubble of the World Trade Center devastation and are used in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq.

2002: iRobot releases the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner.

2010: Japan’s Mitsubishi Research Institute believes the market for household robots will grow in earnest, with predictions of a $70 billion market.

2020: The Intelligent Service robot industry is expected to grow to the same size as that of the IT industry in 2005. It is predicted that each household in the world will own at least one robot by 2020.

Source: RobotShop Learning Center