From Garco To The New Bots In Town
FIGURE 6. Garco patent application 1A.
76 SERVO 10.2010
accidentally pushed the ‘bow’ button too long and the
robot toppled over and smashed his head and nose — much
to young Terry’s horror. Garco’s only competition for
headlines was Westinghouse’s Elektro, the huge robot built
15 years earlier for the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
As his and the robot’s fame increased, Chapman began
to realize that his design could have other uses such as
“taking on a variety of tasks that would prove too
dangerous for humans,” he noted. “Mixing the ingredients
for TNT is one. If the stuff should blow up, you could install
another robot and continue the job without much loss.
Garco could work efficiently in a vacuum; in temperatures
that would burn or freeze a man; handle radioactive
elements without endangering anyone; or labor for hours
on end under water.” The ‘engineer’ in Chapman saw these
unique capabilities but the potential investors only saw
entertainment uses. I’m sure these applications and many
others influenced George Devol and Joe Engelberger a
decade later when they marketed the first Unimate
Some of the robot’s ‘photo ops’ that made headlines
FIGURE 7. Garco patent application 1B.
in papers across the US showed Garco stacking boxes in a
warehouse (Figure 3); acting as an umpire (Figure 4), and
even soldering electronic circuits with one of those old
giant soldering irons (Figure 5). Everything was all staged,
of course. Joe and George first saw assembly line
applications for their Unimate — especially in the
automobile industry — but more applications for robots
came soon afterwards that were beyond Garco’s abilities.
Of course, stacking boxes would be automated by robots a
few decades after this and some soldering tasks have been
taken over by SCARA robots for circuit board assembly
(soldering irons are no longer used in favor of flow
How Was Garco Built?
Garco was not autonomous by any means but his
remote control method and the arm construction was way
ahead of its time. Figures 6-11 are from two submissions
for a patent on the robot by Chapman on October 20th
and November 16th of 1953. Figure 6 and Figure 7 show