effectively clean floors
without a human being
behind a handle, pushing it
into every area?” “If we
replace the pilot or soldier
with a robot, can we still
fight an effective war?”
With that last question
in mind, I am reminded of
the old joke: “If we start a
war and nobody comes,
who wins?” Nobody or
everybody? If all of the
warriors are robots, at
least human beings are
spared. Think about the implications
behind that thought.
A Real Robot is Sold
to General Motors
The first ‘real’ robot
manufactured that was not a toy was
the Unimation Unimate back in 1961
(shown in Figure 2). It was derived
from George Devol’s patent for
“Programmed Article Transfer.” Joe
Engelberger joined Devol and formed
Unimation, then began to market their
“manipulator” concept to industry.
Industry leaders scoffed at the early
robot attempts and doubted that such
machines would ever find their way
into a ‘modern’ factory environment.
Devol and Engelberger persisted
with improved designs. They soon
began to describe their product as a
‘robot’ and sold the first Unimate to
the General Motors’ plant in New
Jersey that used the robot to remove
hot castings from a forge.
Looking back, robots were
envisioned back in the ‘60s as
strictly tools for use in industry.
At first, factory workers were
skeptical about the
implementation of robots and
potential loss of jobs, but
removing them from hazardous
painting, welding, and
repetitive movement activity
was soon gladly accepted by
most union members. Some
of the ‘displaced’ workers
quickly found employment
programming the very
robots that took their jobs.
The robotics industry has
changed dramatically over
the past decades. You can
refer back to my January
article which covered the
history of how Engelberger
changed his business
posture from industrial
robots to home and healthcare robots.
How Did Industrial
Just what did the introduction of
this robot do to change the industry?
Besides handling hot castings that
would have presented a safety hazard
to human workers, industrial robots
were soon found throughout industry
(Figure 4), handling material,
performing precision assembly, and
many other tasks.
Industry leaders quickly realized
that developing a safer workplace was
a cost saver. Paint and welding fumes
are hazardous to respiratory health
just as heavy products, extremely high
or low temperature items, and
repetitive motions are hazardous to
human bodies. Many thousands of
industrial tasks were soon taken over
by robots to the joy of company
management, as well as the
workers. The result was not at
all as depicted in Figure 5.
What Can a
So many applications arise
in all aspects of life, not just
industry. The media and
movies always seem to portray
robots as far more powerful
than an equivalent human
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Advances in robots and robotics over the years.
SERVO 03.2016 61
Figure 5. Robots taking over human's jobs is depicted
as a bad thing here.
Figure 4. Robots welding in a car factory.
Figure 3. Robots painting a car.
Figure 2. The first industrial robot: the