25 Great Moments In Robotics History

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1. 1400 BC

Babylonians develop the clepsydra, a clock that measures time using the flow of water. It's considered one of the first "robotic" devices in history. For centuries, inventors will refine the design. Around 270 BC, the Greek inventor Ctesibius becomes famous for a water clock with moving figures on it.


2. 322 BC

The Greek philosopher Aristotle imagines the great utility of robots, writing,
"If every tool, when ordered, or even of its own accord, could do the work that befits it … then there would be no need either of apprentices for the master workers or of slaves for the lords."


3. 1495

Leonardo da Vinci designs a clockwork knight that will sit up, wave its arms and move its head and jaw. It's not certain whether the robot was ever built, but the design may constitute the first humanoid robot


4. 1737

French inventor Jacques de Vaucanson builds a clockwork duck capable of flapping its wings, quacking, eating and digesting food.


5. 1769

Hungarian author and inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen builds "The Turk," a maplewood box with a mannequin, dressed in cloak and turban, protruding from the back. The device gains great fame as an automaton capable of playing chess against skilled opponents—until it is discovered that a human operator hides inside the box.


6. 1801

French silk weaver and inventor Joseph Marie Jacquard invents an automated loom that is controlled by punch cards. Within a decade it is being mass-produced, and thousands are in use across Europe.


7. 1881

Italian author Carlo Collodi writes Pinocchio, a children's book about a marionette who turns into a real boy. The literary theme of mechanical men who come to life will flourish along with the technological evolution of robots—most recently, in movies like Steven Spielberg's A.I. and in TV characters like Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation.


8. 1900

L. Frank Baum invents one of the literary world's most beloved robots in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: the Tin Woodsman, a mechanical man in search of a heart. The character is seen as a symbol for the soullessness of mechanized industry.


9. 1921

Czech playwright Karl Capek popularizes the term "robot" in a play called "R.U.R. (Rossums Universal Robot)." The word comes from the Czech robota, which means drudgery or forced work. The play ends with robots taking over the earth and destroying their makers.


10. 1926

Film director Fritz Lang releases Metropolis, a silent film set in a futuristic urban dystopia. It features a female robot - the first to appear on the silver screen - who takes the shape of a human woman in order to destroy a labor movement.


11. 1942

American science fiction author Isaac Asimov publishes a short story, "Runaround," that introduces the "Three Laws of Robotics"—rules that every robot is programmed to obey:
1. A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.


12. 1954

Industrial robotics pioneer George Devol files a patent (pictured) for the first programmable robot and coins the term "universal automaton."


13. 1956

George Devol and Joseph Engelberger (pictured) form the world's first robotics company, Unimation. In the 1960s, it is purchased by Condec, which later is bought, in part, by industrial manufacturing giant Eaton.


14. 1959

The Servomechanisms Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology demonstrates computer-assisted manufacturing. A robotic milling machine creates a commemorative ashtray for each attendee.


15. 1961

Unimate, the world's first industrial robot, goes to work on a General Motors assembly line.


16. 1962

Rosie the robot appears on The Jetsons, an animated TV program about a family from the future. The iconic house maid becomes one of the best-known robot characters in recent history.


17. 1966

The Artificial Intelligence Center at the Stanford Research Center begins development of Shakey, the first mobile robot. It is endowed with a limited ability to see and model its environment and is controlled by a computer that fills an entire room.


18. 1968

HAL 9000 (Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer) appears in the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey, written by Arthur C. Clarke. The artificially intelligent computer runs the spaceship Discovery—and eventually goes berserk. The character reflects concern about the increasing power of intelligent machines over man.


19. 1977

R2-D2 and C-3PO appear in George Lucas' Star Wars films. The plucky androids are arguably the best-known robots in modern culture.


20. 1993

An eight-legged robot named Dante attempts to explore Antarctica's Mount Erebus volcano. It is remotely controlled from the U.S. and collects a small amount of data before mechanical difficulties end the experiment. But the landmark effort ushers in a new era of robotic exploration of hazardous environments.


21. 1998

A fuzzy, batlike robot called Furby becomes the must-have toy of the holiday season. The $30 toys "evolve" over time, first speaking in gibberish but soon developing the use of preprogrammed English phrases. More than 27 million of the toys sell in a 12-month period.


22. 1999

Gadget lovers develop a serious case of puppy love for Sony's robot dog AIBO. The $2,000 mechanical mutt can navigate around a room and respond to a set of limited commands.


23. 2000

Honda's humanoid robot ASIMO steps onto the stage. Standing 1.3 meters tall, it can walk and run with a near-human gait.


24. 2002

The Roomba robotic vacuum from the iRobot Corp. is released. The Frisbee-shaped device has sold over 2 million units to date, making it the most commercially successful domestic robot in history.


25. 2004

The robotics business hits the big time, becoming a $1.06 billion business in North America. Pictured is the humanoid robot Speecys SPC-003.