Robots have haunted human minds since the birth of Mythology. The first was Talos, an animated bronze statue who guarded the island of Crete, from Greek Mythology. It was created by Hephaestus, the engineering God of the Forge, and the patron of technology and invention, for Minos, son of Zeus, and the legendary first king of Crete. In fact, some two thousand back, there is record of remarkable ideas of imitating and even surpassing natural life by means of “biotechne”, which means “life through craft”. One might even call this the beginning of the concept of Robotics and Biotechnology. So, what are you still waiting for? Want to learn more about robotics? This article, therefore, is an introduction to the field of robotics.
The Original Robot
Medieval craftsmen created self-moving machines, and this spurred men to start dreaming of full blown robots. The efforts to create the first Robot continued relentlessly since then, but it was mainly the development of materials and components that defeated all such efforts, until the middle of the Twentieth Century. In 1954, the inventor George Devol created the first digitally operated pre-programmed Robot in the world, which he called the Unimate. In 1956, he formed the first company to manufacture Robots, with partner Joseph Engelberger. In 1961, General Motors installed the first modern Robot Unimate in their automobile factory in New Jersey. Unimate was an automated, programmable robot that repeatedly performed the same, dangerous task of lifting extremely hot metal parts. Joseph Engelberger, partner of inventor George Devol, is now known as the “Father of Robotics” for his theoretical underpinning of Robotics as a true Science. Engelberger, in 1956, first met Devol at one of the cocktail parties, where Asimov’s Robot philosophies, patent-pending device by Science Fiction Writer Devol’s and Isaac’s, were discussed. Engelberger immediately recognized the tool as the first ever Robot, and visualized its application in performing dangerous jobs in engineering manufacture.
In 1957, it was Engelberger who convinced ‘Condec Corp’ CEO, Norman Schafler, to fund the development of Devol’s Robot. Again, it was Engelberger who convinced General Motors to invest in installing Unimate #001, in its major production floor at the Die Casting Plant in New Jersey, Trenton, to lift hot metal components. They together established ‘Unimation Inc’ in Connecticut, Danbury. It was the first kind of company in the world. By 1966, Unimation had expanded internationally. Licenses were granted to Finland’s Nokia and Kawasaki Robotics Kawasaki Japan’s Heavy Industries, for the manufacture and marketing of Unimate. The Robotics Industry had now penetrated both Asian and European Robotics market simultaneously. By 1984, Engelberger had established the Transitions Research Corp, later famous as ‘HelpMate’, which introduced Robotics to the field of medical care, especially to the geriatric population. Of his many books, ‘Robots in Practice’ is recognized as a landmark paper on the Theory of Robotics.
Robotics now combines branches of Science and Engineering, along with other disciplines. This includes the Medical Sciences (particularly the Neuro Sciences), Electronic and Mechanical Engineering, Information Engineering, Computer Science, Data Science and many other peripheral subjects. Robots are considered to be machines that are designed to perform single or multiple tasks robotically with precision and speed. They are often intended to performing recurring tasks that are not facilitated by, or even impossible for, the human-based construction like we have. A Robot is controlled remotely from great distances, whether by man or by computer systems. Or a Robot can be made to be autonomous and independent in both decision making and execution of tasks. They can act as human assistants or on their own. Robots are widely used in all Industries for manufacturing, sorting, packaging, testing, recording and security functions. From medical applications, such as diagnosis of infectious diseases and execution of complex surgical operations and investigative medicine, Robots are everywhere. In medical research laboratories, microscopic Robotic carriers are being designed. Called ‘Microbots’, these tiny devices can be introduced into our bloodstream, and carry medicines, or perform micro-surgeries, inside human organs or fight external infections. Defense forces are using Robotics to create thinking lethal weapon systems that, once released, can plan and execute destructive action against enemies. Weaponry systems that use their own targeting, routing and evasive action after their initial “go ahead” from the controllers, and can be located anywhere on earth, even deep undersea or underground, are now taking over the duties of Defense Forces in all advanced countries, and cutting out risk to their men’s lives.
Who knows where Robotics is going? Or where we are going? Certainly, the advance of Robotics in such a short time in the history of human civilization has been unbelievable. In conjunction with AI and the IoT (Internet of Things), Robotics has been taking over modern life steadily, almost surreptitiously. But for the moment, this Introduction to the Field of Robotics will have to suffice.