The history of robotics in a nutshell

Robotics
26. Feb 2024
The history of robotics in a nutshell

The history of robotics is a vital chapter in technological progress. Beyond mere automata, robotics converges science, engineering, and creativity, reshaping industries.

As we trace back to the roots of robotics in this article, we will shed light on the major milestones that have led to today’s success of robotic solutions in various sectors. Also, we will discover where the term “robot” stems from, and how it has evolved along the history of robotics.

What is robotics at all?

Before one can draw a line between historic events in robotics, one must first determine the conception of this many-faceted field. Nevertheless, there are several definitions of the term robotics, mainly focussing on it being a multidisciplinary field concerned with finding solutions to automate or aid in specific tasks.

robotics: technology dealing with the design, construction, and operation of robots in automation

– Merriam-Webster Dictionary1

Today, robotics integrates principles from computer science, engineering, and artificial intelligence to create machines capable of executing complex functions. These functions can range from simple, repetitive tasks to intricate operations requiring advanced problem-solving abilities, or the collaboration of robots and humans (cf. cobots)

Ultimately, robotics aims to enhance efficiency, precision, and automation across various industries, contributing to advancements in manufacturing, healthcare, exploration, and more.

“Robot” and “robotics” – etymology

The term “robot” finds its roots in Czech, originating from the word “robota,” meaning forced labor. Playwright Karel Čapek introduced it in his 1920 play “R.U.R.”, depicting artificial beings created to serve humans. “Robotics,” coined later on in the 20th century, merges “robot” with the suffix “-ics,” denoting a field of study. Together, they form the science and technology of creating and using robots.2

The mentioned coining of “robotics” is intensely linked with Isaac Asimov: He used the term in a 1942 short story, establishing three main laws that robots have to obey:

  1. Robots must never harm humans by action or inaction.
  2. A robot has to follow instructions as long as they do not contradict the first law.
  3. A robot must protect itself as long as this does not contradict the first two laws.3

The origins of robots: Who invented them?

The concept of robots traces back to ancient times: The idea of automatons and mechanical devices dates back to ancient civilizations like Egypt, Greece, and China, experimenting with rudimentary automated machines.4

Robots as we understand them today, however, originate in more recent times: The patent of a previously unsuccessful robot called “Unimate” was acquired and commercialized by Joseph Engleberger in the 1960. His success earned the businessman the attribute “father of robotics”.5

The history of robots in brief – milestones and key events

Ancient Automata (3000 BCE – 1000 CE)

  • Mechanical wonders in Ancient Greece, like automated birds
  • Ingenious water clocks in ancient China, showcasing early automation

Middle Ages – Leonardo da Vinci

  • Leonardo da Vinci’s visionary designs and concepts for mechanical automata

Industrial Revolution and Automatons (18th – 19th centuries)

  • Several formerly manual tasks being taken over by machines
  • Considerable progress thanks to James Watt’s steam engine

1920s

  • Birth of the term “robot”, originating from Karel Čapek’s play “R.U.R.”

Post-World War II Advances (1940s – 1950s)

Progress in the development of electronic robotics

1961: First Industrial Robot

1970s: PUMA – Programmable Universal Machine for Assembly:

  • Development of PUMA, a programmable robotic arm

1997: Robots for the extraterrestrial space

  • Launch of Sojourner, NASA’s groundbreaking Mars rover
  • Demonstration of the feasibility of robotic exploration beyond Earth

Early 2000s: Consumer Robotics

  • Introduction of Roomba, revolutionizing household chores
  • Pioneering the integration of robotics into daily life

2020s: AI Integration and Healthcare Robotics

  • Growing integration of artificial intelligence in robotics
  • Expansion of robotics into healthcare applications, including surgical and laboratory procedures6 7 8 9

Robotics today and tomorrow – an ever-evolving area

In the contemporary landscape, robotics has transcended its historical milestones, permeating diverse facets of our lives. Today, robots are indispensable in manufacturing, they navigate hospital corridors, assist in household chores, and even explore distant planets. The integration of artificial intelligence has endowed robots with unprecedented cognitive abilities, enabling them to adapt, learn.

The convergence of robotics with fields like machine learning, nanotechnology, and biotechnology foretells a future of robots seamlessly coexisting with humans. After all, they are already revolutionizing fields like industries, healthcare, as well as biopharmaceutical research and production, where companies like ESSERT Robotics are taking center stage.

ESSERT Robotics has specialized in robotic solutions for several branches, including the pharma industry and life sciences sector. Innovative platforms like the ADVANCED Robotic Workstation adapt to the changing requirements in biological and pharmaceutical processing thanks to its modular and flexible design. It can be customized to take over tasks like pipetting, medical device testing, or packaging – in an extremely autonomous manner, and with only minutes of changeover times.

Each module can be used individually, carrying out one or more specific tasks. However, multiple of these workstations can also be combined to create an ESSERT MicroFactory, which enables laboratories and manufacturing facilities to automate complex and variable processes. Coming with a high level of consistency and adaptability, these robotic solutions are designed to face tomorrow’s challenges in pharmaceutical production.

Read more about robotics

Robots in manufacturing: revolutionizing production processes
Robotic manufacturing companies
Cobot – all you need to know about collaborative robots
What is an industrial robot?
Robotics in the pharmaceutical industry

Sources

  1. robotics. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 02.2024. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/robotics ↩︎
  2. robotics. Online Etymology Dictionary. 02.2024. https://www.etymonline.com/word/robotics ↩︎
  3. Robotics: A Brief History. Stanford Engineering. https://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/courses/soco/projects/1998-99/robotics/history.html ↩︎
  4. Robotics: A Brief History. Stanford Engineering. https://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/courses/soco/projects/1998-99/robotics/history.html ↩︎
  5. Robotics: A Brief History. Stanford Engineering. https://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/courses/soco/projects/1998-99/robotics/history.html ↩︎
  6. Robotics: A Brief History. Stanford Engineering. https://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/courses/soco/projects/1998-99/robotics/history.html ↩︎
  7. The History of Robotics and Automation: A Comprehensive Timeline. 03.2023. https://pioneerindsys.com/the-history-of-robotics-and-automation-a-comprehensive-timeline/ ↩︎
  8. The Mars Rovers: Sojourner. NASA Space Place. 02.2024. https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/mars-sojourner/en/ ↩︎
  9. 13 Milestones in the History of Robotics. Aventine. 02.2024. https://www.aventine.org/robotics/history-of-robotics ↩︎
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