Robotic Ideas Began Centuries Ago:
The idea of an automatic device to help serve or work for humans has long been in existence as it is documented in historic tales, such as ideas like automatically opening doors.
Around the 9th century, hundreds of preserved texts and ideas were accumulated and came together to create a book called "The Science of Ingenious Mechanisms." This book and the Renaissance period combined to bring many scientists and the like (including da Vinci) to imaginatively create some of the first automatons (objects that move automatically). Most were created for joy and laughter (The Lady Musician) but they slowly began to bring the past challenges to life.
Then, robots developed a negative connotation from a play called "Rossum's Universal Robots" which premiered in Prague in 1921. In the play the robots helped with the work human's would normally do and then revolted, killed their master, and destroyed all life on earth. The R.U.R. was written to take place in the 60s, which is actually when the industrial robots made their first appearance. Sometime later, a science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, created fundamental laws for robots that are still used today.
Introduction to Industrial Automation:
Fast forward hundreds of years to the industrial revolution. This brought with it an increasing demand for production and consequently, motivation for automation.
The invention of the Numerically Controlled (NC) machines, the popularity of the computer (1950), and the integrated circuit (1970s) all helped to make it possible to begin to develop the very first, yet simple, industrial robot.
The first ones were able to replace humans for the heavy, dangerous, and monotonous tasks. However, they had zero external sensing and were used for simple tasks such as pick and place.
Eventually, developers were able to create more complex motions, put on external sensors, and add more applications such as welding, grinding, deburring, and assembly. Since then, industrial robots have been able to cut costs, increase productivity, improve quality, and help takeover dangerous or harmful tasks.
Industrial Robots are Born:
George Charles Devol, often called the father of robotics, invented the first industrial robot, the Unimate, in 1954. A few years later, Devol and entrepreneur Joseph F. Engelberger were discussing interested at a part and their company, Unimation, was born.
So how exactly would you define an industrial robot? A mechanical device that is automatically controlled, versatile enough to be programmed to perform a variety of applications, and re-programmable with a large works pace, several degrees of freedom, and the ability to use an arm with different tooling.
The first prototype, Unimate, was produced in 1961 and installed in GM's factory for die casting handling and spot welding. It cost $65,000 to produce yet was sold for $18,000. After that, GM installed 66 more Unimates and Ford became interested as well. The industrial robot future was certain to be bright with all of the automotive interest and investment.
Modern industrial robot arms continued to evolve in the 1960's and 70's around the globe. The competition from companies around the world continued to produce a high demand for industrial robots. This spurred further research and technical development and items such as the development of the microprocessor helped to create cost-effective control systems that were still powerful.
In 1963, the six-jointed Rancho Arm was created to assist handicapped. This was followed by the tentacle arm, designed by Marvin Minsky in 1968. It was able to lift a person and had 12 joints.
The first successful story of a business developing a specific robot based on their needs was created in 1967. This company developed a robot to complete a spray painting application and eventually became ABB. This is only one example of when large companies began to develop their own industrial robots.
So, industrial robotic development continued to quickly evolve, and in 1969 the Standford Arm eventually led to commercial arm production. The Stanford Arm was one of the first electronically powered, computer-controlled arms. By 1974, it reached a level of sophistication where it could assemble a Model T water pump.
The Stanford Arm was followed by the Silver Arm in 1974. The Silver Arm was created by MIT's David Silver to perform precise assembly using touch and pressure sensors and a microcomputer. During that same year, these arms led to Victor Scheinman, the inventor of the Stanford Arm, to form Vicarm, Inc. to manufacture industrial robotic arms. Scheinman was instrumental in the creation of the PUMA (programmable universal manipulator for assembly) for Unimation.
By the middle of the 1970s, industrial robots had boomed and were expected to grow at rates around 30% per year. The industrial robotic industry officially took off and never looked back.
In the 1980's, automotive companies showered robotic companies with investments. The enthusiasm and funding were not always matched with understanding. General Motors Corporation spent more than $40 billion on new technology in the 1980's, but a lack of understanding led to costly robot fiascos. In 1988, robots at the Hamtramck Michigan plant wreaked havoc - smashing windows and painting one another. Unfortunately, the premature introduction of robotics began to create financial instability.
It wasn't until recently that the robotics industry has regained mid-1980 revenue levels. The American robotics market disappeared as Japanese and European bought up companies.
2010 brought a huge acceleration in demand due to the continued innovative development and improvement of industrial robots. By 2014, there was a 29% increase in robot sales across the globe.
It is an exciting time to be a part of the robotic world as our globe becomes more aware of the amazing benefits of industrial robots.
*historic robot facts are from this online source.
*additional 2010-present statistics can be seen here.