What was the first robot


What is a robot anyway?

The word "robot" is derived from the Czech "robota", which means something like forced labor. The Czech writer Karel ─łapek called the machine people in his play Rossum's 1920 Universal Robots (R.U.R.). In the drama these are grown in tanks to work in the place of people in industry.

The word creation "robot" found its way into many languages. In 1927, with the film "Metropolis", a human machine appeared on the big screen for the first time. The robots finally achieved fame in the 1940s through the stories of Issac Asimov.

Robots are machines that move independently and can perform various activities. This is what distinguishes robots from remote-controlled machines that need commands from people - and are therefore not independent. Automata are not robots either, since they only perform a single job. Computers are also not considered robots because they cannot move.

Attempts to replace human work with mechanics go back a long way. Even in pre-Christian times, the Greeks invented simple automatons that could carry out activities without the direct influence of humans. This is how the first water-powered clock was created in 270 BC.

From the early 9th century the book of ingenious devices, "Kitab al-Hiyal", was written in Baghdad, in which more than a hundred automatons are described.

Machines can also see, feel and hear

Orientation is a particular problem when developing machines that move independently. The first seeing robot was created with the help of photo cells that enable the detection of differences in brightness. This enabled the famous robot turtles Elsie and Elmer to locate the light source that marked their charging station for the first time in 1950.

US researchers from the University of California have developed a robot that can see in three dimensions and is able to fold towels and then stack them on top of each other. With the help of two cameras in the robot's head, a three-dimensional image of the environment is created. This ability is important so that in the future robots can move in a room that is unknown to them without hitting the walls.

Robots that can hear have also been around for several decades. In 1973 Waseda University in Japan developed the "Wabot-1". The robot could hear, see, feel, walk and even chat with the help of a speech synthesizer, so that its developers attested to the intelligence of an 18-month-old child.

The sense of touch of robots has also improved significantly over the past few years. Not so long ago, fine motor processes, such as holding a pen with your thumb and forefinger, were unthinkable. Robots can now grab raw eggs and bottles without damaging them.

Robot scientists at the Technical University of Munich have developed an artificial skin with which the robots can feel contact and avoid obstacles. Gerald E. Loeb and Jeremy A. Fishel from the University of Southern California have developed an art hand whose fingers are equipped with sensors so sensitive that they can recognize different materials.

Mechanical assembly line workers

Robots were first used in industry in the 1960s, 20 years after Asimov's literary establishment. George Dovel and Joe Engelberger and their company Unimation developed the Unimate, the first commercially available industrial robot.

Among other things, it was used on the assembly lines of the automaker General Motors for repetitive and dangerous work. For example, the Unimate stacked highly heated metal parts.

Just 20 years later, the use of robots in car manufacturing became routine. Other branches of industry also use robots to help. In chemical companies, for example, there are automation lines that completely take over complex work processes.

Robots are everywhere we can't be

In the meantime, robots are taking on tasks in many areas that humans can perform more imprecisely, more slowly or not at all. The latter is especially true for missions in space.

In 1997, after a seven-month flight, the unmanned Pathfinder space probe launched a robotic vehicle (Sojourner) on Mars, which was equipped for the extreme climatic conditions on the Red Planet.

But robots are also essential for other tasks in space. Robotic arms help with work on the international space station ISS and repair defective satellites.

Exploring the oceans would also be unthinkable without robots. They explore the depths of the sea, help to identify environmental hazards such as spilled oil or to hunt for treasure. In 1986 the robot Jason Junior explored the wreck of the Titanic together with the manned deep-sea submersible Alvin at a depth of 3965 meters.

Many of the underwater robots are in the shape of a small submarine. These Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) are remotely controlled or programmed before use so that they can carry out their work independently.

Robots can also do their job in crisis areas. They are used in fires, search for mines or defuse bombs. To do this, they have to be able to move in very rough terrain.

For bomb disposal, the robots are often equipped with a low-lying chassis and a freely movable, remote-controlled arm. At the top there is a smashing device that shoots a high energy jet of water into the explosives chamber, rendering it ineffective. The robots can survive small unintentional detonations.

In addition to all these possibilities, there are now many other areas of application for robots. Whether in the household as a vacuum cleaner, in the operating theater, in the laboratory or in the children's room: robots are part of everyday life.