The robots we know today are machines built with a mind of their own – the artificial intelligence. By definition, they are machines programmed to make their own decisions in a given scenario. They do it with the help of Machine Learning, the ability of machines to learn and improvise by itself.
Over the past few decades, robots are slowly taking over our factories and living rooms, as well. They’re growing smarter, stronger and speedier year by year to match or even surpass human capabilities.
Here’s a quick sneak peek on how it all started – The journey of the robots.
From vivid imaginations to groundbreaking researches
Myths and legends from ancient civilisations in Greece, Egypt and worldwide spoke of the concept of robots – the animated inanimates. Leonardo Da Vinci was the first to design the humanoid robots back in 1495. A number of automata or automated objects were built between 1500 to 1800 based on complex mechanical principles.
In 1900’s, researchers developed mechanical bots like Eric, Elektro and Gakutensoku. Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics in 1942 and Norbert Wiener’s principles of cybernetics in 1948 laid the foundation of modern robotics. In 1949, the first electronic autonomous robots, Elsie and Elmer were built. They are the forerunners of BEAM robotics designed based on the principles of analogue electronics.
Unimate was the first robotic arm introduced into the assembly line of General Motors in 1961. It was built to perform one of the most daunting tasks in the factory workshop – to stack and weld hot metal parts. Clunky and clumsy, still a remarkable invention which marked the way forward in the journey of robots.
In 1973, a team of Japanese researchers developed Wabot I. The first humanoid robot that was a more human look alike from head to toe. Equipped with visual sensors and improved control system, the robot could walk, talk (only pre-recorded replies) and pick objects.
A decade later, advanced inventions in the field of mechatronics changed the history of robots to a greater extent. In 1974, IRB 6 was the first electric industrial robot arm controlled by a microcomputer. The programmable machine was packed with 16 KB RAM and a 4 digit LED display. The single-task industrial bots can perform tasks now, but they do so blindly.
Sensors and AI add innovation
Decision-making was still a huge challenge to industrial robots. In 1981, Consight was the first robot to use visual sensors and artificial intelligence to make real-time decisions like to pick and sort 6 different types of auto parts from a conveyor belt.
Honda’s E series of humanoid robots under research in 1986 had evolved into one of the world’s most advanced humanoid robot to date, ASIMO. It’s designed to serve as a personal assistant at home/office, especially for elderly and differently-abled. A domestic help of the future who you can’t do without in the years to come.
Military robots gain prominence
BEAR, a semi-humanoid military robot from 2005 set the trail for generations of military robots, worldwide. The robot traded its feet for tanker-style treads to deliver better speed and efficiency at the battlegrounds.
In 2012, Baxter – the human-like industrial robot with two arms and a monitor head started to collaborate and work with humans in research labs and factory floors. It performs a series of tasks from line loading and machine tending, to packaging and material handling. The robot is a forerunner to a number of humanoid industrial robots of today.
Long way to go…
Mechanical bots to a virtual assistant, the history of robots is an incredible journey made possible by the evolution of science and technology. Artificial Intelligence is the game changer that transformed programmable machines into thinking machines. It led to several groundbreaking robotic inventions including the humanoid robots and military robots.
Today, advanced robotic arms with high dexterity and versatility line up the entire production line of every state-of-the-art factory floor. In the near future, robots could replace or assist humans in diverse fields including rescue operations and disaster management.