Robots Then and Now – From Magic to Legend and Beyond


By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

Before there were robots there were golems – creatures of human-like form brewed from mud and magic. 100 years ago concepts of androids and automatons were popular notions of the time, but the term “robot” did not appear until the 1921 Czek play “R.U.R” (Rossum’s Universal Robots).

Today’s robots are not magical but they still are the stuff of legend and they are evolving. Fifty years ago, Joseph Engelberger, the “Father of robotics,” sold the first industrial robot to GM. From the beginning he sought to free workers from dirty, dangerous and dull jobs that threatened life and limb or numbed the brain. His own legend lives on as the modern age finds ever more applications for robots.

Today, NASA and GM have their own jointly developed robot that looks a little like Iron Man and a lot like an android. Robonaut 2 has a ticket on the next flight to the space station where it will give astronauts “eyes and hands” for outside tasks which are intrinsically hazardous to human life. More about Robonaut 2 will be told during a joint keynote, March 22 in Chicago, Illinois USA at McCormick Place during Automate 2011.

In fact, right here on planet Earth robots will be roaming the show floor at Automate 2011. Adept’s MobileRobot can guide attendees to destinations at the Show. Anybots brings its own telepresence device for you to see at the Emerging Robots Pavilion. Innovative ideas and eye-opening displays are shared by exhibitors throughout the South Hall at McCormick Place.

Warehouses and the enterprise of logistics now use robots for many applications and in some cases automation has blurred the lines between automation and robots. Such technology is on display in the North Hall of McCormick Place at ProMat. One ticket gains you entry to both shows.

As noted by X Prize Foundation founder Dr. Peter Diamandis (a speaker at RIA’s annual Robotics Industry Forum in January 2011) technology allows small groups to do what it used to take entire nations to accomplish. Robots are part of that equation and tremendous catalysts for change.

Many views and ideas were exchanged at the Forum. Rockwell Automation sees global trends for automation demand with China as the big pick for much of the surge. Perhaps one day there will be fully autonomous cars that will allow the blind to drive. It could happen according to Bill Thomasmeyer of the Technology Collaborative.

Robotics at Procter & Gamble came into focus through Mark Lewandowski of their Corporate Engineering Machine Controls unit who says they have 140 manufacturing locations with 200 to 300 robot applications in place now. And he sees potential to increase use of robots by five-fold for consumer packaged goods, with assembly and other complex tasks ripe for the taking.

Whether it was GM, X Prize, Procter & Gamble or any of the many other speakers, concern about the fate of workers was always a priority. It will take more technical credentials for the workplace of the future, but those jobs will be more stimulating and allow individuals to contribute greater value as they drive companies toward global competitiveness. People are considered the best assets by every speaker at the Forum and they anticipate we will have a smarter, happier workforce that gives their companies more competitive juice to survive in the global economy.

President Obama also believes technology will forge America’s future and allow it to “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build” its business rivals. People want their technology to be as easy to use as an iPhone, safe and to enable greater personal productivity. We heard that over and over at the Forum and will need good, clever workers who can make that happen.

One way RIA can help is to offer training in robot safety, and on robot fundamentals. Many will have access to in-depth classroom sessions at Automate 2011, March 21-24 in Chicago, IL at McCormick Place. In-house training is offered as well. Visit Robotics Online to find more intelligence on the industry and its brightest stars – the members of Robotic Industries Association.

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2 Responses to Robots Then and Now – From Magic to Legend and Beyond

  1. […] For 50 years robots have served in the worldwide workforce, especially in the automotive industry, but in today’s world half the robots sold go into other areas. They are now found in labs, consumers goods packaging, semiconductor production and even food processing. […]

  2. […] Nothing is easy in matters of national self-interest. Don’t get distracted by romantic notions of robots. See them for what they are – advanced automation. Those who embrace robotics will have a future selling, maintaining, operating and building them. There is nothing magical or mythic about them, although many people feel that way. (See “Robots Then and Now – From Magic to Legend and Beyond.”) […]

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