Joseph Engelberger and partner George Devol, Jr. sold the first American industrial robot, a Unimate, to General Motors which installed it in 1961. It was used for hot and heavy work in die cast operations. Automate 2011 honors robotics industry pioneers with a special tribute at the Show, and a Gala Dinner presentation of the industry’s highest honor, the Joseph F. Engelberger Robotics Award.
In 1968, Viktor Scheinmann started development of Vicarm, and electric robot for assembly applications. It was smaller than a Unimate and not intended to carry such heavy loads. Unimation later bought the Vicarm and refined it to be even smaller and more versatile, bestowing it with a new name in the process: PUMA (Programmable Universal Machine for Assembly).
Engleberger’s company, Unimation, eventually licensed its technology to Kawasaki Heavy Industries, setting in motion the start of the robotics industry in Japan and throughout the industrialized world.
Many robot ventures in the U.S. came and went during the 1970s, including ones from AMF, Hughes Aircraft, IBM, Cincinnati Milacron and Western Electric. Robot applications spread from foundry operations to spot welding. Paint robots came along later. Usually, the technology was applied to make the workplace safer for people and separate them from dangerous environments.
Engelberger said the key to expanding applications of robots was to ask this question: “Do you think a robot could do that?” As we have seen in the past 50 years, very often the answer is, “Yes.” Sheep shearing was pioneered in Australia and the nuclear industry uses robots to handle radioactive material.
Over the years, robots evolved from hydraulic arms that could perform only one task to electric servomotor driven, multifunctional, reprogrammable arms. New worlds of applications opened as robots gained situational awareness through sensors like machine vision, to the point where now surgeons remove gall bladders and farmers milk cows with robots.
Robotic Industries Association was formed in 1974 to represent robot manufacturers, component suppliers, systems integrators, users, educators, consultants and researchers. Over the years the industry has grown from a handful of companies in the U.S. into a worldwide network of automation leaders. RIA has grown right along with the industry and today represents some 250 members companies.
Automate 2011 celebrates the rich history of robotics and automation and presents a window into its future. A special tribute to 50 Years of Robotics is presented on the Show floor. Admission is free (must be 16 or older) and the same badge also provides entry to the ProMat Show also in McCormick Place March 21-24, 2011.
More than 40 conference sessions and tutorials are offered at Automate 2011, with fees ranging from $225 for one day to $895 for all four days. Students and faculty are welcome to free sessions on Thursday, March 24 beginning at 8:30 AM.