Millions of social media users were delighted recently when Boston Dynamics put out a viral video of its robots doing a spot-on imitation of the Rolling Stones’ classic “Start Me Up” video. Earlier, the company amazed everyone with a video of its humanoid-like robots expertly dancing to “Do You Love Me” by the Contours.
The videos prove that the science and engineering of robotics have taken a quantum leap forward over the past decade. The capabilities of robots have advanced more in just the past few years than in the previous 3,000 years.
Wait a minute – 3,000 years? There were no robots back then, were there? In fact, there were devices in ancient Egypt that can be considered robotics. Egyptologists recovered a device from the tomb of Amenhotep I that dates to 1,500 B.C.
The instrument was a water clock. This simple device was a container that contained measuring lives along the side. It was filled with water, and a very precise hole in the bottom allowed water to drip out at a steady rate. It served well as an accurate clock. The clock could also cause human figurines to bang a gong at the top of each hour -– true robotic timekeepers.
Many people think of robots as something that emerged in the 20th Century, but starting with the Egyptians and on to the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Medieval Europe – not to mention the Far East – numerous examples of robotic devices can be described.
The term “robot” was coined in 1921 by the prolific Czech author Karel Čapek in his play, R.U.R. – Rossum’s Universal Robots. It took another 20 years before people began using the term “robotics.” That word was coined by the famous science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in 1942.
Around the mid-1940s, the emergence of the first true computers jump-started the robots we recognize as such today. In 1950, the first industrial robot was invented by George Devol. It was called Unimate, and it could transport die castings to automobiles and also weld them into place. For the first time, human labor was displaced by a robot.
Arm-like robots proliferated in the 1960s and ’70s. They were and are used in industrial settings.
Thousands of different kinds of robots have burgeoned ever since. Today, in 2021, robots have finally reached the near-human appearance and functional ability stage, including advanced A.I. “brains” that make them interactive with real people.