~ 350 B.C
The brilliant Greek mathematician, Archytas('ahr 'ky tuhs') of Tarentum builds a mechanical bird dubbed "the Pigeon" that is propelled by steam. It serves as one of histories earliest studies of flight, not to mention probably the first model airplane.
~ 322 B.C.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle writes...
“If every tool, when ordered, or even of its own accord, could do the work that befits it... then there would be no need either of apprentices for the master workers or of slaves for the lords.”
...hinting how nice it would be to have a few robots around.
~ 200 B.C.
The Greek inventor and physicist Ctesibus ('ti sib ee uhs') of Alexandria designs water clocks that have movable figures on them. Water clocks are a big breakthrough for timepieces. Up until then the Greeks used hour glasses that had to be turned over after all the sand ran through. Ctesibus' invention changed this because it measured time as a result of the force of water falling through it at a constant rate. In general, the Greeks were fascinated with automata of all kinds often using them in theater productions and religious ceremonies.
Leonardo DaVinci designs a mechanical device that looks like an armored knight. The mechanisms inside "Leonardo's robot" are designed to make the knight move as if there was a real person inside. Inventors in medieval times often built machines like "Leonardo's robot" to amuse royalty.
1738 Jacques de Vaucanson begins building automata in Grenoble, France. He builds three in all. His first was the flute player that could play twelve songs. This was closely followed by his second automaton that played a flute and a drum or tambourine, but by far his third was the most famous of them all. The duck was an example of Vaucanson's attempt at what he called "moving anatomy", or modeling human or animal anatomy with mechanics." The duck moved, quacked, flapped it's wings and even ate and digested food.
Swiss clock makers and inventors of the modern wristwatch Pierre Jaquet-Droz and later joined by his son Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz start making automata for European royalty. They create three dolls, each with a unique function. One can write, another plays music, and the third draws pictures.
1822 Charles Babbage demonstrates a prototype of his "Difference Engine" to the Royal Astronomical Society. He continues his work by designing an even more ambitious project "the Analytical Engine" that reportedly was to use punch cards inspired by Joseph Jacquard's invention. During his lifetime he never produces a functional version of either machine. Despite this shortcoming he is often heralded as the "Father of the Computer" and his work lives on as the foundation for the binary numbering system that is the basis of modern computers.
George Boole represents logic in mathematical form with his Boolean Algebra.
Czech writer Karel Capek introduced the word "Robot" in his play "R.U.R" (Rossuum's Universal Robots). "Robot" in Czech comes from the word "robota", meaning "compulsory labor"
Fritz Lang's movie "Metropolis" is released. "Maria" the female robot in the film is the first robot to be projected on the silver screen.
1936 Alan Turing introduces the concept of a theoretical computer called the Turing Machine. Despite being a fundamental advance in computer logic it also spawns new schools in Mathematics.
1940 Issac Asimov produces a series of short stories about robots starting with "A Strange Playfellow" (later renamed "Robbie") for Super Science Stories magazine. The story is about a robot and its affection for a child that it is bound to protect. Over the next 10 years he produces more stories about robots that are eventually recompiled into the volume "I, Robot" in 1950.
Asimov is generally credited with the popularization of the term "Robotics" which was first mentioned in his story "Runaround" in 1942. But probably Issac Asimov's most important contribution to the history of the robot is the creation of his Three Laws of Robotics:
A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Asimov later adds a "zeroth law" to the list:
Zeroth law: A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
George Devol patents a playback device for controlling machines.
An artificial intelligence program named ELIZA is created at MIT by Joseph Weizenbaum. ELIZA functions as a computer psychologist that manipulates its users statements to form questions. Weizenbaum is disturbed at how quickly people put faith in his little program.
Richard Greenblatt writes, MacHack, a program that plays chess, in response to a recent article written by Hurbert Dreyfus where he suggests, as a critique to efforts in artificial intelligence, that a computer program could never beat him in a game of chess. When the program is finished and Dreyfus is invited to play the computer he leads for most of the game but ultimately loses in the end in a close match. Greenblatt's program would be the foundation for many future chess programs, ultimately culminating in Big Blue the chess program that beats chess Grand Master Gary Kasparov.
Victor Scheinman, a Mechanical Engineering student working in the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL) creates the Stanford Arm. The arm's design becomes a standard and is still influencing the design of robot arms today.
1977 Star Wars is released. George Lucas' movie about a universe governed by the force introduces watchers to R2-D2 and C-3PO. The movie creates the strongest image of a human future with robots since the 1960's and inspires a generation of researchers.
1981 Takeo Kanade builds the direct drive arm. It is the first to have motors installed directly into the joints of the arm. This change makes it faster and much more accurate than previous robotic arms.
1986 LEGO and the MIT Media Lab colaborate to bring the first LEGO based educational products to market. LEGO tc Logo is used by in the classrooms of thousands of elementary school teachers.
1986 Honda begins a robot research program thats starts with the premise that the robot "should coexist and cooperate with human beings, by doing what a person cannot do and by cultivating a new dimension in mobility to ultimately benefit society."
A walking robot named Genghis is unveiled by the Mobile Robots Group at MIT. It becomes known for the way it walks, popularly referred to as the "Genghis gait".
Dr. Seymour Papert becomes the LEGO Professor of Learning Research.
In an attempt to build a radio controlled vaccuum cleaner Marc Thorpe has the idea to start a robot combat event.
Dr. John Adler came up with the concept of the CyberKnife a robot that images the patient with x-rays to look for a tumor and delivering a pre-planned dose of radiationto the tumor when found.
1993 Dante an 8-legged walking robot developed at Carnegie Mellon University descends into Mt. Erebrus, Antarctica. Its mission is to collect data from a harsh environment similar to what we might find on another planet. The mission fails when, after a short 20 foot decent, Dante's tether snaps dropping it into the crater.
1994 Dante II, a more robust version of its predicessor, descends into the crater of Alaskan volcano Mt. Spurr. The mission is considered a success.
Marc Thorpe starts Robot Wars at Fort Mason center in San Francsico, CA.
The second annual Robot Wars event is held at Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, CA.
A RoboTuna is designed and built by David Barrett for his doctoral thesis at MIT. It is used to study the way fish swim.
Chris Campbell and Stuart Wilkinson turn a brewing accident into inspiration at the University of South Florida. The result is the Gastrobot, a robot that digests organic mass to produce carbon dioxide that is then used for power. They call their creation the "flatulence engine."
1996 Honda debuts the P3, the fruit of its decade long effort to build a humanoid robot.
The third annual Robot Wars event is held at Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, CA.
1998 Tiger Electronics introduces the Furby into the Christmas toy market. It quickly becomes "the toy" to get for the season. Using a variety of sensors this "animatronic pet" can react to its environment and communicate using over 800 phrases in English and their own language "Furbish".