Today we celebrate the birthday of Joseph F. Engelberger (born in New York City, July 26, 1925), physicist, engineer and entrepreneur, and the man often called the “Father of Robotics”.
Engelberger, together with inventor George Devol, was responsible for the development of the first industrial robot in the US, in the late 1950’s. The robot, called the Unimate, worked on a General Motors assembly line at the Inland Fisher Guide Plant in New Jersey in 1961. It picked up die castings from an assembly line and welded these to the auto bodies – a potentially dangerous task for humans.
The Unimate was inducted into the Robot Hall of Fame in 2003.
Engelberger and Devol also started Unimation, the world’s first robot manufacturing company. Engelberger was a strong advocate for robotic technology beyond the manufacturing plant, and promoted the use of robotics in fields as diverse as health care and space exploration.
The field of robotics deal with automated machines that can take the place of humans, performing various activities in potentially hazardous or tedious processes in fields ranging from manufacturing to research to exploration. While Engelberger was responsible for the first industrial robot, the robotics concept dates back much further, to the start of the 20th century. The word “robot” was first coined by the Czech writer Karel Čapek in 1920. In 1942, science fiction writer Isaac Asimov published his “Three Laws of Robotics”, which constituted the first use of the term “robotics”.
I’m not sure if it’s thanks to the fact that robots are so popular in science fiction – often depicted as an intelligent, cunning and efficient super-race – but I find it difficult not to feel awed, and even a little threatened, when facing one of these amazing inventions.
Dōmo arigatō, Mr. Roboto!