Celebrating robots and robotics – useful and seriously cool!

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.

Robots – not only are they useful in fields as diverse as manufacturing, transport, space exploration and surgery, but they make seriously cool toys!
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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”.

A lot of effort and investment has gone into research and development in the field of human-machine interaction, covering areas such as voice synthesis, gesture recognition, and facial expressions.

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!

Very clever! Commemorating the design of the Phillips screw

There are so many amazingly clever inventions around us that we often fail to appreciate, or even notice them. Especially if it’s something basic and workmanlike.

The Phillips screw is one of those inventions.

Three cheers to the Phillips screw – simple, elegant, effective.
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Patented by Henry F. Phillips on this day in 1936, the Phillips screw and screwdriver had a fundamental impact on the manufacturing and production industries. The Phillips screw facilitated greater automation in production lines that use powered screwdrivers, through the introduction of a clever tapered crosshead screw design that ensures the screwdriver centres itself in the screw head.

Based on his screw and screwdriver patents, Phillips founded the Phillips Screw Company, and after some initial rejections, managed to persuade the American Screw Company to invest half a million dollars in the manufacture of the screws.

The first major application of the Phillips screw was in the manufacture of the 1936 Cadillac, and within 4 years most manufacturers had switched to the new screws. Worldwide, the Phillips screw and screwdriver quickly became the most popular design – a position that it still occupies to this day, despite numerous attempts at an improved design.