Timeline: The Rise of Robots

How mechanical helpers have evolved during the past four decades

12 April 2017

In celebration of The Institute’s 40th anniversary year, we’re presenting a series of timelines highlighting technologies that have moved forward significantly during the past four decades.

Robots have come a long way in the past century. The first recorded use of the word robot was in Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), written in 1920 and translated and performed in 1922 in New York City. According to Čapek, the word was coined by his brother Josef from the Czech word robota, meaning forced labor. In the play, artificial living beings are created; over time, they learn about violence from their human creators and stage a revolt.

In 1942 science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, a biochemist, came up with the Three Laws of Robotics, coining the term robotics and setting forth an ethical standard of how robots should interact with humans. Modern autonomous robots began to appear in the early 1960s with Unimate, the first industrial robot, and Shakey, the first mobile robot built to have artificial intelligence. Today’s robots serve many purposes. They perform surgery, help build cars, clean floors, comfort the elderly, and explore distant planets.

This article was written with assistance from the IEEE History Center, which is partially funded by donations to the IEEE Foundation.

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