How Robots Revolutionized the Manufacturing Industry

Robotics and artificial intelligence would never have developed as far as they have without the manufacturing industry’s early and enthusiastic adoption of robots. In fact, you could make the argument that the unprecedented technological developments of the 20th century took place because manufacturers used robots. Robots revolutionized manufacturing and, as a result, revolutionized the world.

Where It All Started

The word robot, as we all know, comes from the Czech Karel Čapek in 1921. In his satire, R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), the term robot was first used, based on the word robota, from the Czech. Though the word might have been used first in that play, the concept of autonomous, animate objects was not new. The ancient Egyptians would frequently pray to statues of their gods, which were said to be animate and move of their own will. While the actual robots we use today aren’t made of clay or stone, they have been alive in the human consciousness for thousands of years.

Where It Really Took Off

The first creation we would identify as the kind of robot we’re used to didn’t come until 1954, with the creation of Unimate, the first digitally operated and programmable robot. Invented by George Devol, he sold the first Unimate to General Motors in 1960. It came online in 1961, moving hot pieces of metal from a die casting machine into cooling liquid. 

The Unimate was autonomous with limited supervision and capable of near-constant operation, all of the qualities we currently associate with robots. It was this implementation, the first use of robots in manufacturing, that would pave the way for an entire industry: robotics.

Fast Forward To Now

The years between 1961 and 2021 were eventful if you didn’t know. There was a lot happening in industry and in the world economy. The cycle of busts and booms made for an occasionally rocky road to automation. In some ways, it’s a path we are still walking. 

The robots that first took hold in industrial settings were largely found in Japan, where the computer-controlled automatons in car factories and other high-volume manufacturing applications really took off. Not only did automation not “take everybody’s job” as was so widely feared by the ideological descendants of Ned Ludd, but it also multiplied the possibilities. Careers in dangerous manufacturing environments could now be completed by  robot workers, freeing human beings to take on the tasks of maintaining, building, and programming programming robots in careers as robotic technicians and specialists.

Learn all about those careers at roboticscareer.org.  

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