History of robotics: its evolution to the present

Even if you think robots are only part of science fiction stories, the truth is that they have been around for many years. Okay, there's no C3PO, R2D2, Johnny-5 or WALL-E among us (yet), but that's not to say that humans haven't been able to build robots. We are going to embark together on a journey through the history of robotics, where we will see where and how robots emerged, which was the first robot in history and how these fascinating creations have evolved.

The beginning of robotics

If we want to know where robotics came from, before looking at the past, it is enough to stop and think about the number of repetitive tasks that we humans have to perform, and to what extent we can count on the help of machines to carry them out.

However, even if they help us, machines are not necessarily completely autonomous: the difference between a machine and an automaton is that the latter is capable of acting on its own with greater independence. Posts to help the human being, that the help be as complete as possible, right? And here the antecedents of robotics arise: the first attempts to create devices that were capable of operating with the maximum possible autonomy.

In fact, if we go back to 1642, we will find the first calculator in history! Its invention is due to the French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal, who created a device capable of solve mathematical operations using an intricate system of mechanical wheels and gears.

But the limitations of human technological development put a ceiling on inventions, which necessarily had to be based on mechanical principles. Despite this, the French inventor Jacques de Vaucanson, in 1801, created the Jacquard Loom: a programmable loom using punched cards, which is considered the first totally autonomous device of the story.

Because what better way to save time on something as tedious as knitting if a robot can do it for us? The invention of the loom was followed by other similar ones during the Industrial Revolution, but all ran into the same technological ceiling as their peers and predecessors.

Evolution of robotics to the present

What made the difference in the history of robotics was the development of computers in the 1950s: having machines capable of processing information automatically gave a boost to the development of automatons.

To some primitive robots created for moving machinery and other designs with industrial applications, we come to 1973, when the first robot programming language was developed. This represents a turning point in history, because it is essential to know how to tell robots what we want them to do, and what better way to do it than with instructions that are closer to our language!

In the same decade, NASA also contributed to the cause with the creation of the MARS-ROVER, a robot designed to navigate hostile terrain, equipped with a mechanical arm, telemetry devices (environmental data collection and processing), cameras and proximity sensors. This robot was the ancestor of all those that, years later, crossed the surface of Mars or the Moon, for example.

But how come we haven't found any humanoid-shaped robots so far? Well, that's not entirely true: if we go back to 1939, we will meet ELEKTRO, considered the first robot in history.ELEKTRO was capable of pronouncing 700 words, walking with voice commands, moving its arms and head, and even blowing up balloons and smoking cigarettes!

However, lacking real applications (making life easier for humans), our first cybernetic friend ended up relegated to a museum, but that does not detract from the foundations that have been laid since then

Current robotics is a consequence of the successive development of programming languages, hardware components and, above all, of three aspects that are at different points in their evolution:

  • Artificial vision, developed between 1980 and 1990. Where do you think the facial recognition of smartphones came from?
  • Advanced mobility. ELEKTRO set an interesting precedent that has been successively copied and improved, up to modern drones or useful robot vacuum cleaners, without going any further.
  • Artificial intelligence. Although there is still a long way to go, very important steps have already been taken: these are the cases of Sophia and Atlas, and the cute puppy Spot Mini, which are able to recognize human faces, gestures and language.

What do you think about how robotics was created? I may have left some interesting milestones in the history of robotics in my inkwell, but I am convinced of all the possibilities that the future holds, because current technology allows us to create increasingly complex and independent robots. Who knows? In a few years, the lovable sci-fi characters I mentioned in the introduction may be closer to becoming a reality.

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