Archive for February, 2013

1937 – The Robot Gargantua – “Bill” Griffith P. Taylor – (Australian/Canadian)

The Robot Garguantua.

gar·gan·tu·a -n.
A person of great size or stature and of voracious physical or intellectual appetites. [After the giant hero of Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais.]

Like most, including myself, the true significance is lost in the title ("An Automatic Block-Setting Crane") and opening description of the original article published globally in Meccano Magazine, March 1938.

The original re-discovered documents now published in full book form.

In February 2013,  Chris Shute contacted me about "Meccano Robot Gargantua".
Although I was aware of it, but must admit to: 1. trying to keep away from industrial robots, 2. mistaking the robot taking it for an elaborate 'crane' when I first saw it, 3. didn't study it well enough to realise it was programmable, 4. assumed someone else more recently attributed to word 'Robot' to it, and lastly, 5. I didn't take note of its early publication date. I'd like to think my research is normally very good, but incorrect pre-conceptions let me down.. Anyway, I've now been corrected and amazed after reading Chris' story of The Robot Gargantua re-produced below.

"In March 1938, the Meccano Magazine published a brief article describing an automatic crane of stunning complexity. Have a look at Meccano Magazine, March 1938 p172, viewable via: . A single motor drove all the motions of this monster machine, capable of building complex structures from wooden blocks automatically. From the original photograph, it was difficult to tell if Gargantua was even made from Meccano, or whether it could really do all that was claimed. Nobody had ever built anything so ambitious in Meccano.
A full description and more detailed photographs lay hidden for nearly half a century until the Liverpool Meccano factory was demolished. Constructor Quarterly magazine published them in a book with notes by John Woollatt and the late Bert Love and Alan Partridge. The creator of Gargantua was a 21-year-old student, Griffith ‘Bill’ Taylor, the son of Scott’s Antarctic geologist. Bill died in 1996, having spent most of his life as a professor of civil engineering in Sydney, Australia. I built the ‘Robot’ programmer in June 1997 and met Bill’s widow and son. They encouraged me to build the whole crane, which I did during the following 12 months, about 400 hours work. Here's a picture of my reconstruction. The main features are:
 • A single motor drives all motions.
 • The grab can also rotate – power comes through the suspension cords.
 • Mechanical limiters protect against over-driving.
 • Control levers are situated at the base of the tower, not on the jib.
 • No electronics are used apart from five solenoids.
 • Sequences up to 3 hours long may be controlled by punched paper tape.
 • Contains over 4000 washers, 300 collars, 200 gears and 100 pulleys.
 • Non-Meccano parts: 4 bricks, 2 rollers, paper, wood, Ford Sierra fan motor.

This is the only known complete reconstruction of Gargantua. I believe it was probably the world’s first truly programmable place-and-put robot. I feel it deserves a place in the history of robotics."

Chris continues in a second email.

"I believe Bill Taylor submitted his article to Meccano Magazine late in 1937, after completing the machine. Roman numerals on his typed manuscript read "MCMXXXVII". His notes say the machine was "the result of 3 years "effort". The lead-in time for publication, and the surface mail time from Toronto to Liverpool would be considerable. Many mechanisms used in Gargantua are unique, and would have made good magazine features individually, at the time. It's puzzling why neither the magazine nor Meccano did not exploit Gargantua more. A Pathe Newsreel in July 1937 featured a Meccano loom, for example. Bill Taylor was born in August 1916, making him only 21 years old at the time of completing Gargantua, while still studying for his engineering degree. A remarkable acheivement. I've attached a picture of my reconstruction of the 'Robot' (as it was called) i.e. the device that pulls and pushes the pre-existing 5 control levers for the crane. Mine is the same size as the original. Each lever, top left, has a central neutral position and can move linkages to large dog-clutches in transfer gearboxes dedicated to each motion. The crane can be driven manually if the "Robot" linkages are disconnected. Then the lever ends must be squeezed to release any lever from its locked position, like an old semaphore railway signal lever. The 'Robot' is driven by the same single motor as the crane, via a driveshaft seen just right of the control levers. A Meccano Dog Clutch can disconnect this drive. A 5-digit counter, like an old electricity consumer meter, top right, is used to count the revolutions of the motor. My paper tape transport is slightly modified, using a capstan and rubber pinch roller, as in a reel-to-reel tape recorder, for constant paper speed, and therefore constant sized holes cut in the paper. When drive to the take-up paper drum is engaged, a light brake is applied to the feed drum, to keep the paper taut, and simultaneously, 5 wipers press down on the paper. When a hole arrives, a circuit is made to one of 5 solenoid coils. In the original device, these were home made (mine are 1960s standard Meccano parts). Power for the coils would originally have come from 4 large 1.5 volt dry cells (seen in the original magazine picture, about the size of a beer can). Mine use 12 volts from the motor supply. Lower right, I've added a cable to 5 pushbuttons for manually firing the coils during demonstrations. The (weak) solenoids do not actually engage any gears. Instead, they cause some of the main motor's power to act upon the control levers. Five differentials are driven from the motor through their RH half-shafts. A light brake on the LH half-shaft causes the diff cage to spin fast but with less torque, reduced still further by 1:5 gearing to a shaft above carrying a 2" rod in a Handrail Coupling. When the solenoid is energised, its core moves a rod left to jam this spinning rod, whereupon the LH half shaft will turn, overcoming its light brake. A 7:1 reduction to a shaft above moves a long linkage to the relevant control lever. After a quarter-turn of this shaft, a roller and sprung linkage will flick the solenoid rod right, thus releasing the differential cage, and movement of the control linkage stops. The quarter turns permit a sequence of Forward-Neutral-Backward-Neutral to be engaged for each drive. This seems an elaborate device to engage/disengage gears, but it does the job well, using only a single coil for each motion, requiring only 5 possible holes in the paper roll (3 1/2" wide, used for adding machines in the 1930s). Since the same motor drives both the paper and the crane, synchronisation is reliable. the distance between holes equates to the number of motor revolutions allocated for each operation. In practice, when any motion is required to arrive at an end-stop position, a few extra revolutions are given, to overcomes light discrepancies caused by slippage, for example of the string/pulley drives in the grab. All motions have mechanical limiters at their end-stops, so this is not a problem. The tower-buiding was planned on graph paper and a table of the required motor revolutions for each motion is calculated. (e.g.opening the grab requires 150 revs). From this, it is possible to write a 'program' of events (= paper holes) defined by motor revolutions starting at 00000. The program is transfered to the paper roll by disengaging the drive to the 'Robot' and cutting a hole over a wooden backing strip. For stacking 24 blocks, over 500 holes must be cut. An error of 1mm on the paper roll could translate into about 1"for a block's position. Editing/correcting of the program is done with sticky tape. But the system works. Errors are generally down to the 'software', not hardware."

Chris has an expanded version of his story published in 2007. see pdf here.

Historical Significance

I've largely left Industrial Robots out of my website, but I feel that The Robot Gargantua deserves to be recognised as the first currently known Pick-and-Place Robot built, so I'll add a page on the short history of Industrial Robots.

The First Industrial Robots:

The Babbitt invention of 1892, mentioned in many Industrial Robot timelines, is not a robot at all under any definition. The Babbitt Crane patent has no mention of anything automatic, is not programmable and is under manual control using hydraulics.  Also no evidence of it being built, none that I've found, anyway. It appears to be an arm to grasp and remove hot ingots from a furnace. It may look robotic in today's terms, but that's as far as it goes.

  • 1935-7 – The design, construction, and submitted manuscript of The Robot Gargantuan.
  • 1938, March – The publication of The Robot Gargantua in Meccano Magazine.
  • 1938, April – Pollard's Positional spray painting robot patent was filed in April 1938. This I would call a robot by current definition.
  • 1939, August – Roselund filed his spray-paint robot patent – less of a robot than Pollard's due to the cam-drive nature, which , although good for repeatability, not good in re-programmability which defines an Industrial Robot.
  • 1954, March – The Brit Cyril Kenward filed his patent , beating the Devol patent by a few months .
  • 1954, December – Devol's patent filed and granted in 1961. 

[Update 2 Mar 2012 – Pollard's son, Pollard Jr., produced an earlier patent for an automatic spray-painting machine. Filed on 29 Oct  1934, granted on 27 Aug 1940. From an article on parallel robotics by Ilian Bobey in 2003, the patent consists of two parts: (1) an electrical control system and (2) a mechanical manipulator. The control system consists basically of perforated films, the hole density of which is directly proportional to the speed of each motor. The mechanical manipulator, on the other hand, is a parallel robot based on a pantograph actuated by two rotary motors at the base. Pollard Jr.'s patent was eventually issued on June 16, 1942, but, in the meantime, a license was granted to the DeVilbiss company in 1937. In 1941, DeVilbiss, later to become the first industrial robot supplier, completed the first prototype under the direction of Harold Roselund. Roselund's spray painting robot, later patented in 1944, was not a parallel robot and used only the control system proposed by Pollard Jr. ]

Control Unit – photo by Chris Shute.

Above: Detail of Control Unit


The gripper.

All photographs by Peter Haigh – see supersize originals here.

1957 – Remote-Controlled Painting Machine – Akira Kanayama (Japanese)

Akira Kanayama’s painting machine from 1957 was a four-wheeled device that Kanayama could remote-control to create paintings approximately 180 by 280 cm. The canvas lay on the floor and the machine dripped and poured paint on the picture pane.

The painting machine is an early example of the machine/robot in the role of artist. Kanayama’s remote-controlled painting machine mimics Jackson Pollock’s drips painting –a technique he developed in the 1940’ties.

At the same time the machine follows Pollock’s ideas of automation and physical detachment between artist and painting, bringing it to a new level, but at the same time it makes fun of role of the artist – no longer an inspired and gesturing artist, but a homemade machine spilling paint. [See comments about Pollock by Dr. Prof. Machiko Kusahara below.]

Text and Pic Source: Electrifying Painting, Ming Tiampo

Kanayama began making his Machine Drawings (fig. 24) in 1957, which were a critique of automatism and the value it placed on self-expression through gestural painting. Kanayama’s Machine Drawings were made by attaching a can of quick-drying paint to an automatic toy car that created paintings whether or not the artist was even in the room…… Both Kanayama and Tanaka used technology as a markmaking instrument. By using a vocabulary of form that had technological rather than psychological origins, Kanayama and Tanaka launched a conceptual attack on the Informel and Abstract Expressionist idea that art could or should be an expression of the soul, poured out and worked on a canvas.

Kanayama hanging his painting done with a remote control mechanical car on vinyl (1957). See Note at bottom.

Source: The Avant-Garde in Exhibition, Altshuler 1994. Photograph – Sinichiro Osaki, Hyogo Prefecture Museum of Modern Art, Kobe, Kyoto Municipal Museum, 1957.

Akira Kanayama was the secretary of the Gutai group. He jokingly said that the position involved so much work that he had no time to paint and instead let a remote-controlled toy car paint for him. The resulting Work (1957) can be seen as a critique against Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, with which they have some resemblance. In Kanayama, the male genius who expresses his feelings with paint is supplanted by a toy car that randomly zooms around the paper, leaving a trail of paint. Kanayama thus challenged the artist's personal relevance to the quality and ingenuity of the work.

Group photo: Yamazaki, Shiraga, Shimamoto, Murakami, Kanayama, Motonaga,
Tanaka, Ukita.

Pic Source: here.

Both Tanaka (1932 – 2005) and Kanayama (1924 – 2006), two of Japan’s best-known artists, were members of the Gutai Bijutsu Kyokai (Gutai Art Association), an avant-garde art group founded in 1954 in Osaka with the mission to create “an art which has never existed before.”  As members of the group, they became famous for seminal pieces with which they remain associated today: Tanaka’s Electric Dress (1956), a jumble of electric cables and lit-up colored lightbulbs which she wore like a garment; and Kanayama’s four-wheel remote control device which enabled him to create automatic Remote-Control Paintings (1957).  The artists married and left the group in the mid-1960s, and continued their artistic careers (at a steady pace in Tanaka’s case, in Kanayama’s case more intermittently) through the beginning of the 2000s.

Origins of Japanese Media Art – Artists Embracing Technology from 1950s to Early 1970s

Author: Dr. Prof. Machiko Kusahara

Painting by Machine
The Gutai artist Akira Kanayama is less known compared to his partner Atsuko Tanaka, the artist known for her “Electric Dress (1956), although the original use of technology and interest in materials that had not been traditionally used in art were shared among them. Kanayama helped Tanaka in realizing her ideas that involved technology such as her piece “Work (Bell)” (1955). Kanayama’s “Work” series produced mostly around 1957 involved a remote-controlled car with paint tanks he built himself, modifying a toy car. Kanayama tested a variety of crayons, markers, black and color ink with which the car scribbled or dripped while moving on large pieces of paper and later on white vinyl sheets, which he found the most appropriate for his purpose. While the artist operated the car on a sheet laid on the floor, its trajectory and the resulting traces of ink were never under the perfect control of the artist. Instead of directly employing one’s own body, as in case of other Gutai artists such as Kazuo Shiraga and Saburo Murakami, Kanayama used a mechanical medium and chance operation to drawn lines. His use of plastic inflatables and footsteps on vinyl sheets in other works also suggest his positive interest in new materials, and mediated representation of body. However, when Gutai was “discovered” by the French critic / art dealer Michel Tapié and internationally introduced, these features of Kanayama’s works were disregarded. It is said that his “Work” series was interpreted as alike of Jackson Pollock’s “all-over” style in the art world outside Japan, neglecting the interesting questions that arose about originality and the role of technology in art.

Eventually Gutai artists including Tanaka shifted to “paintings” rather than three-dimensional works involving unusual medium. By the time when Gutai was invited to participate the 1970 World Exposition in Osaka, Kanayama and Tanaka left the group.

Note: Some references give 1955 as the date for Kanayama's Remote-Controlled Painting Machine.  The first of the Gutai expositions were in 1955, but I've only been able to trace the machine to the 3rd expositiion held in a Museum in 1957. The 1955 exposition was an outdoor one.

The book Avant-Guard is also confused over these aspects, saying on the one hand the remote drawing machines were new for the 1957 Museum exposition, but also suggesting they were made earlier, but no proof is offered for the 1955 date. 

So claims such as ", prefiguring the Métamatic painting machines that the Swiss artist, Jean Tinguely, began to build in 1959."  are not correct from two fronts. Tinguely's MetaMatic Drawing Machine No.1 is from 1959, but two earlier drawing machines were built in 1955, the first, called "Machine à Dessiner No. 1"exhibited in the Le Movement exhibition in 1955

1971 – “COSME” – Le Chevalier de L’Espace – Jeanne Renucci-Convers (French)

Cosme, le chevalier de lumière… est le dernier né et le géant des automates.           
Nous voilà bien loin des premières poupées articulées. Cosme n'est pas seulement colossal (5 m. de haut, 1.350 kg), il a de l'ambition et veut synthétiser en lui l'humanité présente et future dans le contexte technique qui est le nôtre.                                           
Animé par un ordinateur, sa démonstration est un spectacle audiovisuel impressionnant. Avec ses 2.000 lampes, ses 25 km de câble, Cosme nous transporte pendant 28 minutes dans une sorte de monde interplanétaire où la couleur et la lumière sont reines…
Cosme n'a pas de domicile fixe car il est extrêmement demandé, il circule beaucoup, malgré ses orgueilleuses proportions, et on peut le voir au hasard d'une exposition, d'une manifestation en France ou à l'étranger. Il s'est produit récemment à Orly, lors d'une exposition d'automates.
Entièrement conçu par Mme Jeanne Renucci-Convers, Cosme a été réalisé par PHILIPS.

Translation by Google

Cosme, the knight of light … is the latest and giant robots.
We are far from the first jointed dolls. Cosme is not only huge (5 m. High, 1350 kg), it has ambition and wants him to synthesize the present and future humanity in the context technique that is ours.
Powered by a computer, it is an audiovisual demonstration impressive. With its 2,000 lights, 25 km of cable, Cosme transports us for 28 minutes in a sort of interplanetary world where color and light are queens …
Cosme has no fixed abode because it is extremely required, it runs a lot, despite its proud proportions, and can be seen at random an exhibition, an event in France or abroad. He has recently Orly, during an exhibition of automata.
Entirely designed by Jeanne Renucci-Convers, Cosme was made by PHILIPS.

Exhibition Brochure

COSME Press photo


Google  translation

par Jeanne Renucci-Convers
Matière : Lumiere & structure acier inox

Dimensions : 1200-1000-1000 cm

Poids : 1350 kg

Année : 1968 / 1971


Adresse d'exposition : Conservée depuis 1981 au Centre International du Futur, Salines Royale d'ARC-EN-SENANS .
Patrimoine mondial depuis 1982

Collection : publique

" Pionnière et théoricienne, elle invente cette première sculpture de lumière fonctionnant avec ordinateur, possédant sentiments, sensations, verbe et mémoire. Elle ouvre une voie nouvelle et certaine dans les domaines artistiques et poétiques en transposant sur le plan créatif de l'Art l'équation Energie / Matière". Citation de la médaille de Vermeil du progrès. Promotion Cdt J.Y COUSTEAU 1973. Dédiée à la conquête spatiale, aux citoyens du monde, microcosmes humains. Maillons des civilisations dans un condensé de notre humanisme

English translation by Google

by Jeanne-Renucci Convers
Material: Lumiere & stainless steel structure

Dimensions: 1200-1000-1000 cm

Weight: 1350 kg

Year: 1968/1971

Photographer: BLAISE-Lelong-ROY

Exhibition address: Preserved since 1981 at the International Centre of the Future, Royal Saltworks RAINBOW SENANS.
World Heritage since 1982

Collection: Public

"A pioneer and theorist, she invented the first light sculpture running computer, with emotions, sensations, and word memory. It opens a new way and some in the artistic and poetic transposition of the creative art of the equation Energy / matter ". Quote of the Vermeil medal of progress. Promotion Cdt Cousteau J.Y 1973. Dedicated to the conquest of space, citizens of the world, human microcosms. Links of civilizations in our condensed humanism.

Philips Electronics worldwide has a history of supporting electronics in art.  A similar idea to Cosme is PETE (Philips Electronics Telecommunications Equipment), built one year later in Australia by Stan Ostoja-Kotkowski .

Source: Electronics Today International, January 1973 .

1929 – “M. M.” the Mechanische Mensch (Mechanical Man) – P. Geerlviet Jr. (Dutch)

Source: Panorama, 17 September 1929

DE OPENING VAN DE 4e INTERNATIONALE RADIO-TENTOONSTELLING TE AMSTERDAM vond Dinsdag j.l. plaats. De heer P. Geervliet exposeert er zijn mechanischen mensch, die op alle vragen antwoord geeft.

THE OPENING OF THE 4th INTERNATIONAL RADIO EXHIBITION AMSTERDAM found Tuesday jl place. Mr P. Geervliet exhibits there are mechanischen man, who answers all questions.

Source: De Sumatra Post, 17 October 1929

DE OPENING VAN DE VIERDE INTERNATIONALE RADIOTENTOONSTELLING vond in het gebouw Bellevue te Amsterdam plaats. -V  l.n.r.
de heeren 1. Hoogboudt (secr. Ned. Bond van Radiohandelaren); 2. Ludert;
3. v. Seeters; 4. P. A. Euserink; 5. Steeps; 6. A. van Santen, (voorzitter
N.B.R.); 7. B. S. Engers (directeur der expositie); 8. Peereboom; 9. „M.
M." de mechanische mensch, welke geconstrueerd werd door; 10. P.
Geervliet Jr.; 11. Mr. A. J. da Costa, lid Radio Raad en 12. P. C.
                   Tolk, omroeper N.C.R.V.

THE OPENING OF THE FOURTH INTERNATIONAL RADIO SHOW was held at the Bellevue building in Amsterdam instead. V l.n.r.
Messrs. 1. Hoogboudt (secr. Ned. Association of Radio Operators) 2. Ludert;
3. v. Seeters 4. P. A. Euserink; 5. Steeps; 6. A. van Santen, (Chairman
N.B.R.) 7. B. S. Engers (director of the exhibition); 8. Peereboom; 9. "M.
M. "mechanical man, which was constructed by, 10. P.
Geervliet Jr.; 11. Mr. A. J. da Costa, Radio Council member and 12. P. C.
                    Interpreter, announcer N.C.R.V.

Source: De Sumatra Post, 17 October 1929

— De radio-constructeur P. Geervliet Jr heeft een „mechanische mensch" vervaardigd, welke op de Amsterdamsche radiotentoonstelling, voor levendige conversatie zorg droeg. Mijnheer „M. M." geeft antwoord op alle vragen.

– The radio manufacturer P. Geervliet Jr. has a "mechanical man" made​​, which in the Amsterdam radio show, for lively conversation cared. Mr. "MM" answers to all questions.

1933 – Cocktail Robot – (American)

13 Nov 1933, New York, New York, USA — The law says "there ain't goin' to be no bar maids" the ubiquitous feminine cocktail shaker persists in appearing on the scene and here, essaying the role, is Miss Ruth Young, where she is demonstrating a helpful device for the cocktail lover and dispenser, the robot cocktail shaker. The girl and the machine were photographed by the Bartender's School at the Hotel Exposition in Grand Central Palace, New York. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS


The Cocktail Robot is styled after the then well publicised Televox.