Archive for the ‘Early Industrial Robots’ Category

1950c – “The Iron Hand” Industrial Robot – Erie Engineering Company (American)

The Iron Hand (Sourced from here and authored by Kerry Kirsch)

The Iron Hand was a robot that was developed by someone at Erie Engineering Company, 840 West Baltimore, Detroit, Michigan in the shadows of the old General Motors Building. Erie Engineering was owned by my grandfather, Frank Karl Kirsch, and specialized in Tool & Die designs for the automobile companies. The name "Iron Hand" sounds like it was inspired by a comic book hero. Back then, safety was not the priority that it is today. At a very young age, I recall hearing several stories of people regularly being injured, or killed in a stamping press. I won't go into the details, but I suspect that these reoccurring tragedies led to the idea of the Iron Hand to automate press work. I don't know the exact date of the photographs, but a car is visible in the background. I would be interested from hearing from someone the model and date to get a more accurate timeframe. I am guessing that they are from the late 1940s, early 1950s.

I suspect that the guy in the first picture was the man responsible for the design – he looks like a proud father. Unfortunately, I don't know who he is. I understand that the robot was hydraulically powered and the photos seem to show a hydraulic cylinder. The part in the gripper is a sheet metal stamping that appears to be part of a floor pan.

[RH/ Car appears to be an 1950 Buick bucktooth grille designed by Henry Lauve]

Back in those days, there were not a lot of options for controlling machines. The Iron Hand was controlled by a traffic light controller. Basically it is a timer that fired hydraulic valves. The mechanism for the arm is really quite ingenious. If you look carefully, you will notice a cylinder at the rear of the arm that imparts motion for reaching through a pair of links of unequal length to the upper rear arm. The arm consists of 4 rods connected at an elbow. In the elbow is a link that imparts motion from the upper rear rod to the lower front rod. It produces near perfect linear motion with only one cylinder.

The above photo appears different from the other two. The robot is rotationally in a different position than in the previous photos and there appears to be some heavy chain attached to the frame that could not be seen in the others. I suspect this is because of the appearance of a waist axis. It’s not clear to me how this would have worked yet, but I'm sure someone has some ideas.

This is a photo of the prototype model I took recently. Under the triangular shaped plates at the top there was a short link that connected the lower left arm to the upper right arm. The link was broken off before I got the model. When I was in college, I measured it all up and wrote a Fortran program to model and plot how it would move. It produced near perfect linear motion. For my senior project at Lawrence Institute of Technology, I designed and built a similar arm that used 4 gears to replace the linking mechanism. I used a single DC servo motor with a harmonic drive gear reducer to rotate one of the rear arms at the base to achieve linear motion.

See other Early Teleoperators, Industrial Robots and Manipulators here.

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1982-4 – MAR-1 Agricultural Robot – Moscow Institute of Agricultural Engineers (Soviet)

Autonomous Mobile Robot (MAR-1) [Мобильный автономный робот (МАР-1)] was created by the Division of agricultural robotics at the Moscow Institute of Agricultural Engineers in the early 1980s in the Soviet Union.

English text and some images sourced from Vadym Shvachko's Robotic blog here.

The first model of MAR-1.

Image source – Юный техник 1982-11, страница 16

The first model of MAP-1 was designed to serve the livestock complex. The robot was made so that it can use existing walkways on farms (calculated per person), modern equipment and tools.

Wheeled and tracked models MAR-1.

The height of the robot – 1850 millimeters, the area of ​​the base – a third of a square meter. He has a pair of hands that have eight degrees of freedom. Machine body rotates in either direction around a vertical axis. This further increases the possibility of "hands." Hydraulic "muscles" of each hand, lift up to 75 pounds of cargo. Tactile transducers allow fingers to register or impact compression force in the range of 0.0294 g to 112.7 kg, the temperature is from 0.4 to 180 º C and humidity of 3 to 99 percent. MAR-1 is made prefabricated (detachable hand, aggregated oil-hydraulic, power, navigation and locating subsystem).

The scheme MAR-1

1 – Power Touch sensitization, 2 – Block hand-grips;
3 – Automatic control unit and communication, 4 – hydraulic power unit;
5 – The navigation block, 6 – Power supply unit.

The internal clock is fed MAR-1 team to start work. In memory of automatic operator contain information about the livestock complex technological environment, all of the aisles, entrances and exits, production sites. There is also a sub-system, which will not allow the robot to stay on track. Arriving at the workplace, MAP-1 itself is connected to the power supply, communication lines, control panel or computer. During operation, the device automatically controls the state of the environment (humidity, fumes) and animals (temperature, thickness of subcutaneous fat).

see pdf here


1959 – “TransfeRobot” – Shelley et al (American)



(1:13:11:00 – 1:14:31:00) 1961 London.

LS. Mr Miduch, the mechanic, switches on three robots. CU. Mechanic looking on. CU. Robots working. CU. Switch panel. CU. One robot working. MS. Three robots working together, they pause and two robots wait for signal from first then continue. MS. The inventor Mr Shelly, talking to mechanic, Mr Miduch and to camera – no sound.

(Orig. Neg.) Date found in the old record – 14/08/1961.

Edwin F. Shelley.


Automatic Handling and Assembly Servosystem by E. F. Shelley et al. See full patent details here.

Patent number: 3007097
Filing date: Jul 2, 1959
Issue date: Oct 31, 1961

N/C-type programming for robots was pioneered in the 1950s by Edwin F. Shelley and his colleagues at US Industries. While research director at the Bulova Watch Company, Shelley sought ways to eliminate repetitive, monotonous manual tasks typical of light assembly work. In 1959, after moving to US Industries, Shelley filed for a patent on an "automatic handling and assembly servosystem," a device which evolved into US Industries' TransfeRobot. This fully programmable positioning system was designed for precision parts transfer and accurate placement operations for small parts, and had closed loop positioning control in three axes. Unlike the record-playback Unimate, the Transferobot was programmed much like a plugboard-type N/C machine. A kinematic study of the task to be performed was made to break it down into a series of discrete motions described as a sequence of positions. These preselected motions (and times) were listed in order on a process sheet and then transcribed onto a cardboard template used to pre-set the machine control. The template was placed over a panel of switches on the machine control and indicated which switches had to be thrown to achieve the desired sequence of motions. (The template also constituted a permanent record of the program which could be used to reconfigure the machine identically for future performance of the same operations.) The Transferobot was widely advertised as a reliable, low-cost, off-the-shelf, fully programmable automation device suitable for a broad range of industrial applications. US Industries President John Snyder explained that the TransfeRobot marked "a significant step in the process of liberating the working force of this country from mechanized drudgery" and Shelley estimated that it could displace a minimum of three million workers. The company scheduled their robot's debut for Labor Day, 1959. (Widely publicized also was a joint effort by US Industries and the International Association of Machinists to aid displaced workers; US Industries paid "dues" on each TransfeRobot sold to underwrite a cooperative American Foundation on Automation and Employment, which was devoted to worker retraining.) Several Transferobots were in fact sold to manufacturers of clocks, typewriters, automobiles, and candy but this pioneering venture into industrial robotics was prematurely interrupted when, in 1963, US Industries decided to discontinue its robot business, for financial reasons.

Footnotes: Edwin F. Shelley et al., "Automatic Handling and Assembly Servosystem," U.S. Patent No. 3,007,097 (filed September 1959, issued October 31,1961); US Industries brochures (Robodyne Division); "An Electrically-Programmed Small Parts Handling Device," Automatic Control, February 196o; John Snyder, quoted in Chicago Daily Tribune. September 8,1959; Edwin Shelley quoted in Edwin Darby, "Builds Robot to Man Production Lines," Chicago Sun Times, March 28, 196o, p. 44; telephone interview with Edwin Shelley, November 1983.

Source: Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation, David F. Noble, 2011.

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1954 – Programmed Article Transfer Patent – George C. Devol Jr. (American)

Programmed Article Transfer by George C. Devol Jr. See full patent details here.

Patent number: 2988237
Filing date: Dec 10, 1954
Issue date: Jun 13, 1961

Joseph Engelberger on the left, George Devol Jr on the right – c1960

[Image credit: The Estate of George C. Devol]

In the patent, Devol wrote, "the present invention makes available for the first time a more or less general purpose machine that has universal application to a vast diversity of applications where cyclic digital control is desired."

Devol's patent for the first digitally operated programmable robotic arm represents the foundation of the modern robotics industry.

At the suggestion of Devol's wife, Evelyn, the word "Unimate" was coined to define the product. 

In 1960, Devol personally sold the first Unimate robot, which was shipped in 1961 from Danbury, Connecticut to General Motors.

See the rest of the story in my later post on "UNIMATE" [TBC].

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1950 – General Electric Robotic Manipulator – (American)

Five-ton robot on wheels sticks out it arm to turn a "hot" valve in Hanford plutonium plant.

One-Armed Robot Tackles Hot Jobs
A ONE-ARMED robot is turning the valves in the giant plant at Hanford, Wash., that makes A-bomb plutonium out of uranium. The new robot looks like a railroad handcar with a small Navy gun on top. It has no fancy name, just the unimaginative title "tool dolly." But it can do practically anything the human arm can do, and it can go where human arms can't go—into areas swarming with invisible, deadly radiation.
Operated either remotely or from the dolly itself, the robot can move around on its track; raise, lower, or extend its arm (the "gun"); and grab, twist, or bend with its claw hand. The dolly easily takes apart machinery—and puts it back together again —opens and closes doors, and works with all kinds of tools. Engineers of the General Electric Co., which runs Hanford for the Atomic Energy Commission, developed it.

Source: Popular Science, Aug 1950

Not a Programmable robot, but a manipulator.