Archive for the ‘Teleoperators’ Category

1925 – Teledactyl Remote Manipulator – Hugo Gernsback (German/American)

1925 feb science and invention sm cover 1925   Teledactyl Remote Manipulator   Hugo Gernsback (German/American)

I'm having difficulty in obtaining a copy of this magazine, so I have used the original article and illustrations from Matt Novak's wonderful Paleofuture/Smithsonian article here.

Hugo Gernsback’s device was called the "radio teledactyl” and would allow doctors to not only see their patients through a viewscreen, but also touch them from miles away with spindly robot arms. He effectively predicted telemedicine, though with a weirder twist than we see implemented in 2012.

Source: Science and Invention, February, 1925: Original illustrations by Geo Wall.

The Teledactyl (Tele, far; Dactyl, finger — from the Greek) is a future instrument by which it will be possible for us to “feel at a distance.” This idea is not at all impossible, for the instrument can be built today with means available right now. It is simply the well known telautograph, translated into radio terms, with additional refinements. The doctor of the future, by means of this instrument, will be able to feel his patient, as it were, at a distance….The doctor manipulates his controls, which are then manipulated at the patient’s room in exactly the same manner. The doctor sees what is going on in the patient’s room by means of a television screen.

1925 Feb science and invention doctor future sm 1925   Teledactyl Remote Manipulator   Hugo Gernsback (German/American)
The doctor of the future examines a patient (1925)

Quite impressively, the teledactyl was imagined as a sensory feedback device, which allowed the doctor to not only manipulate his instruments from afar, but feel resistance.

Here we see the doctor of the future at work, feeling the distant patient’s arm. Every move that the doctor makes with the controls is duplicated by radio at a distance. Whenever the patient’s teledactyl meets with resistance, the doctor’s distant controls meet with the same resistance. The distant controls are sensitive to sound and heat, all important to future diagnosis.

Gernsback positions his predictions about telemedicine within the rapidly changing communications landscape of the 1920s:

As our civilization progresses we find it more and more necessary to act at a distance. Instead of visiting our friends, we now telephone them. Instead of going to a concert, we listen to it by radio. Soon, by means of television, we can stay right at home and view a theatrical performance, hearing and seeing it. This, however is far from sufficient. As we progress, we find our duties are multiplied and we have less and less to transport our physical bodies in order to transact business, to amuse ourselves, and so on.

The busy doctor, fifty years hence, will not be able to visit his patients as he does now. It takes too much time, and he can only, at best, see a limited number today. Whereas the services of a really big doctor are so important that he should never have to leave his office; on the other hand, his patients cannot always come to him. This is where the teledactyl and diagnosis by radio comes in.

It wasn’t just the field of medicine that was going to be revolutionized by this new device. Other practical uses would involve seeing and signing important documents from a distance:

1925 Feb science and invention radio teleview sm1 1925   Teledactyl Remote Manipulator   Hugo Gernsback (German/American)
The man of 1975 signs important documents by videophone (1925)

Here we see the man of the future signing a check or document at a distance. By moving the control, it goes through exactly the same motions as he would in signing he document. He sees what he is doing by means of the radio teleview in front of him. The bank or other official holds the document in front of a receiving teledactyl, to which is attached a pen or other writing instrument. The document is thus signed.

This diagram also explained how the teledactyl worked:

1925 Feb science and invention howto 1925   Teledactyl Remote Manipulator   Hugo Gernsback (German/American)
Diagram explaining how the teledactyl was supposed to work (1925)

Interestingly, we’d see this idea for telemedicine pop up again in 1990s concept videos from AT&T and Pacific Bell.

A year after this article was released Gernsback began publishing Amazing Stories, the first magazine that was devoted entirely to science fiction. Gernsback published a number of different magazines throughout his life, but I’d argue that none were filled with more rich, retro-future goodness than Science and Invention.

See about Waldoes here.

See other Teleoperators here.


1958 – MASCOT Remote Servo-manipulator – Carlo Mancini (Italian)

67 italy robot MASCOT x400 1958   MASCOT Remote Servo manipulator   Carlo Mancini (Italian)

MASCOT – (MAnipulatore Servo COntrollato Transistorizzato)

mascot x615 1958   MASCOT Remote Servo manipulator   Carlo Mancini (Italian)

robot mascot science journal 68 0003 x640 1958   MASCOT Remote Servo manipulator   Carlo Mancini (Italian)


 1958   MASCOT Remote Servo manipulator   Carlo Mancini (Italian)

See MASCOT 0:59 secs into above clip at the Palace of Congresses in Rome for the IX Congress of Electronics Exhibition.

mascot press 1 x640 1958   MASCOT Remote Servo manipulator   Carlo Mancini (Italian)

Robot Demonstrations Of The Atomic Age: Many onlookers – including schoolboys were thrilled by the robot "hands" – dealings with a variety of tasks on one of the stands at the Geneva Atomic Exhibition. The "almost human hands" are used in dealing with radio-active materials behind protective walls and are controlled from a distance with the aid of thick glass windows or with the medium of TV. Photo shows This American made slave robot is designed for the handling of radio-active materials 1/4 and is seen at the Geneva Exhibition. Photo is dated 09-09- 1958.

(Note: Ed. Unsure about the place of manufacture mentioned above, although some later models were made by Elsag Bailey in the early 1990's. The Mascot first produced by the firm SELENIA in Rome.)

MASCOT Coiffet p1 x640 1958   MASCOT Remote Servo manipulator   Carlo Mancini (Italian)

The Mk I slave unit only had a single drive motor for mobility.

Note: Initial development of MASCOT started around 1958, not 1960 as mentioned in the article above.

MASCOT P2 x640 1958   MASCOT Remote Servo manipulator   Carlo Mancini (Italian)

MASCOT P3 x640 1958   MASCOT Remote Servo manipulator   Carlo Mancini (Italian)

The MASCOT slave could also be mounted on an overhead carriage.

Mascot Telechir P1 x640 1958   MASCOT Remote Servo manipulator   Carlo Mancini (Italian)

A later development of MASCOT slave unit. Note the change from a single to four drive motors in each corner of the base for improved mobility.


The first servo manipulator was developed at Argonne National Laboratory under R. Goertz and involved some 8 years of work. Four of them were installed 9 years ago in the remote handling facility of Argonne, since when there has been no further production. In any case, this type was too big for installation in the PS tunnel. The development work was continued by a team at CNEN (Atomic Energy Commission of Italy) under C. Mancini. The first manipulator of this development was presented around 1960, and after many improvements it was exhibited in Geneva at the time of the Atoms for Peace Conference in 1965. Finally, a new type with reduced overall dimensions was finished in 1968 and installed in an Italian fuel reprocessing plant. This version has been seen and tested by us. Its size and working capacity meet very well the requirements inside the PS tunnel.
The only servo manipulator which can be obtained at present is therefore the one which was developed at CNEN and will be produced now under the name of Mascot by the firm SELENIA in Rome.

ENEA'S ACTIVITIES IN THE FIELD OF NUCLEAR ROBOTICS – An advanced teleoperator, the Mascot, has been developed by ENEA for use in radiation environments.

mascot ena elsag bailey x463 1958   MASCOT Remote Servo manipulator   Carlo Mancini (Italian)

A Mk III version of MASCOT.

The Mascot teleoperation system
In 1961 the researchers from ENEA developed the first Mascot unit, a telemanipulator for nuclear plant operation.
This manipulator was, and still is, one of the best machines available in the world as regards the force feeling it can transmit back to the operator (force feedback signals).
The Mascot is a Master/Slave telemanipulator of the force feedback type (see Fig. 1 above). Each arm has seven servo-controlled joints: six links for six degrees-of-freedom plus a gripper. Each joint is driven by its own actuator through gears or steel cables. The control algorithm is based on comparing the position and velocity of the joints of the Master and Slave arm, sensed at the same instant. These values, the position and velocity errors, are then multiplied by adequate proportional coefficients to determine the torques to be applied to the Slave arm actuators (which is thus forced to follow the Master) and to those of the Master arm, to generate the force feedback to the operator. These torques are applied in order to minimize the position errors.

A modern commercial example of a bilateral teleoperation system for use in the nuclear industry is the MAnipolatore Servo COntrollato Transistorizzato (MASCOT) system developed by Elsag Bailey.
This features dual six-DOF, kinematically identical, master and slave arms with full bilateral control. Each arm can move up to 20 kg with an accuracy of 0.5 mm. Communication between master and slave sites is via optical fibre cable. The system has the ability to compensate for the weight of grasped objects (so that those constant forces need not be maintained by the operator). It supports reindexing (so the workspace of the slave manipulator may be larger than that of the corresponding master arm), and has a "teach and repeat" function (so sequences of operations may be stored and later replayed).

The early MASCOTs were analogue based, and only in the 1990's were they digitalized.

Mascot Mantis CERN p1 x640 1958   MASCOT Remote Servo manipulator   Carlo Mancini (Italian)

Mascot Mantis CERN p2 x640 1958   MASCOT Remote Servo manipulator   Carlo Mancini (Italian)

Mascot Mantis CERN p3 x640 1958   MASCOT Remote Servo manipulator   Carlo Mancini (Italian)

mascot slave new x640 1958   MASCOT Remote Servo manipulator   Carlo Mancini (Italian)

mascot jet mkIV x263 1958   MASCOT Remote Servo manipulator   Carlo Mancini (Italian)

Mascot teleoperator JET 96 x400 1958   MASCOT Remote Servo manipulator   Carlo Mancini (Italian)

MASCOT Mk IV specification described in its JET tokamak upgrade in 1990.

"The Mascot IV telemanipulator was chosen by the remote handling group in the late nineteen eighties to form the basis of the remote maintenance system for the JET torus. It is a two arm Master-Slave device with 7 degrees of freedom per arm (including gripper).
The Mascot IV microprocessor (Z8000) controlled system evolved from the analogue Mascot III developed at ENEA in the 1960’s. The Master and Slave controllers are linked by a high speed 1MB serial line, allowing a separation of several kilometres. The Slave unit can be positioned anywhere inside or outside the tokamak, using specially designed robotic transporters, while the Master unit is operated from the remote handling control room.
The ‘man-in-the-loop’ philosophy of using bilateral, force-reflecting, servo-manipulators was considered necessary to provide the flexibility to handle the wide range of maintenance tasks that the constantly evolving JET project would require. Viewing is provided by the ‘Cyclops’ camera mounted on the Slave unit between the arms, two wrist mounted camera’s, a hand-held
mobile camera unit, and other in-vessel camera’s."

H.A. Ballinger, 'Machines with arms', Science Journal, October 1968

Because European governments have not sponsored extraterrestial developments of nuclear power, there has been little money or encouragement for creating free-roving machines with arms.

However, a section of the CNEN Laboratories of Italy under Ing. C. Mancini created in 1960 a note-worthy machine: the MASCOT (Manipulatore Servo Controllato Transistorizzato). This device followed and improved on the techniques of Goertz in mounting a pair of arms, with the described bilateral control, on a mobile 'dolly'. From a console fitted with an identical master arm, a stereo vision screen and a foot control for the dolly's movements, the seated operator can integrate his own subconscious neuro-muscular control into co-ordinated and complex responses of slave's movements. Its one limitation, like that of the others described, is a restriction to floor areas cleared of normal obstructions. But, of all the machines developed, the MASCOT is the most aesthetical engineered device; the machine creates a humanistic impression which generates an impulse to speak orders to the machine rather than to the operator.

The Goertz Teleoperator Model E3 was used by the Italians as a basis for development of the MASCOT servomanipulator.

A few pages from Robotics by John F. Young, 1973 giving specifications of MASCOT. See pdf Mascot-Robotics-J-Young-1973

1950 – General Electric Robotic Manipulator – (American)

PM1950 GE Robot p2 x640 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

PM1950 GE Robot p1 x640 1950   General Electric Robotic Manipulator   (American)

Not a Programmable robot, but a manipulator.

1892 – Crane – Seward Babbitt (American)

 1892   Crane   Seward Babbitt (American)

CRANE by SEWARD S. BABBITT. See full patent details here.

Patent number: 484870
Filing date: Jun 13, 1892
Issue date: Oct 25, 1892

Seward Babbitt's crane first mentioned around 1980 in terms of robotics history and timelines in textbooks, but in terms of enabling technology only, rather than being identified as a robot in itself.  That distinction is getting lost in modern references to this invention.  Its included in my timeline only to highlight that it is not a robot.  It shares characteristics of manipulator arms only.

The first mentioned of Babbitt's invention in terms of robotics that I can find is from The Journal of Epsilon Pi Tau – Volumes 6-10 – Page 98
"In 1892, Seward Babbitt of Pittsburgh patented a rotary crane with a motorized gripper for removing hot ingots from furnaces. "

1967 – RIVET (Remote Inspection VEhicle Telechiric) – Hugh A. Ballinger (British)

rivet robot 0003 x640 1967   RIVET (Remote Inspection VEhicle Telechiric)   Hugh A. Ballinger (British)

Text: Science Journal, October 1968 Special Issue: Machines Like Men

Machines with arms  p59
H. A. Ballinger

Representing a further class of machines for the radioactive environment is the result of my [Ballinger] own work at Harwell. Some four years ago a study of reports on' criticality' incidents in the United States highlighted the advantages of a machine with arms for reactor damage control duties. A survey of existing designs showed, however, that none had the obstacle surmounting ability needed to reach an accident point within a building. A vehicle study was therefore made which resulted in the design of the RIVET (Remote Inspection Vehicle, 'Telechiric'). The dimensions of this device are such that it has, when in transit, the profile of a crawling man — yet at the scene of an accident it can erect its TV eyes and operating arm to the height of a standing man. In this position it can outreach a human by manipulating loads of up to 35kg at a 1.4 m radius. A novel track design enables it to surmount those obstacles where any single step is as high as 50 per cent of its track length—the limit of a modern tank is 12.5 per cent. It can mount stairs of 45o angle, turn in a 1.2 m corridor, or enter an office, pass through the knee hole of a desk and then climb onto the desk top.

Hugh A. Ballinger is an assistant chief engineer at the Harwell Atomic Energy Research Establishment. His department develops the technology of remote and active handling for the Authority. It also provides the general scientific equipment and services for research into materials science. Previously has led groups developing nuclear fusion and fission plant; he helped to build and operate the first experimental reactor at Harwell.

RIVET PSoct70 1 x640 1967   RIVET (Remote Inspection VEhicle Telechiric)   Hugh A. Ballinger (British)

rivet man modified x640 1967   RIVET (Remote Inspection VEhicle Telechiric)   Hugh A. Ballinger (British)

rivet french book x640 1967   RIVET (Remote Inspection VEhicle Telechiric)   Hugh A. Ballinger (British)

I was recently researching the robots used in the 1979 movie "Saturn 3". One of the minor robots is referred to and is said to be a RIVET made by Harwell Laboratories (UK Atomic Energy Authority).

 1967   RIVET (Remote Inspection VEhicle Telechiric)   Hugh A. Ballinger (British)

 1967   RIVET (Remote Inspection VEhicle Telechiric)   Hugh A. Ballinger (British)

saturn3 rivet 1 x640 1967   RIVET (Remote Inspection VEhicle Telechiric)   Hugh A. Ballinger (British)

The original patent was filed in Great Britain in 1967.

Here are the details on the US patent of RIVET. See here.

Patent number: 3533483
Filing date: Feb 8, 1968
Issue date: Oct 13, 1970

spider manipulator harwell x640 1967   RIVET (Remote Inspection VEhicle Telechiric)   Hugh A. Ballinger (British)

A later version [but pre-1986] from UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) called "Spider".

roman manipulator harwell x640 1967   RIVET (Remote Inspection VEhicle Telechiric)   Hugh A. Ballinger (British)

Another later version called ROMAN.

Origins of Articulated Track

The track design, particularly that of the later model "Spider" above,  is very similar to that of iRobot's Packbot. It's interesting to note that the original track patent for Packbot does not reference the "Spider" vehicle in its prior art. Possibly the "Spider" design is not patented or only patented in the UK.  Other than similar approaches used for wheelchair climbing, the RIVET/SPIDER design is the first I've come across like this.

irobot packbot pat x640 1967   RIVET (Remote Inspection VEhicle Telechiric)   Hugh A. Ballinger (British)

See full iRobot patent here.

Patent number: 6263989
Filing date: Jan 26, 1999
Issue date: Jul 24, 2001

See also later revised patent of same here which does cite Ballinger's RIVET, unlike the earlier patent.

Patent number: 8113304
Filing date: Jun 13, 2008
Issue date: Feb 14, 2012
Application number12/138,737

Challenge: If anyone comes across an earlier implementation of this design, or more information on the UKAEA "Spider" vehicle, let me know. 

It's interesting to note that an ex-employee of iRobot built and sold his own version of Packbot, called Robot FX "Negotiator".  This resulted in a controversy over patent-infringements in 2010.