Posts Tagged ‘1958’

1958-62 – “Beetle” Mobile Manipulator – G.E. Corp. (American)


1958-62 – "Beetle" Mobile Manipulator.

Background Information:


Popular Mechanic's (Sep 1956) drawing made by Frank Tinsley from designs by Lee A. Ohlinger of Northrop Aviation, Inc. of a robot mechanic for the proposed atomic-powered airplane, a star-crossed project that stumbled through 10 years and $500,000 without ever getting off the ground.


General Mills was one company that patented a 'Vehicle-Mounted Manipulator' in 1958 as its proposal for atomic-powered aircraft maintenance, amongst other purposes.

Publication number US3043448 A
Publication date Jul 10, 1962
Filing date Sep 19, 1958
Inventors Melton Donald F
Original Assignee Gen Mills Inc


Source: Missiles and Rockets, Volume 9, 1961



In 1961, GE's Beetle was under construction. The above few pictures show the model that was built beforehand.


World's Biggest Robot By Martin Mann
Fix an atomic rocket engine? Clean up spills of radioactivity? Rescue H-bomb victims? That's what the Beetle is for
THAT monster glaring at you from the left is the biggest robot ever made. It weighs 170,000 pounds in its double-thick rubber treads. It can punch its claw hand through a concrete wall or gently stretch stainless-steel arms to pluck an egg off the top of a house. 
There's a man inside. Safe within the lead-and-steel cab, he can work where no unarmored man could live -in the deadly radiation that atomic energy the most fearsome as well as the most promising invention of the century.    
He could roll right up to the atomic engine of a space rocket and delicately maneuvering those 16-foot arms, make adjustments. Or he could replace a broken part in the atomic boiler of a power plant. Or haul the fatally hot debris of a nuclear accident away to the burying ground. If H-bombs struck he could dash into the destruction zone to rescue injured people and scrape away the worst of the fallout dust. 
That's what this bizarre machine, named the Beetle, can do. When PS Chief Photographer Bill Morris and I first saw the Beetle, it wasn't doing anything but sitting on a hangar floor. They couldn't start the engine.

Beetle is first of a family of robots that will handle the hot jobs of the atomic age


Robot with a bellyache. In four days it operated seldom, and then it limped more than ran. There was difficulty with the degassing circuit. A plug popped and hydraulic fluid squirted out (a dedicated engineer, Dutch-boy-like, stuck his finger in the hole). A diode blew, immobilizing one arm (a welder had dropped a tool into the control chassis). The auxiliary generator pooped out (brush trouble). It seemed that short circuits had their own short circuits (after all, there are 400 miles of wiring in the thing).
Such bugs are standard equipment in any complex new machine. They were cleaned up in a furious week of round- the-clock troubleshooting. But these setbacks were only the culmination of troubles that dogged the Beetle from the beginning. It was originally designed to be a robot mechanic for the atomic-powered airplane, a star-crossed project that stumbled through 10 years and $500,000 without ever getting off the ground. So the Beetle is an orphan. The Air Force, which paid $1,500,000 for it, still isn't sure exactly what it will be used for. Yet the need for machines of this type is so certain that the orphan is already fathering a whole family of newer robots. The next models, now on the drafting boards, will bear only a family resemblance to Papa Beetle. They'll be smaller and lighter, so they can be air-lifted where needed. Most will be remote-controlled–without a man inside you don't need all that heavy radiation shielding.  
The Beetle does carry a man. That makes it more versatile. But it also requires some of the most elaborate engineering ever lavished on any ground vehicle.

It looks like a tank because the chassis is reworked from an Army M42 40-mm. gun carrier. A 500-hp supercharged Continental six speeds it along roads at 10 m.p.h., but there's also an electrical drive by which it creeps 15 feet per minute. It could wrench the concrete all off a test cell without grunting hard–drawbar pull is 85,000 pounds.
The cab, however, is nothing like a tank turret. It not only turns around and around, but moves up and down 15 feet on four stainless-steel legs (built like hydraulic auto lifts). These movements are precise but slow, for that cab weighs 50 tons.
The walls are made of foot-thick lead covered inside and out with half inch steel plates. The entrance hatch is a tight-fitting cork of lead directly over the operator's head. It alone weighs 7 1/2 tons.  
The hatch offers the only way in or out.

Understandably, there are four separate mechanisms for raising it: the regular hydraulic system, the battery-powered hydraulic pump, a hand pump on the operator's left armrest, and hand pump outside the cab.
Even with the four independent emergency outs, the operators seat is still no place for a guy with claustrophobia. It's eerily  oppressive even when the hatch is wide open (I tried it). Those 50 tons of lead and steel form the most effective suit of armor ever wrapped around a single man. It cuts down atomic rays by 3,000 times. That means the operator could put in a full day's work where the radiation level was 3,000 roentgens per hour. Unshielded  exposure to such intense radiation would  probably kill him after 10 minutes.  
The man who will seal himself inside this massive machine is young, flamboyant Randall Scraper, who comes from Indiana, but is always called Tex. Scrapper is one of the most skilful of an elite corps of technicians, the professional manipulators.

These specialists perform the same work as any repairman–taking machines apart and putting them back together again. But there is one big difference: The manipulators work on machines too "hot" to get close to. They cannot touch their work or even their tools. Everything must be done at long range with mechanical arms.

No sense-no feeling. The arm is a stainless-steel boned, electrically muscled copy of human equipment: shoulder, upper arm, elbow, forearm, wrist, and hand. The joints are superhuman: They spin around and around as well as bend. The hand is usually a two-fingered claw that can grasp and manoeuver parts or tools: but it can be snapped off and replaced by any of any specialized types–a socket-tipped finger, for instance.

The steel hand cannot feel, however, and that is a serious loss.You can't tell whether you are crushing something or holding it too loosley it will fall. (Dropping a nut or screw seldom matters: spilling a can of radioactive material could tie things up for weeks.)

Working with mechanical arrms is like playing the nickel-in-the-slot claw machine at an amusement park–and snaring the toy compass every time. It takes unusually sensitive coordination as well as icily calm concentrating–outwardly at least. Tex Scraper steadily chews gum and cigars, often both at once. But he possesses the supreme patience to devote eight hours to removing one nut from a bolt.

"I can do that,: Scraper drawls. "because I turn my ears off. People are always watching, trying to help. 'A little to the right,' they tell me. Well, it may be their right and my left. So I've taught myself to pay no mind. I don't even hear them."

The Beetle is worth its cost solely to take Scraper and his mechanical arms up close to the hot nuts and bolts. He gets safety and a clear view of the work (not perfect, yet better than television). But he pays for these advantages with total isolation.

The operator is sealed tight a mummy. There is barely space to wiggle a foot; standing or stretching is out of the question. His only direct connection to the outside world is an air intake.  
(The duct zigzags, like the entrance to a photographic darkroom so that radiation cannot "shine" in. Special filters are unnecessary because the air itself does not become radioactive.)    
A three-ton air conditioner keeps Scraper cosy (72 to 76 degrees, 60-percent humidity) even if the temperature outside plummets to 25 below or flames to 130 above zero. He talks to base by radio (two separate transmitter-receivers) or public-address system.    
There's even a microphone out front so that he can listen to the engine.

A room with a view. Even more elaborate are the arrangements for looking out.
To go with the windows, there are two pairs of binoculars on swinging mounts; with them Scraper can read the scale of a standard micrometer gauging parts many feet distance.
There is a retracting, submarine-style periscope that rotates and tilts.
Finally there is closed-circuit TV. The screen sits between his legs. One camera is clipped to the cab, like a pencil in a man's breast pocket. It can be picked up and moved around by the mechanical arms. Two fixed cameras point to the rear so that Scraper can see what's going on behind him–outside rear-view mirrors are impractical.
The Beetle's cab even includes a few luxury accessories: a comfortable, power adjusted chair, ash tray, lighter. Most important of all, perhaps, is an oxygen bottle. If absolutely everything went wrong, it could sustain Scraper for eight hours. Presumably that would give time to haul the machine out of danger, cut the cab open, and free him.

Source: Popular Science, May 1962.


Built by Jered Industries in Detroit for General Electric's Nuclear Materials and Propulsion Operation division, the Beetle was designed for the Air Force Special Weapons Centre, initially to service and maintain a planned fleet of atomic-powered Air Force bombers. According to declassified Air Force reports, work began on the 'Beetle' in 1959, and it was completed in 1961.

It has also been said [Halacy, "The Robots Are Here!", 1965] that the Beetle was built for NASA's "Project Rover", a nuclear rocket development program.

 Life Magazine, 4 May 1962 had a brief article and a couple of pictures of the Beetle.


Beetle showing its versitility by putting an egg on a spoon. Not bad given the size and types of grippers, and lack of tactile feedback to the operator.


A startled look as the Beetle is spotted in the make-up mirror.


beetle-kennedy-press-1 - Copy-x640

President Kennedy (back to camera) having a look.

hjbeetle2 - Copy-x640


beetle_0012 - Copy-x640


beetle-remote-manipulator-pic - Copy-x640

The Beetles' Arms and Hands


The General Mills arm used in the Beetle is very similar to this arm descibed by patent US3247978. Karl Neumeier was one of General Mills engineers.


The two-fingered hand is also described in the patent and is most likely the same if not very similar to that used on the Beetle's manipulator arms.



General Mills Hook-and-anvil hand. {Image says PaR Systems, which was a spin-off from General Mills]



The General Mills logo on the manipulator arm.












In the Life Magazine article mentioned above, Getty-LIFE have a lot of images from that photo shoot. They appear in the photo gallery below.

Invalid Displayed Gallery

See other early Teleoperators and Industrial Robots here.

1958 – Mobile Remote Servo-manipulator – Ray Goertz et al (American)

Mobile Remote Servo-manipulator.

Caption: 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.


In use at Argonne National Laboratories, located outside Chicago, Illinois, USA.

KSB45177 - Copy-x640

A remote control manipulator being demon

Slave unit.

A remote control manipulator being demon

Slave unit in the foreground; master unit in the background.

A remote control manipulator being demon

Source: Above 3 images from Getty.

Publication number    US2978118 A
Publication date    Apr 4, 1961
Filing date    Nov 3, 1959
Inventors    Raymond C Goertz, John H Grimson, Frank A Kohut
Original Assignee    Raymond C Goertz, John H Grimson, Frank A Kohut

Publication number    US3018980 A
Publication date    Jan 30, 1962
Filing date    Nov 3, 1959
Inventors    Downers Grove, Goertz Raymond C, Lindberg John F
Original Assignee    Downers Grove, Goertz Raymond C, Lindberg John F

This invention relates to a remote-control manipulator in which slave and master units are electrically interconnected. More specifically, the invention relates to such a manipulator in which two slave units are mounted side by side on a mobile vehicle.
Goertz et al. Patent 2,846,084, dated August 5, 1958, discloses and claims a manipulator having master and slave units electrically connected with one another. 'With such a manipulator the master and slave units can be extensively separated from one another, and the slave unit can be completely sealed in an enclosure.
The present manipulator is an improvement of that of the above Goertz et al. patent in that two slave units as well as two master units are mounted side by side to take advantage of the two hands of the human operator and the two slave units are mounted on a mobile vehicle so as to reach a maximum amount of space.
One desirable feature of the assembly of two slave units and vehicle is that it takes up a relatively small amount of space so that it may be readily maneuverable and have access to the maximum space. Another desirable feature is that the slave units and vehicle should be readily repairable by another manipulator if operation in a sealed enclosure is indicated.
An object of the present invention is to provide a manipulator unit of compact arrangement and size which enable the unit along with a similar unit and a mobile vehicle carrying the units to occupy a small amount of space.
A further object is to provide a manipulator unit that is so constructed and arranged as to be readily repairable.

Publication number    US2846084 A
Publication date    Aug 5, 1958
Filing date    Jun 21, 1955
Inventors    Goertz Raymond C, Olsen Robert A, Thompson William M
Original Assignee    Goertz Raymond C, Olsen Robert A, Thompson William M

Note: This Remote Manipulator is not MASCOT.

See other early Teleoperators, Exoskeletons and Industrial Robots here.

1958 – Astrotug – Lockheed (American)

Astrotug in Operation – Artist's Conception

The Astrotug

Tugboat for Space: Spaceborne scientific laboratories and platforms for further exploration into space are an accepted concept based on established engineering techniques. Components would be fired  as individual units into space, on precalculated orbits, and there assembled. To solve the major problems of how men are to live and work in space during the assembly process. Lockheed has prepared a detailed engineering design of an astrotug – a manned vehicle housing a crew of two or three. Missile-launched, the astrotug will be capable of supporting its crew for a number of days in an environments of suitable atmosphere, and with provisions for illumination and adequate food and water.
The Lockheed astrotug is a completely independent working vehicle. Personnel need not leave it in space suits in order to work on the project of assembling the space station components. As shown in the diagram, the tug consists of two double-walled pressure vessels approximately 20 feet long overall and 9 feet inside diameter. Swivelling rocket nozzles are arranged for maneuvering. On the forward end, extending out are four mechanical manipulator arms with interchangeable "hands" for such specialized functions as gripping, welding, hammering, cutting, running screws, etc. "Hands" can be changed by remote control from the inside. Viewing ports provide uninterupted observation. Radar antennas, searchlights, and other equipment necessary to the tug's work are mounted externally. Main controls and instruments including radar, radio, infrared, computers and navigational consoles are duplicated in each of the two major compartments as a safety measure.
Men working in single units afloat in space suits would have little applicable force and could work for very limited periods of time. With the Lockheed astrotug, personnel could carry on the work in relative safety and comfort with maximum efficiency. A special reentry vehicle, separate from the astrotug, has been conceived for ferrying to and from earth. Tugs themselved would remain floating in orbit indefinately, being reprovisioned  and refurbished as fresh crews arrive in relief.


Astrotug Inboard Profile

Above 3 images sourced from here.

The 1958 Space Station concept for which the tug was proposed to build.

The 1958 Transit vehicle to bring crew to the Astrotugs.

A 1963 depiction of the Space Station. Note the transition away from the classical 'Wheel' shape.

See other early Teleoperators here.

See other early Lunar and Space Robots here.

1958 – Voice-controlled Lawn Mower – Concept (American)

Image Source: Corbis.

Electricity may do your yard work. One day, by simply speaking into a microphone, you may be able to command an electric "gardener" to mow the grass, cultivate the flower beds, trim the hedge and do other yard work. And all the while you'll be relaxing in the shade.

Power companies build for your future electric living

See other early remote-controlled and robotic lawn mowers here.


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

MASCOT – (MAnipulatore Servo COntrollato Transistorizzato)


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

Later models of MASCOT were made by Elsag Bailey in the early 1990's. The Mascot first produced by the firm SELENIA in Rome.

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.

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


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.

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 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

See other early Teleoperators, Exoskeletons and Industrial Robots here.