Posts Tagged ‘General Electric Robotic Manipulator’

1964 – Aluminaut Submersible – Reynolds Submarine Corp. (American)

1964 – Aluminaut Submersible.


Image source: Manned Submersibles, Frank Bushby, 1976.

The Aluminaut is equipped with external dual manipulators which were designed jointly by Reynolds and the General Electric Company, Schenectady, New York and built by General Electric. Each manipulator handles up to 200 pounds at its full nine foot extension, and both are jointly operated by a single hydraulic power package. This equipment is built from hollow sections of aluminum, and weighs only 150 pounds in air. It is driven by a one horsepower induction motor connected directly to a constant volume pump which produces 3,000 psi working pressure. Four-way solenoid control valves are used with rotary piston type actuators. The power package holds about 11 gallons of hydraulic oil. Since the hydraulic unit is pressure compensated, the oil must resist the cumulative effect of the working pressure plus the ambient pressure.


Aluminaut's manipulators represented the most advanced technological achievement of the late sixties. Each arm has six degrees of freedom. Working together they provide a high degree of versatility. When not in use, the manipulators retract and fold back under the bow. (Bushby)






The working position of the operators and the arms.



The GE CAM technology was further deployed in these manipulator arms developed for the research submarine, Aluminaut.

See GE CAMS technology described here.

See other early Underwater Robots here.

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.

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See other early Teleoperators and Industrial Robots here.

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1961 – Orbital Space Tug – General Electric (American)

GE Orbital Space Tug

The General Electric Company has been active in the manipulator and remote-handling equipment fields for several years. primarily in connection with its nuclear laboratories and test facilities. The application of remote-handling equipment to operations in space and lunar situations is a logical extension the work in remote handling. Remote handling will play a definite role in the exploration of space. Investigations of remote-handling equipment for space operations have indicated that considerable research and development work will be required to produce functional remote-handling systems capable of performing the necessary tasks in space.
A great deal of material has been written about the hazardous nature of the space environment, which precludes the necessity of discussing the reason for remote handling in space. Remote-handling equipment should and will be used wherever possible to eliminate the necessity for directly exposing man to space. Normally, the first approach to design for remote handling for earthbound situations is to avoid it whenever possible. The opposite approach, to make maximum use of remote-handling design principles in designing space vehicles and equipment, may well be required.
The remote-handling equipment still require new design approaches of a revolutionary rather than evolutionary nature.
Many tasks in space may have to be performed by remote-handling equipment. In the near earth orbital region, which ranges roughly from 400 to 600 miles above the earth, there are many proposed programs for satellites, manned vehicles, and space stations which will require utilization of manipulators and remote-handling equipment. Such tasks as assembling and disassembling, loading and unloading. inspecting, testing, handling, checkout, and servicing can be performed by remote means. Remote equipment will undoubtedly play an an part in the maintenance of satellites and space stations (see figure 1). Manipulators might be used as a device for grappling, docking, and mating between vehicles or subassembly sections. Several conceptual vehicles for orbital operations, such as the popular space tug have included manipulators as an integral part of their design.

The broad area of lunar missions will include many applications for remote-handling equipment. In addition to the tasks already mentioned, exploration, sampling,  and experimentation might be performed remotely. The construction and servicing of lunar base facilities,  particularly nuclear power systems, may well be handled by remote equipment. A simple, compact, highty dextrous manipulator may be required as an integral part of a space suit to overcome the problem of the gloved hand and to provide a space-suited man with some semblance of manual dexterity. Wheeled or tracked vehicles capable of lunar surface mobility will use remote-handling equipment to perform a variety of functions (see figure 2). As the conquest of space moves from exploration through economic development to mature economic operation, the projected advances in the state-of-the-art of remote-handling equipment dictate that much equipment will be used to an ever-increasing extent in space.
There are, of course, many problem areas associated with the design and development of remote-handling systems for space applications. A rather detailed analysis of the remote-handling tasks for each specific mission will be required. The problems of force feedback and tactile perception are important in terms of the information furnished to the operator of remote-handling equipment and manipulators, as well as the "body image" and "frame of reference" problems. The competent operation of remote-handling equipment is heavily dependent upon visual access. Should this access be remote or direct using optical or television techniques? The areas of output control, control transducers, and control actuation requires considerable study. Present control actuation methods for manipulators do not appear operable in the space environment. Pneumatic or hot gas actuation systems seem to hold promise for application to manipulators. Similarly, the results of concurrent work in the fields of materials, structures, mechanisms, bearings, and seals for space vehicles and equipment will have to be implemented. Special effort may be required in these areas to solve problems peculiar to remote-handling equipment. Early recognition and definition of all these problem areas are instrumental to development work for space remote-handling systems. Basic research will undoubtedly be required in many of these areas.

Many general design characteristics of manipulators and associated equipment are already apparent. Early space manipulators are expected to be simple with somewhat limited dexterity and force reflection capability. They will be capable of simple, basic movements and operations. The relative simplicity of these early models will necessarily be due to problems with such items as materials, bearings, seals, and control actuation. Also, the size and weight of equipment associated with manipulators, particularly electrically controlled manipulators, limit the complexity and dexterity of these early systems since there is a limit to early booster payload capability. Early remote manipulators will probably be used to position, locate, and place in operation special, self self-contained automatic mechanisms or programmed machines capable of specific operations as required by the specific mission in order to provide the overall remote-handling ssytem capabilitys A new approach to the design of this equipment is required using previous designs and configurations are guide lines rather than as first approximations. The established philosophy of designing vehicles and equipment to be handled or operated on by remote means so as to augment the remote-handling equipment itself will have to be used to a very great extent. This includes consideration of such things as grasping points, register points, orientation indicators, and pilot pins.
As advances are made in the many technologies used in remote handling, equipment will become more complex and capable of a greater variety of operations. The role which remote handling plays in space can be a large and vital one. Just how large depends upon how much timely develupment work can be started to make equipment available when the need for it arises. Careful planning and study, along with the early initiation of development programs, will insure the future of remote-handling equipment in space.

Source: "Survey of Remote Handling in Space", D. Frederick Baker,  USAF, 1962

See other early Teleoperators here.

See other early Lunar and Space Robots here.

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.