Posts Tagged ‘Industrial Manipulator’

1960 – “Homobile” Lunar Rover – Hugo Gernsback (American)

In 1960, the indefatigable Gernsback came out with another lunar rover design. He called it the “Homobile.” It had a pressurized cabin mounted on tracks and powered by electricity from fuel cells, with a leg-powered generator as an alternate source of energy. The cabin also had a pair of manipulator arms.

Source:Originally from “1961 Forecast”, 1960 pp8-11 by Hugo Gernsback.

Similar illustrations from an early book of space travel and a Sci-fi magazine.


Illustration from Première Croisière Sur La Lune by Fletcher Pratt, 1952.


Illustration by Frank R. Paul, Fantastic Adventure, 1940.

See other early Space Teleoperators here.

See other early Lunar Robots here.

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1948 – GE Master-Slave Manipulator – John Payne (American)


1948 GE Master-Slave Manipulator – John Payne

Patent number: 2476249 (see here)
Filing date: Nov 24, 1948
Issue date: Jul 1949

Mechanical Hands with Remote Control
The village blacksmith of Longfellow may have had "muscles like iron bands," but scientist John Payne of General Electric has done him one better; he has arms and hands made of steel, and what's more, he can operate his from the next room.
His device has an important function of course; with it he can handle remotely the hot, radioactive materials used in atomic research at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory at Schenectady, NY. His "hands" can perform delicate chemical experiments, operate machine tools and do countless other tasks involving great dexterity. In use the metal manipulators extend over a wall impervious to the harmful radiations, and reach into the radio-active area to handle the material.  The operator remains in a separate control room and atches the operation by means of mirrors.

Dexterity showing a drill brace.

Operator yards away guides mechanical hands, without usual mirrors, in putting nut on bolt.
Seven-League Hands For Hot Atoms
PS Photos by Hobert Lushest
REMEMBER the sailor in the picture "The Best Years of Our Lives"—the boy who had lost his own arms but could do almost anything you can do with his "hooks"? That sailor's hooks are now a vital tool in atomic research. As the "hands" at the ends of long steel arms in General Electric's new remote manipulator, they reach over a high, thick wall to hold deadly radioactive "hot stuff"—picking it up, performing experiments with it, and operating tools on it —all at the command of a human operator sitting yards away safely behind the wall.
It all began last year when John Payne, GE research associate, toured the plutonium works at Hanford, Wash. He was impressed by the remotely controlled devices that handled intensely radioactive materials from behind shields. But he felt something was missing: there were many special-purpose devices, but no versatile gadget that could do all the jobs a man does with his hands. That night Payne went to a movie—you guessed it, "The Best Years of Our Lives." Back in Schenectady he started figuring. The result is a gigantic yet simply operated machine that can do the things human hands do. It runs machine tools, pours chemicals, fastens screws and bolts, even peels bananas. In every atomic laboratory from Berkeley to Brookhaven it is known as The Machine that Can Undress a Babe without Pinching.
For artist's conception of remote manipulator setting up dangerously radioactive material in lathe inside hot laboratory, turn to next page.

Sketch Shows Hands In Use

Source:Popular Science, June 1948

See other Early Teleoperators and Manipulators here.

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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.

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. "

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1954, March – “Positioning or Manipulating Apparatus” patent by Cyril Kenward (British)

Another early patent that looks surprisingly modern was granted for a robot called 'Improvements in or relating to Positioning or Manipulating Apparatus' invented by Cyril W. Kenward. The British patent was filed March 29, 1954 and was published August 21, 1957, and preceded George Devol's first robot patent by several months. It is an interesting parallel that Britain, birthplace of the machine tool industry, would also pioneer the idea of robotics.
Hydraulically powered, this dual arm, gantry mounted robot was years ahead of its time. The patent even speaks of robot self-replication. Featuring detachable grippers and gantry mounting, it could well be used as an illustration for a current research contract proposal. Another key feature of this design was complete internal porting of hydraulics and internal wiring, problems that went unaddressed in early hydraulic robots and often is not achieved in modern day hydraulic robots. Figure above shows the six-axes, hydraulically powered arm in cross section.

Text source: Robot Evolution: The Development of Anthrobotics By Mark E. Rosheim, 1994

Interesting that some comments made around this patent is that it was not successful.  It should be noted that the patent was only a British patent, and not filed in the US or other countries. When the "Versatran" and "Unimate" robots were to be imported into the UK in 1967, these clearly infringed the Kenward patent. It was reported at the time that this matter was resolved by a "cash payment". Further, the author of the article, Douglas Hall, adds "It did, however, illustrate how people in britain often have good ideas for inventions but then have to sit on the sidelines as noone is prepared to back them".