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1959
Development of the first industrial robot by George Devol and Joseph Engelberger

It weighed two tons and was controlled by a program on a magnetic drum. They used hydraulic actuators and were programmed in joint coordinates, i.e. the angles of the various joints were stored during a teaching phase and replayed in operation. They were accurate to within 1/10,000 of an inch.

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1961
Unimation installed the first industrial robot at GM

The world's first industrial was robot used on a production line at the GM Ternstedt plant in Trenton, NJ, which made door and window handles, gearshift knobs, light fixtures and other hardware for automotive interiors. Obeying step-by-step commands stored on a magnetic drum, the Unimate robot's 4,000 pound arm sequenced and stacked hot pieces of diecast metal. The robot cost US$ 65,000 to make but Unimation sold it for US $18,000.

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1962
The first cylindrical robot, the Versatran from AMF.

6 Versatran robots were installed by American Machine and Foundry (AMF) at the Ford factory in Canton, USA. It was named the Versatran from the words "versatile transfer."

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1967
The first industrial robot in Europe

The first industrial robot in Europe, a Unimate, was installed at Metallverken, Uppsland Väsby, Sweden

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1968
The octopus-like Tentacle Arm was developed by Marvin Minsky

The octopus-like Tentacle Arm was developed by Marvin Minsky

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1969
GM installed the first spot-welding robots at its Lordstown assembly 0plant.

The Unimation robots boosted productivity and allowed more than 90 percent of body welding operations to be automated vs. only 20 percent to 40 percent at traditional plants, where welding was a manual, dirty and dangerous task dominated by large jigs and fixtures.

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1969
Robot vision, for mobile robot guidance, is demonstrated at the Stanford Research Institute

Robot vision, for mobile robot guidance, is demonstrated at the Stanford Research Institute

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1969
Trallfa, Norway, offers the first commercial painting robot

The robots were developed for in-house use in 1967 to spray paint wheelbarrows during a Norwegian labor shortage.

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1969
Unimate robots enter Japanese market

Unimation signs a licensing agreement with Kawasaki Heavy Industries to manufacture and market Unimate robots for the Asian market. Kawasaki regarded the development and production of labor-saving machines and systems as an important mission, and became Japan's pioneer in the industrial robot field.  In 1969, the company succeeded in developing the Kawasaki-Unimate 2000, the first industrial robot ever produced in Japan.

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1970
Hitachi (Japan) developed the world's first vision-based fully-automatic intelligent robot that assembles objects from plan drawings.

The robot could build blocks based on information created from a direct visual image of assembly plan drawings.

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1971
First production line with hydraulic actuated robots at Daimler Benz, Sindelfingen

For Daimler-Benz, KUKA builds Europe's first welding transfer line with robots in 1971. 

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1971
The Japanese Robot Association (JIRA, later JARA) was established.

This was the first national robot association. The Japan Robot Association was formed in 1971 as the Industrial Robot Conversazione, a voluntary organization.  The Conversazione was reorganized into the Japan Industrial Robot Association (JIRA) in 1972, and the Association was formally incorporated in 1973.

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1972
Robot production lines installed in Europe

 FIAT in Italy and Nissan in Japan installed production lines of spot-welding robots.

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1973
First robot to have six electromechanically driven axes

KUKA moves from using Unimate robots to developing their own robots. Their robot, the Famulus was the first robot to have six electromechanically driven axes.

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1973
Scheinemann started production of Vicarm/Stanford arm at Vicarm Inc, USA

The Stanford arm was a robotic arm  that performed small-parts assembly using feedback from touch and pressure sensors. Professor Scheinman, the developer of the Stanford Arm, formed Vicarm Inc. to market a version of the arm for industrial applications. The new arm was controlled by a minicomputer.

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1973
Hitachi (Japan) developed the automatic bolting robot for concrete pile and pole industry.

This robot was the first industrial robot with dynamic vision sensors for moving objects. It recognized bolts on a mold while it is moving and fastened/loosened the bolts in synchronization with the mold motion.

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1974
The first minicomputer-controlled industrial robot comes to market.

The first commercially available minicomputer-controlled industrial robot was developed by Richard Hohn for Cincinnati Milacron Corporation. The robot was called the T3, The Tomorrow Tool.

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1974
The first arc welding robots go to work in Japan.

In Japan, Kawasaki built on the Unimate design to create an arc-welding robot, used to fabricate their motorcycle frames. They also developed touch and force-sensing capabilities in their Hi-T-Hand robot, enabling the robot to guide pins into holes at a rate of one second per pin.

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1974
The first fully electric, microprocessor-controlled industrial robot, IRB 6 from ASEA

With anthropomorphic design, its arm movement mimicked that of a human arm, with a payload of 6kg and 5 axis. The S1 controller was the first to use a intel 8 bit microprocessor. The memory capacity was 16KB. The controller had 16 digital I/O and was programmed trough 16 keys and a four digit LED display. The first model, IRB 6, was developed in 1972-1973 on assignment by the ASEA CEO Curt Nicolin and was shown for the first time at the end of August 1973. It was acquired by Magnussons in Genarp to wax and polish stainless steel tubes bent at 90° angles. 

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1974
Hitachi (Japan) developed the first precision insertion control robot "HI-T-HAND Expert".

This robot had a flexible wrist mechanism and a force feed-back control system. Therefore it could insert mechanical parts with a clearance of about 10 micron.

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1975
The Olivetti "SIGMA" a cartesian-coordinate robot, is one of the first used in assembly applications

The Olivetti SIGMA robot was used in Italy for assembly operations with two hands. 

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1975
ABB developed an industrial robot with a payload up to 60 kg.

This met the demand of the automotive industry for more payload, more flexibility. The robot, called the IRB60, was first delivered to Saab in Sweden for welding car bodies.

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1975
Hitachi (Japan) developed the first sensor based arc welding robot "Mr. AROS".

The robot is equipped with microprocessors and gap sensors to correct arc welding path by detecting precise location of workpieces.

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1976
Robots in space

Robot arms are used on Viking 1 and 2 space probes.

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1977
Hitachi (Japan) developed an assembly cell to assemble vacuum cleaners with 8 TV cameras and two robot arms

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1978
First six-axis robot with own control system RE 15 by Reis, Obernburg, Germany

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1978
Programmable Universal Machine for Assembly (PUMA) was developed by Unimation/Vicarm; USA, with support from General Motors

GM had concluded that 90 percent of all parts handled during assembly weighed five pounds or less. The PUMA was adapted to GM specifications for a small parts handling line robot that maintained the same space intrusion of a human operator.

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1978
Hiroshi Makino, University of Yamanashi, Japan, developed the SCARA-Robot (Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm)

By virtue of the SCARA's parallel-axis joint layout, the arm is slightly compliant in the X-Y direction but rigid in the 'Z' direction, hence the term: Selective Compliant. This is advantageous for many types of assembly operations, i.e., inserting a round pin in a round hole without binding. The second attribute of the SCARA is the jointed two-link arm layout similar to our human arms, hence the often-used term, Articulated. This feature allows the arm to extend into confined areas and then retract or "fold up" out of the way. This is advantageous for transferring parts from one cell to another or for loading/ unloading process stations that are enclosed. In 1981, SCARA robots were launched by by Sankyo Seiki, Japan and Hirata, Japan.

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1979
Nachi, Japan, developed the first motor-driven robots

The spot-welding robots ushered in a new era of electric driven robots, replacing the previous era of hydraulic drive.

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1980
First use of machine vision. At the University of Rhode Island, USA, a bin-picking robotics system demonstrated the picking of parts in random orientation and positions out of a bin.

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1980
Hitachi (Japan) developed the first commercially available all-rotary-type motor-driven articulated "Process Robot (PW-10)".

PW-10's drive system is designed to use only rotary type reducers (without using ballscrews nor drive shafts), with the help of   parallelogram linkage mechanism.

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1981
GM installed "CONSIGHT", a machine vision system.

The first production implementation of the General Motors Consight vision system at the St. Catherines, Ontario, foundry is successfully sorting up to six different castings at up to 1,400 an hour from a belt conveyor using three industrial robots in a harsh manufacturing environment. 

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1981
PaR Systems, USA, introduced its first industrial gantry robot

Gantry robots provided a much larger range of motion than pedestal robots of the day, and could replace several robots. (PaR 50th Anniversary, 2010).

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1982
IBM develops a programming language for robotics, AML.

AML (A Manufacturing Language), a powerful, easily used programming language was developed by IBM, USA, specifically for robotic applications. Using an IBM Personal Computer manufacturing engineers could quickly and easily create application programs.

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1983
Flexible Automated Assembly Lines

Westinghouse issues a research report on APAS, or adaptable-programming assembly systems, a pilot project for using robots in a more flexible automated assembly line environment. The approach uses machine vision in the positioning, orienting and inspection of the component parts.

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1984
Adept, USA, introduced the AdeptOne, first direct-drive SCARA robot

Electric-drive motors connected directly to the arms eliminating the need for intermediate gear or chain system. The simplicity of the mechanism made AdeptOne robots very robust in continuous industrial automation applications, while maintaining high accuracy.

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1984
ABB, Sweden produced the fastest assembly robot (IRB 1000)

It was equipped with a vertical arm, a sort of hanging pendulum robot. The robot could work quickly across a large area without the need to traverse. It was as much as 50% faster than conventional arm robots. (Lars Westerlund, The Extended Arm of Man)

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1985
Wittmann, Austria developed CNC robot

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1985
KUKA introduces a new Z-shaped robot arm whose design ignores the traditional parallelogram.

It achieves total flexibility with three translational and three rotational movements for a total of six degrees of freedom. The new configuration saved floor space in manufacturing settings.

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1985
FANUC developed assembly robots to assemble robots

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1990
In the early 1990s, several manufacturers implement network capabilities and protocols.

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1992
Wittmann, Austria introduced the CAN-Bus control for robots

"In practical terms, these features can add up to faster operations for robot workcells, which is why Wittmann Robot and Automation Systems Inc. of Torrington, Conn., adopted CANbus for all its CNC robots 18 months ago. Sales manager Ken Heyse explains that Wittmann's previous CNC controller, which used a single microprocessor for all robot and peripheral functions, had to perform various subroutines sequentially, potentially interrupting the operation of the robot. CANbus, by contrast, handles data locally. The robot itself, its pendant, stackers, and other downstream equipment all process data in their own microprocessors. Only then does a master controller coordinate all those efforts. In Wittmann's CANbus CNC controls, all the robot programs and related subroutines run simultaneously on the different microprocessors. The result, Heyse says, is a speedier workcell."

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1992
ABB, Sweden, launched an open control system (S4).

The S4 controller was designed to improve two areas of critical importance to the user; the man-machine interface and the robot's technical performance.

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1992
Demaurex, Switzerland, sold its first Delta robot packaging application to Roland.

The first application was a landmark installation of 6 robots loading pretzels into blister trays. It was based on the delta robot developed by Reymond Clavel, Federal Institute of Technology of Lausanne (EPFL).

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1994
Motoman introduced the first robot control system (MRC) which provided the synchronized control of two robots.

MRC also made it possible to edit robot jobs from an ordinary PC. MRC offered the ability to control up to 21 axes. It could also synchronize the motions of two robots.

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1996
KUKA, Germany, launched the first PC-based robot control system.

It was possible, for the first time, to move robots in real time using a 6D mouse on an operator control device. This teach pendant featured a Windows user interface for control and programming tasks.

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1998
Reis Robotics launches the 5. robot control generation ROBOTstar V, with one of the shortest interpolation cycle times for robot controls

Reis Robotics launches the 5. robot control generation ROBOTstar V, with one of the shortest interpolation cycle times for robot controls   

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1998
ABB, Sweden, developed the FlexPicker, the world?s fastest picking robot based on the delta robot developed by Reymond Clavel, Federal Institute of Technology of Lausanne (EPFL).

It was able to pick 120 objects a minute or pick and release at a speed of 10 meters per second, using image technology.

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1998
New features include collision detection to avoid damage and load identification to optimize performance.

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1998
Güdel, Switzerland, launched the ?roboLoop? system, the only curved-track gantry and transfer system.

The roboLoop concept enables one or more robo-carriers to track curves and to circulate in a closed system, thereby creating new possibilities for factory automation.

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1999
First remote diagnosis for robots via Internet by KUKA, Germany

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1999
Reis introduces integrated laser beam guiding within the robot arm

Reis Robotics receives patent on the integrated laser beam guiding through the robot arm and launches the RV6L-CO2 laser robot model.  This technology replaces the need of an external beam guiding device thus allowing to use laser in combination with a robot at high dynamics and no collision contours  

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2002
Reis Robotics enables direct interaction between human workers and robots

Reis Robotics realized the first robotic production cell based on its patented personnel safe robot control. 

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2003
Robots go to Mars

Mars Exploration Rover Mission is an ongoing robotic space mission involving two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, exploring the planet Mars. It began in 2003 with the sending of the two rovers to explore the Martian surface and geology.

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2003
Robocoaster, the first entertainment robot based on an articulated robot by KUKA, Germany

KUKA is the first robot manufacturer to bring people and robots into close contact: in the Robocoaster, the robot whirls passengers around in the air - an extraordinary entertainment ride for amusement parks and events.

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2004
Motoman, Japan, introduced the improved robot control system (NX100) which provided the synchronized control of four robots, up to 38 axis.

The NX100 programming pendant has a touch screen display and is based on WindowsCE operative system

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2006
Comau, Italy, introduced the first Wireless Teach Pendant (WiTP)

All the traditional data communication/robot programming activities can be carried out without the restrictions caused by the cable connected to the Control Unit, but at the same time absolute safety is ensured.

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2006
KUKA, Germany presents the first ?Light Weight Robot?

Developed in cooperation with DLR, Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics, Germany, the outer structure of the KUKA lightweight robot is made of aluminum. It has a payload capacity of 7 kg and, thanks to its integrated sensors, is highly sensitive. This makes it ideally suited to handling and assembly tasks. Due to its low weight of just 16 kg ? the first robot weighted two tons!, the robot is energy-efficient and portable and can perform a wide range of different tasks. 

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2006
Motoman, Japan, launched human sized single armed (7 axis) and dual armed robot (13 axis) with all of the supply cables hidden in the robot arm.

It significantly increases the robot?s freedom of movement. Robots with dual robot arms, offering human-like flexibility in their movements, are ideal for machine tending and assembly?even beverage serving. The Robot Bar grabs national attention.

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2007
Motoman, Japan, launched super speed arc welding robots which reduces cycle times by 15%, the fastest welding robots in existence in 2007.

This speed is achieved with a 40% axis movement increase. Their design reduces air-cut time 30%.

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2007
KUKA, Germany, launched the first long range robot and heavy duty robot with a payload of 1,000 kg

It expands the application possibilities of industrial robots and creates a new class of reach and payload combinations 

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2007
With the first systems realized in 2006, Reis Robotics became market leader for photovoltaic module production lines

Since 2006 the new application field of photovoltaic became an important market for the use of robots 

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2008
FANUC, Japan, launched a new heavy duty robot with a payload of almost 1,200kg

"The M-2000iA is the world?s largest and strongest six-axis robot," said Rich Meyer, product manager, Fanuc Robotics . "It has the longest reach and the strongest wrist? surpassing all other six-axis robots available today. The wrist strength sets a record, but more importantly, allows our customers to move large heavy parts a great distance with maximum stability." 

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2009
Yaskawa Motoman, Japan, introduces control system to sync up to 8 robots

Yaskawa Motoman, Japan, introduced the improved robot control system (DX100) which provided the fully synchronized control of eight robots, up to 72 axis. I/O devices and communication protocols. Dynamic interference zones protect robot arm and provide advanced collision avoidance.

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2009
ABB, Sweden, launched the smallest multipurpose industrial robot, IRB120

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2010
KUKA (Germany) launched a new series of shelf-mounted robots (Quantec) with a new controller KR C4

The Quantec K robots have an extremely low base, allowing a greater lower reach for unloading applications. The new KR C4 controller generation is the first to combine the complete safety controller in a single control system. This allows all tasks to be carried out at once.

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2011
First Humanoid Robot in Space

A Robonaut (R2B) launches up to the International Space Station. R2 is the first humanoid robot in space. Initially R2 was deployed on a fixed pedestal inside the ISS. Next steps include a leg for climbing through the corridors of the Space Station, upgrades for R2 to go outside into the vacuum of space.

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  • 1950
  • 1960
  • 1970
  • 1980
  • 1990
  • 2000
  • 2010

 

IFR compiled a printed version of the brochure on the "History of Industrial Robots" which contains abstracts of the online version. The brochure contains the highlights in an attractive design. Please click on the image to start the download of the pdf (0.9 MB).

Our special thanks apply to Christine Gardner, The Very Idea Graphi Design, for her tireless and creative work on this brochure.