This article is from the Robotics FAQ, by Kevin Dowling firstname.lastname@example.org with numerous contributions by others.
The first industrial modern robots were the Unimates developed by
George Devol and Joe Engelberger in the late 50's and early 60's. The
first patents were by Devol for parts transfer machines. Engelberger
formed Unimation and was the first to market robots. As a result,
Engelberger has been called the 'father of robotics.'
Modern industrial arms have increased in capability and performance
through controller and language development, improved mechanisms,
sensing, and drive systems. In the early to mid 80's the robot
industry grew very fast primarily due to large investments by the
automotive industry. The quick leap into the factory of the future
turned into a plunge when the integration and economic viability of
these efforts proved disastrous. The robot industry has only recently
recovered to mid-80's revenue levels. In the meantime there has been
an enormous shakeout in the robot industry. In the US, for example,
only one US company, Adept, remains in the production industrial robot
arm business. Most of the rest went under, consolidated, or were sold
to European and Japanese companies.
In the research community the first automata were probably Grey
Walter's machina (1940's) and the John's Hopkins beast. Teleoperated
or remote controlled devices had been built even earlier with at least
the first radio controlled vehicles built by Nikola Tesla in the
1890's. Tesla is better known as the inventor of the induction motor,
AC power transmission, and numerous other electrical devices. Tesla
had also envisioned smart mechanisms that were as capable as humans.
An excellent biography of Tesla is Margaret Cheney's "Tesla, Man Out
of Time", Published by Prentice-Hall, c1981.
SRI's Shakey navigated highly structured indoor environments in the
late 60's and Moravec's Stanford Cart was the first to attempt natural
outdoor scenes in the late 70's. From that time there has been a
proliferation of work in autonomous driving machines that cruise at
highway speeds and navigate outdoor terrains in commercial
Articles on the history of personal robots:
What ever happened to ... Personal Robots? by Stan Veit The Computer
Shopper, Nov 1992 v12 n11 p794(2)
What ever happened to ... Personal Robots? (part 2) by Stan Veit
Computer Shopper, April 1993 v13 n4 p702(2)
I have the text to these online but am trying to find out if I can
include these as part of the FAQ or as separate files that are