Robotics Research Group

Designing robot assistants to help people

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Robotics History Timeline

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Around 1495, before he began work on the Last Supper, Leonardo Di Vinci designed the first humanoid robot.

The word "android" is entered in the Chambers Cyclopædia recording German philosopher and alchemist Albertus Magnus’ (c1200-1280) attempts to create an “androides “. (An automaton resembling a human being. artificial being.).

Joseph Jacquard builds an automated loom that is controlled with punched cards. Punch cards are later used as an input method for some of the 20th century’s earliest computers.
Charles Babbage demonstrates a prototype of his "Difference Engine" to the Royal Astronomical Society. He continues his work by designing an even more ambitious project the “Analytical Engine" that reportedly was to use punch cards inspired by Joseph Jacquard's invention.

Nikolai Tesla demonstrates the first remote-controlled vehicle. The remote-control boat could be commanded to go, stop, turn left and right, turn its lights on and off, and even submerge. The public was not impressed. Press reports spoke of “mind control”, which didn't help Tesla's scientific reputation.

The word ROBOT is used for the first time in the context of mechanical people in a play called "R.U.R (Rossum's Universal Robots)” by Czech dramatist Karel Capek. These are intelligent machines meant to serve their human makers. But the play ends dramatic as robots took over the world and destroyed humanity. Capek called these powerful beings "Robota" meaning “slave or forced labour”. He distinguishes the robot from man by the absence of emotion.

Fritz Lang's movie "Metropolis" is released. "Maria" the female robot in the film is the first robot to be projected on the silver screen. Maria is considered the precursor to Star War's C-3PO.

Issac Asimov is generally credited with the popularization of the term "Robotics" which was first mentioned in his story "Runaround" in 1942. His most important contribution to the history of the robot is the creation of his “Laws of Robotics”.

First presentation of the concept of a stored program (John von Neumann) and generic re-programmability of computers.
The first general-purpose digital computer, dubbed Whirlwind, solves its first problem at M.I.T.

The transistor is invented by Shockley, Bardeen and Brattain.

British robotics pioneer William Grey Walter creates autonomous machines called Elmer and Elsie that mimic life-like behaviour with very simple circuitry. These are the first “turtle” robots.

Alan Turing publishes Computing Machinery and Intelligence in which he proposes a test to determine whether or not a machine has gained the power to think for itself (The "Turing Test"). Since then each year a contest is held between various software developers to determine how close they have come to the true Turing Machine. 

The first Numerically Controlled (NC) machine is built at MIT by John T. Parsons. It is connected to Whirlwind (See 1946). It was used to make ashtrays for visiting guests.

George Devol and Joe Engleberger design the first programmable robot "arm". This development led to the development of the first industrial robot “UNIMATE” in 1961.

The first industrial robot (UNIMATE) is installed in a General Motors automobile factory in New Jersey. The assembly line robot is controlled step-by-step by commands stored on a magnetic drum; the 4,000-pound arm sequenced and stacked hot pieces of die-cast metal.

The first artificial robotic arm to be controlled by a computer is designed at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital in Downey, California as a tool for the handicapped. The Rancho Arm’s six joints gave it the flexibility of a human arm. 

Homogeneous transformations first applied to robot kinematics.

Victor Scheinman, a Mechanical Engineering student working in the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL) creates the Stanford Arm. It was the first successful electrically powered, computer-controlled robot arm. By 1974, the Stanford Arm could assemble a Ford Model-T water pump, guiding itself with optical and contact sensors. 

Shakey created at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). It is the first mobile robot controlled by artificial intelligence. Equipped with sensing devices driven by a problem-solving program called STRIPS, the robot could find its way around by applying information about its environment to a route. Shakey used a TV camera, laser range finder, and bump sensors to collect data, which it then transmitted to a DEC PDP-10 and PDP-15. The computer radioed back commands to Shakey — who then moved at a speed of 2 meters per hour. 

Star Wars is released. George Lucas' movie introduces viewers to R2D2 and C3PO. The movie creates the strongest image of a human future with robots since the 1960's and inspires a generation of researchers.
ASEA, a European robot company, offers two sizes of electric powered industrial robots. Both robots use a microcomputer controller for programming and operation. 

Seymour Papert publishes Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas where he advocates constructivism, or learning through doing. 

Takeo Kanade builds the direct drive arm. It is the first to have motors installed directly into the joints of the arm. This development makes joints faster and much more accurate than previous robotic arms.

Fanuc of Japan and General Motors form a joint venture: GM Fanuc. The new company is going to market robots in North America.   

LEGO and the MIT Media Lab collaborate to bring the first LEGO-based educational products to market.
Honda begins a robot research program that's starts with the premise that the robot "should coexist and cooperate with human beings, by doing what a person cannot do and by cultivating a new dimension in mobility to ultimately benefit society". They start with the experimental “E-series” between 1986 and 1991.

A walking robot named Genghis is unveiled by the Mobile Robots Group at MIT. It becomes known for the way it walks, popularly referred to as the "Genghis gait". 

Dante an 8-legged walking robot developed at Carnegie Mellon University descends into Mt. Erebrus, Antarctica. Its mission is to collect data from a harsh environment similar to what we might find on another planet. The mission fails when, after a short decent, Dante's tether snaps dropping it into the crater.
Seiko Epson develops a micro robot called Monsieur, the world's smallest micro robot as certified by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Robotics Institute's Dante II, a more robust version of its predecessor, descends into the crater of Alaskan (USA) volcano Mt. Spurr to sample volcanic gases. The mission is considered a success.  

The Robotics Group is formed in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Auckland, with its first mobile robot platform the Maxifander.

RoboTuna (a robot fish) is designed and built by David Barrett for his doctoral thesis at MIT. It is used to study the way fish swim.
Chris Campbell and Dr. Stuart Wilkinson turn a brewing accident into inspiration at the University of South Florida. The result is the Gastrobot, a robot that digests organic mass to produce carbon dioxide that is then used for power. They call their creation the "flatulence engine". Later a more conventional nickname is given: "Chew Chew".

The first RoboCup football tournament is held in Nagoya, Japan.
The Pathfinder Mission lands on Mars. Its robotic rover Sojourner, rolls down a ramp and onto Martian soil in early July. It continues to broadcast data from the Martian surface until September.

Scottish hotel owner Campbell Aird is fitted with the world's first bionic arm. 
LEGO releases their first Robotics Invention System. LEGO names the product line MINDSTORMS after Seymour Papert's seminal work of 1980.
Tiger Electronics introduces the Furby for the Christmas toy market. It quickly becomes "the toy" to get for the season. Using a variety of sensors this animatronic pet can react to its environment and communicate using over 800 phrases in English and their own language "Furbish".

Sony builds Aibo. One of the first robots intended for the consumer market. It reacts to sounds and has some sort of preprogrammed behavior. It sells out within 20 minutes of going on sale.

The Robotics Group updates its flagship mobile robot to the B21r.
Honda debuts a new humanoid robot “ASIMO”, the next generation of its series of humanoid robots. See 1986 and 1991 for the earlier series.
October, The UN estimates that there are 742,500 industrial robots in use worldwide. More than half of these are being used in Japan. 

Built by MD Robotics of Canada, the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) is successfully launched into orbit and begins operations to complete assembly of International Space Station.
The Robotics Group jointly receives a VC's grant to develop a prototype, portable, field DNA processing system.
“Sumo Sam”, a 2-servo walking robot used by students at The University of Auckland. Sumo Sam used the world’s cheapest servos. His name comes from his distinctive walking style.

Honda's ASIMO was the first robot that could walk independently with relatively smooth movements and could climb the stairs.
Honda's ASIMO robot rings the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. 
Sumo Sam at the University of Auckland was extended to include a vision system.
The DARPA Grand Challenge race for autonomous ground vehicles is announced. The first race is scheduled for March 2004.

The Robotics lab at the University of Auckland use their B21r research robot for navigation research.
Augmented reality research begins at the University of Auckland, Robotics lab.
A UN report predicts vacuuming robots will number 400,000 by 2006.
The International Federation of Robotics report the global market for Intelligent Service Robots is valued at $US400 million.

Epson releases the smallest flying robot. Weighing 0.35 ounces (10 grams) and measuring 2.8 inches (70 millimeters) in height, the Micro Flying Robot is unveiled as the world's lightest and smallest robot helicopter.
The Robotics lab at the University of Auckland begin using their latest teaching robot—the Shuriken. This 3-wheeled robot can move in any direction and can rotate. Student Luke Gumbley describes the Shuriken as “Cool”.
The first DARPA Grand Challenge race is held. This race for autonomous ground vehicles over 143-miles in the desert south-west of the United States is called off after the most successful team made it only 7 miles.
Honda’s ASIMO visits Big Boys Toys in Auckland.
The UNECE estimates the number of installed robots to be around 800,000 (Not counting small service or entertainment robots.).
The millionth Roomba vacuuming robot is shipped – blowing away the 2003 UN prediction of 400,000 by 2006.

The University of Auckland Robotics Group acquires a new, dedicated laboratory, and seed funding for 7 new Pioneer robots, which complement the B21r and various other research robots, as well as robot visualisation equipment and human-robot interaction equipment.
It is generally acknowledged that the Robotics Lab has the best toys in the sandpit.
Researchers at Cornell University claim to have built the first self-replicating robot using an array of computerized cubes.
The Shuriken robot gets an upgrade at the University of Auckland. It now has optical odometry, a magnetic compass and a second processor.
A new Robotics and Intelligent Systems elective is introduced for postgraduate and final year undergraduate students.
A New Zealand entry (Grand Challenge New Zealand) is one of 195 teams to enter the DARPA Grand Challenge 2005 race. They achieve a quarter final placing after 4 months of work. In October the second DARPA Grand Challenge was held. Robotic cars travelled autonomously across 140 miles of desert race track. See
More than 20 postgraduates have now completed their theses in the Robotics Group.
According to the International Federation of Robotics the global market for intelligent service robots is expected to be $US 2.2 billion.

A second robotics paper is introduced in semester 2: Advanced Intelligent Systems.
Sony retires the AIBO and QRIO household service robots.

The DARPA Grand Challenge: Urban challenge will see robotic cars compete in various challenges in simulated urban environments. New Zealands entry is the Grand Challenge Nomadz.

Japan's Mitsubishi Research Institute believes household robots will begin to penetrate the market in earnest in 2010. Predictions on the size of the Intelligent Service Robot industry in 2010… $US20billion (Japan Machinery Federation); $US24.3billion (International Federation of Robotics); $US70 billion (Korea's Ministry of Commerce)

The Intelligent Service Robot industry grows to the same size as the IT industry in 2005 (Think of the number of jobs in IT now…. The same number of jobs will be available in Robotics by 2020.)
Japan's Mitsubishi Research Institute predicts that each household would own at least one robot by 2020.

We thank Grant Sargent for the information provided.