A Timeline History of Robotics





Before 1920In ancient times, the percursors to robots were Automata, the word which was originally an Italian renaissance term for a mechanical device, usually powered by water, windpower or clockwork.  The word Automaton was a plural version and came to mean a self-operating machine and is sometimes extended to include robots.

Automata were conceived and built at a very early time in recorded history.  Early examples are clocks programmed for mechanical actions at specific times (like the latter day cookoo clock) and a statue that could stand from a sitting position and pour drinks for the Pharaoh Ptolemy II by Ctesibius of Alexandria in the 3rd Century BC; the noted scientist and engineer Ibn Ismail ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari of northern Mesopotamia (Iraq) designed and built a working automata boat with four programmable humanoid automata musicians in 1206 AD; Around 1495, Leonardo da Vinci designed an automata knight for the robotic conduct of warfare. An existing example of automata can be experienced at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Strasbourg, France.  It is the third in a series of automata / clocks at the cathedral and was built by Jean-Baptiste Schwilgué from 1836-1843.

Another popular idea for a man-servant fabricated from inanimate matter was the golem of central European Jewish folklore.  The myth is that Golem was a manmade version of God’s creation of Adam from clay. Golem was created by man for the purpose of serving man in the field, doing the tedious work to allow man to have more time for leisure.  The Golem was created in a way that it could do no harm to man, a theme that is carried on in modern robotics and was codified in the 20th century by Isaac Asimov.  But because the Golem was a creation of man and not God, it was imperfect and had failings, including hurting its master.  The folk stories were first published in Gustav Meyrink’s 1915 novel “Der Golem” based on folklore documented by Judah Low ben Bezalel.  

Mary Shelley also was likely influenced by the idea of a golem when she wrote the novel Frankenstein.  

The Meyrink novellette inspired a series of expressionistic silent movies in the early 20th century.  Among those, is a now famous movie made in 1920 and marks the beginning of the modern robot era.

1920Czech film director Paul Wegener’s Golem releases “The Golem: How He Came Into the World” (also released as “The Golem”, 1920 in Czech; released in English in the USA in 1921), one in a series of “golem movies”
1920Czechoslovakian playwright Karel Capek, with likely literary references to the idea of Golem and possibly countryman Paul Wegener’s silent movies, introduces the word robot in the play R.U.R. – Rossum’s Universal Robots.  The word comes from the Czech robota, which means tedious labor. 
1936The French film director Julien Duvivier produced “Le Golem” as a sequel to the Paul Wegener film of 1920.
1939Westinghouse introduces the first robot by name at the New York World’s Fair.  It was called Elektro. Built between 1937 and 1938 in Mansfield, Ohio, it was seven feet tall, weighing 265 pounds.  It had a humanoid appearance, could walk by voice command, talk (using a 78-rpm record player), smoke cigarettes, blow up balloons, and move its head and arms. The body consisted of a steel gear, cam and motor skeleton covered by an aluminum skin. The photoelectric “eyes” could distinguish red and green light.
1942Isaac Asimov publishes “Runaround”, in which he defines the Three Laws of Robotics.  The three laws frequently are referenced in literature and movies involving robots (ex. the 2003 movie “I Robot”).
1946Emergence of the computer portended advances that would allow a robot to perform autonomous operations with electronic versus mechanical encoding of memory and operational logic.  George Devol patented a general purpose playback device for controlling machines, using magnetic recording; J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly built the ENIAC at the University of Pennsylvania – the first electronic computer; At MIT, Whirlwind, the first digital general purpose computer, solves its first problem.
1948Norbert Wiener, a professor at M.I.T., published ”Cybernetics: Or the Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine”, a book which describes the concept of communications and control in electronic, mechanical, and biological systems.
1950“I, Robot”, a collection of nine short stories about humanoid robots and their interactions with humans, by Isaac Asimov, is published by Gnome Press.  “Runaround” is included in the collection. The stories will inspire roboticists for the next 50 years and the name of this collection will be used by both a company and a movie.
1951Erwin Sick introduces the original safety light curtain (termed electric light gate at the time) at the ACHEMA expo in Frankfurt, Germany.  The light curtain later becomes a popular way for robots to achieve their mandate by Asimov in his Three Rules for robots: “do no harm”.
1951In France, Raymond Goertz designs the first teleoperated articulated arm for the Atomic Energy Commission.  The design is based entirely on mechanical coupling between the master and slave arms (using steel cables and pulleys).  Derivatives of this design are still seen in places where handling of small nuclear samples is required.  This is generally regarded as the major milestone in force feedback technology. 



1954George Devol, an industrial engineer looking for ways to improve manufacturing efficiency and automate dangerous and tedious tasks,  designed the first programmable robot and applied for a patent with the U.S. Patent Office; Devol created and used the term Universal Automation to describe his robot design.
1956Joseph Engelberger joins George Devol and they form the first commercial robot company they called Unimation, a concantation of the term coined by Devol.  Engelberger is later to be given the title “Father of Robotics” for his pioneering work in robotics and his lifelong advocacy for robots and publication of foundational research.
1956KUKA of Augsburg, Germany (short for Keller und Knappich Augsburg) builds the first automatic welding systems for refrigerators and washing machines and delivers the first multi-spot welding line to Volkswagen AG
1958The first commercial FANUC NC was shipped to Makino Milling Machine Co., Ltd
1958Computing research at MIT began with Vannevar Bush‘s research into a differential analyzer and Claude Shannon‘s electronic Boolean algebra in the 1930s, the wartime Radiation Laboratory, the post-war Project Whirlwind and Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE), and Lincoln Laboratory‘s SAGE in the early 1950s. At MIT, researches in the field of artificial intelligence began in late 1950s
1959Marvin Minsky and John McCarthy establish the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Laboratory at MIT.
1959The first continuous path NC in Japan was developed. The first electro-hydraulic pulse motor was developed. It was the most important component for FANUC’s open loop systems, forming the basis for FANUC’s progress and leap, as the Japanese NC machine tool industry made a rapid growth
1960Unimation was purchased by Condec Corporation and development of Unimate Robot Systems began.
1960The first open loop NC, FANUC 220 was developed. The NC development in Japan focused first on the “Contouring Control” rather than “Positioning Control”. This was because of cheap labor costs at that time in Japan, which made it more sensible to automate complex shape machining by milling machines, rather than to automate machining by drilling machines
1960American Machine and Foundry, later known as AMF Corporation, markets the first cylindrical robot, called the Versatran, designed by Harry Johnson and Veljko Milenkovic.
1961Unimation is awarded the first robot patent by the U.S. Patent office (originally applied for in 1954).
1962General Motors purchased the first industrial robot from Unimation and installs it on a production line. This manipulator is the first of many Unimates to be deployed.
1962Hanna-Barbera premieres “The Jetsons” on TV in “prime time” inspiring a generation of budding engineers and technologists with dreams of what is to come:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Jetsons
1963John McCarthy founded and led a new Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Stanford University.
1963Project MAC (the Project on Mathematics and Computation, to become Multiple Access Computer, Machine Aided Cognitions, or Man and Computer) was launched with a $2 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Project MAC’s original director was Robert Fano of MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE). Fano decided to call MAC a “project” rather than a “laboratory” for reasons of internal MIT politics
1964Artificial intelligence research laboratories are opened at M.I.T., Stanford Research Institute (SRI), Stanford University, and the University of Edinburgh.
1964C&D Robotics founded. C&D still exists today in Beaumont, Texas
1965Carnegie Mellon University establishes the Robotics Institute.
1965Homogeneous transformations applied to robot kinematics – this remains the foundation of robotics theory today
1967Japan imports the Versatran robot from AMF (the first robot imported into Japan).
1967The first industrial robot in Europe, a Unimate, was installed at Metallverken, Uppsland Väsby, Sweden
1968Kawasaki licensed a hydraulic robot design from Unimation and started production in Japan.  Joseph Engelberger will later become a hero in Japan for his role in modernizing Japan’s industrial production and global manufacturing leadership.
1968Stanford Research (SRI) built Shakey, a very early mobile robot with vision capability, controlled by a computer the size of a room.
1969The first Unimation robots installed at GM Lordstown 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
1970Hitachi (Japan) developed the world’s first vision-based fully-automatic intelligent robot that assembles objects from plan drawings
1969Robot vision, for mobile robot guidance, is demonstrated at the Stanford Research Institute. Advanced machine vision proves to be the key to vehicle autonomy 50 years later
1970Professor Victor Scheinman of Stanford University designs the Standard Arm.  Today, its kinematic configuration remains known as the Standard Arm.  For a transcribed oral biography of Dr. Scheinman:   https://ethw.org/Oral-History:Victor_Scheinman
1971KUKA builds Europe’s first welding transfer line with robots for Daimler Benz
1971The Japanese Robot Association (JIRA, later JARA) was established, the first national robotics association; JIRA was formed in 1971 as the Industrial Robot Conversazione, a voluntary organization
1972FUJITSU FANUC LTD was founded and became independent from FUJITSU LIMITED. CNC was introduced. NC drill was developed.



1973Kuka, an established welding production line manufacturer in Germany, builds its first robot of its own design. Known as FAMULUS; this was the first robot to have six electro-mechanically driven axes, which was to become the standard configuration for industrial robots, as it closely resembles the mechanics of the human arm and allows imitation of motion in production processes
1973Hitachi (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 (later called line tracking); it recognized bolts on a mold while it is moving and fastened/loosened the bolts in synchronization with the mold motion
1973Machinery manufacturer, Cincinnati Milacron, releases the T3, the first commercially available minicomputer-controlled industrial robot (designed by Richard Hohn).
1974Professor Victor Scheinman, the developer of the Stanford Arm, forms Vicarm Inc. to market a version of the arm for industrial applications. The new arm is controlled by a minicomputer, a DEC PDP-10; it is the first robot that performed small-parts assembly using electronic feedback from touch and pressure sensors
1974Bruce Shimano and Brian Carlisle join Scheinman at Vicarm to develop the programming software for his new multi-axis robot arm. Variable Assembly Language (VAL) is developed as a computer-based control system and language. As the first flexible and generic robot programming language, it will become the foundation for all robot programming languages to follow becoming the “Disk Operating System (DOS)” of the robot industry. 

See here for the oral history of Bruce Shimano:  https://ethw.org/Oral-History:Bruce_Shimano   

See here for the oral history of  Brian Carlisle: https://ethw.org/Oral-History:Brian_Carlisle. 

1974Fanuc, an acronym for Fuji Automatic Numerical Control, introduced its first industrial robot.  Fanuc was established in 1956 as a subsidiary of industrial giant Fujitsu and was the first manufacturer of NC machines in Japan.  Fanuc continued to innovate machining equipment and was divested from Fujitsu as an independent subsidiary in 1972.

Industrial robots were developed and installed in the FANUC factory. Dr. Inaba, President of FANUC was rewarded with “the 6th Annual Memorial Award of Joseph Marie Jacquard” by the American NC Society. The production and sale of DC servo motors were started under GETTYS MANUFACTURING CO., INC license

1974Robotic Industries Association (RIA) is founded as a sub-group of Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) to serve the robotics industry. It was founded in 1974 and is headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The organization is involved in safety standards for robots, and sponsors robotics conferences
1974Kawasaki in Japan, which had licensed Unimate since 1969, 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
1974Sweden’s ASEA introduced the first fully electric, microprocessor-controlled industrial robot, IRB 6; with anthropomorphic design, its arm movement mimicked that of a human arm; it had a payload of 6kg and 5 axis; The S1 controller was the first to use an Intel 8 bit microprocessor with memory capacity of 16KB
1975ASEA introduced a 60kg payload arm; 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
1975Hitachi (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
1976Robot arms are used on Viking 1 and 2 space probes; Vicarm Inc. incorporates a microcomputer into the Vicarm design.
1976GENERAL NUMERIC CORPORATION was jointly established in the U.S.A. by FANUC and Siemens A.G.  
1977ASEA offers two sizes of electric powered industrial robots. Both robots use a microcomputer controller for programming and operation.
1977Kicking off what would become an industry with much acquisition and merger, Unimation purchases Vicarm Inc.
1977The Motoman L10 was introduced in 1977. It featured five axis and a maximum workload of 10 kg, which included the gripper. It weighed 470kg. The Motoman L10 was the first robot that Yaskawa introduced on the market. The control system was equipped with a separate programming pendant and was used to record the robot’s position one by one. The control system had a magnetic memory that did not require a backup. New positions, or points, could be added or moved, but it was impossible to erase any of them in the recorded program. Four finished programs could be accessed from separate keys on the programming unit. Using a few points to calculate a straight line or a circle (interpolation) was not possible. It was necessary to record a lot of points in order to complete a welding line.

The programming unit was used to move each robot axis and save its position. When running the program, the robot would assume each position in the same order they were recorded. The control system was the RB. It had the programming capacity of 250 positions and could be extended to 600 and 350 instructions. With 16 input signals and 15 output signals, the RB control system could store 99 robot jobs in magnetic memory. It also featured 63 welding parameters and a weight of 350kg

1978Using technology from Vicarm, Unimation develops the PUMA (Programmable Universal Machine for Assembly); 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;  The PUMA can still be found in many research labs today
1978Brooks Automation founded.  Brooks focuses on semiconductor processing and electronics applications for robots
1979FANUC SYSTEM 6 was the first CNC in the world that featured a large capacity Bubble Memory and multiple number of custom LSIs, thus significantly reducing the number of its parts, enhancing its control capabilities as well as realizing outstanding reliability and cost performance. The advent of Intel’s microprocessor enabled FANUC SYSTEM 6 Series to use it to perform interpolation and transfer tool-position-information, the data of the interpolation, into servo-error-register every 8ms in real time.
1979OTC DAIHEN was known as OTC America. OTC was an acronym for the Osaka Transformer Company. Located in Charlotte, NC, OTC was originally a supplier of welding equipment for other transplant companies. They expanded to become a provider to the Japanese auto market of GMAW supplies. In these early years, OTC Japan introduced its first generation of dedicated arc welding robots.
1979Sankyo and IBM market the SCARA (selective compliant articulated robot arm) developed at Yamanashi University in Japan; this robot arm form factor would become the defacto standard in semiconductor fabs for wafer handling
1979Reis of Obernburg, Germany, develops the first six-axis robot with own integrated control system, the RE15
1980The Motoman RC Control system was introduced in 1980 and gave the ability to control up to six axes. The programming capacity was increased to 1000 positions (600 instructions). The maximum number of jobs stored in magnetic memory was still 99. External memory was on tapes. There was now a total of 22 input signals, 21 output signals, and 127 welding parameters. The later versions of the RG control system enabled circular and linear interpolation, three dimensional shifting of a robot job, and pendular motion. With circular interpolation only three points (two for linear) are needed for the control system to complete a welding line. It was even possible to control it from an external computer, but it was not put to much practical use
1980Japanese company, Nachi, introduces the spot-welding robot which are fully electric (no hydraulics); this ushers in a new era of electric driven robots, replacing the previous era of hydraulic drive
1980Machine vision is proven in a lab application 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



1981Cognex, a machine vision company, is founded.
1981CRS Robotics Corp. founded.
1981Kawasaki develops its own electric robots (P Series)
1981The first production implementation of machine vision, the General Motors Consight 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
1981PaR Systems, a maker of nuclear power plant material handling systems, introduces large scale gantry robots to the market; gantry robots provide a much larger range of motion and payload than pedestal robots of the day, and could replace several robots
1981Intelledex, Inc., founded by Rich Carone of Hewlett-Packard, was a pioneering company engaging in manufacture of robotic and automation systems for the semiconductor and disk drive manufacturing industries. The company was founded in 1981 and was based in Corvallis, Oregon
1982Fanuc of Japan and General Motors form joint venture in GM Fanuc to manufacture and market robots in North America.

FANUC MECHATRONICS S.A. was established in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. The Technical Training Center was opened. GMFanuc Robotics Corporation was jointly established in the U.S.A. by FANUC and General Motors. On July 1, the corporate name was changed from FUJITSU FANUC LTD to FANUC LTD. FANUC AC servo motor was developed. The Motor Factory was completed. 

1982Westinghouse acquires Unimation.
1982Founded in Minneapolis in 1982, PPT Vision specialized in industrial applications for machine vision where accuracy, repeatability, high speed and flexibility were important requirements. They were the world leader in the design and manufacture of completely digital 2D machine vision systems as of their origin and focused heavily in the semiconductor market.
1983Adept Technology is founded.  It was formerly the West Coast Division of Unimation, which became part of Westinghouse after being a division of Consolidated Diesel Electronic (Condec) for many years. However, its roots go back almost 10 years earlier, when company founders Bruce Shimano and Brian Carlisle, both Stanford graduate students, started to work with Victor Scheinman at Stanford’s AI lab.
1983600 FANUC ROBOTICS LIMITED was jointly established in the U.K. by FANUC and The 600 GROUP PLC
1983The world’s first six axis robot, the Motoman L10WA was introduced in 1983. It featured an extra wrist axis called A. The RG control system could handle this robot model and the ordinary L10W with an external axis. However, the L10W models were almost exclusively used with the next generation controller RX.

The RX controller introduced the ability to control up to eight axes, the robot’s six plus two external. The programming capacity was increased to 2200 positions and 1200 instructions and could be extended to 5000 positions. The RX control system had the ability to store 249 robot jobs in memory. It featured 48 input signals, 24 output signals, and 2 analog outlets. The RX controller was the first system with a screen and English text.

The later versions of the RX controller were equipped with modern functions like COM-ARC (seam tracking), multi layer, 3D-shift, and parallel shift. In order to synchronize robot welding with a rotating manipulator the TRT function was developed. Operator safety features included automatic low speed during programming and a teach-lock mechanism which prohibits operation through other equipment than the programming unit

1984After leaving Unimation to Westinghouse, Joseph Engelberger founded Transition Robotics, later renamed Helpmates, to develop service robots primarily for the medical industry.  This was one of the first examples of service robots.
1984Fanuc: Upon completion of the new Head Office, the CNC Factory, the Injection Molding Machine Factory and the Basic Research Laboratory at the foot of Mt. Fuji, the Headquarters was transferred from Hino City, Tokyo. The fully electric plastic injection molding machine, FANUC AUTOSHOT, was developed
1985With an increase in NC equipped machine tools, the demand for low cost CNCs expanded. In 1985, FANUC developed a low cost CNC, FANUC Series 0 for a large-volume low-end machine tool market. The FANUC Series 0 was based on the technologies used in the FANUC Series 6, especially its established and reliable software assets. The C model in the Series 0 featured high-speed computation and functional enhancements with its upgraded 32-bit microprocessors
1985Miller Welding departed from the robotic business. OTC launched the Dynamic Robotic Division and moved the headquarters to Twinsburg, Ohio to focus on selling robots to new users.
1986Kawasaki  terminates its long term relationship with Unimation and develops and produces its own line of electric robots.
1986The Central Technical Center, the Robot Assembly Factory and the Production Technology Laboratory were constructed in the Headquarters area. GE Fanuc Automation Corporation was jointly established in the U.S.A. by FANUC and General Electric. Under the new JV company, three operating companies, i.e., GE Fanuc Automation North America, Inc. in the U.S.A., GE Fanuc Automation Europe S.A. in Luxembourg and Fanuc GE Automation Asia Ltd. in Japan were established. The Asian company was established in 1987
1988BBC Brown Boveri of Zurich Switzerland and ASEA of Stockholm Sweden merge to form ABB.  ASEA robots become known as ABB robots.
1988Stäubli Group purchases Unimation from Westinghouse.
1989Computer Motion founded to develop robotic surgical tools; introduces AESOP for its endoscopic surgical procedure one year later
1989Barrett Technology was founded by CEO Dr. Bill Townsend in 1988 as a boutique business to develop robots based on advanced technologies that work hand-in-hand with people. At that time, removing the barrier between people and robots was a radical concept, far ahead of its time
1989Motoman Inc. is officially formed as a joint venture between Hobart Brothers and Yaskawa Electric with its North American headquarters in Troy, OH
1990iRobot (the name is a reference to the book by Issac Asimov) was founded by Colin Angle, Rodney Brooks and Helen Greiner of MIT’s AI lab.  iRobot designed behavior-based, artificially intelligent robots. Powered by iRobot’s proprietary “AWARE Robot Intelligence Systems”, its robots were designed to navigate through complex and dynamic real-world situations, from maneuvering around furniture to searching abandoned buildings.  iRobot initially focused on work for the U.S. defense department developing battlefield robots
1992FANUC Robot School was established. GM-Fanuc Robotics Corporation was restructured to FANUC’s wholly owned share holding company, FANUC Robotics Corporation, together with its subsidiaries, FANUC Robotics North America, Inc. and FANUC Robotics Europe GmbH. A Prototype of the intelligent robot was built.
1992Wittmann Robot and Automation Systems Inc. of Torrington, Conn., demonstrated distributed control and master-slave control by adopting CANbus for all its CNC robots; CANbus handles data locally; the robot, its pendant, stackers, and other downstream equipment all process data in their own microprocessors; a master controller optimally and speedily coordinates all tasks
1992 Marc-Olivier and Pascal Demaurex created the company Demaurex based in Romanel-sur-Lausanne, Switzerland. After purchasing a license for the Delta robot in 1987, Demaurex, in Switzerland, sold the first delta-type packaging robot in 1992; this 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) and was run by an Adept controller
1992Marc Raibert founded Boston Dynamics, a Simulation and Robotics company as an offshoot of MIT Leg Lab. Raibert founded the Leg Lab, a laboratory fully dedicated to doing research for developing highly dynamic legged robots. Originally, Raibert founded the Leg Lab in the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), but later he moved it to MIT.

The idea of Boston dynamics took shape from this Leg Lab. f Today, it has become synonymous with advanced dynamic robotics.

1993Sensable Technologies founded.
1994CMU Robotics Institute’s Dante II, a six-legged walking robot, explores the Mt. Spurr volcano in Alaska to sample volcanic gases.
1995Intuitive Surgical formed by Fred Moll, Rob Younge and John Freud to design and market surgical robotic systems.  Founding technology based on the work at SRI, IBM and MIT.
1995NASA’s Mars PathFinder mission captures the eyes and imagination of the world as PathFinder lands on Mars and the Sojourner rover robot sends back images of its travels on the distant planet.
1996Kuka splits off its robot design and manufacturing business into an independent subsidiary called Kuka Roboter, GmbH. KUKA Schweissanlagen GmbH becomes a customer; it is called Kuka Flex in North America.
1997Honda showcases the P3, the 8th prototype in a humanoid design project started in 1986.

A new FANUC Servo Motor Factory was constructed. The factory features “robotization” which maximizes its overall operation hours to include night time and holidays, in addition to normal working hours. The longer operation hours result in lower unit costs, enabling us to produce highly competitive servo and spindle motors. Work process is “robotized” whenever and wherever possible, to constantly produce high quality motors and reduce lead time

1998Motoman introduces the XRC controller allowed the control of up to 27 axes and the synchronized control of three to four robots. The Motoman UP series introduced a simpler robot arm that was more readily accessible for maintenance and repair. Honda was instrumental in driving the development of both the UP series of arms and the XRC arm control
1998Vecna Technologies was founded with offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Greenbelt, Maryland
1998ABB, Sweden, launches the FlexPicker, the world’s fastest picking robot based on the delta robot developed at Federal Institute of Technology of Lausanne (EPFL) by Reymond Clavel, previously designed for Demaurex
1998Reis Robotics launches the “5” robot control generation, the ROBOTstar V, with one of the shortest interpolation cycle times for robot controls
1998Reis Robotics receives patent on the integrated laser beam guiding through the robot arm and launches the RV6L-CO2 laser robot model
2000Honda showcases Asimo, the next generation of its series of humanoid robots.
2000Sony unveils humanoid robots, dubbed Sony Dream Robots (SDR), at Robodex.
2000The new FANUC Sheet Metal Factory was completed. Fanuc India Limited was restructured to FANUC’s fully owned company. FANUC now holds 90% of the shares of FANUC INDIA and GE Fanuc Automation NA the remaining 10%. Being the majority shareholder, FANUC has assumed full responsibility for the management of FANUC INDIA
2001Sony releases the second generation of its Aibo robot dog.
2001The new Injection Molding Machine Factory was completed. FANUC LASER SERVICE LTD was established
2001Built 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
2003iRobot launches first practical (non-toy) consumer robot, the vacuum cleaning “Roomba”
2003Seegrid Vision, is the brainchild of world-renowned roboticist Dr. Hans Moravec. After decades of perfecting vision technology at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon, Hans founded Seegrid in 2003, bringing artificial intelligence to materials handling (autonomous navigating vehicles)
2003Intuitive Surgical acquires Computer Motion ending a long-standing legal battle between the two companies over surgical robot patents
2003KUKA 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
2005Universal Robot launched in Odense, Denmark; UR will eventually be known as the pioneer of the Cobot or collaborative robot market;
2003Developed 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
2003Motoman, 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
2007With expiration of the delta robot patents, Adept Technologies introduces its first delta robot, the Quattro
2007Technology incubator Willow Garage assumes responsibility for Robot Operating System, or ROS which was developed as a student project at Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Lab;
2007KUKA, Germany, launched the first long range robot and heavy duty robot with a payload of 1,000 kg
2008Industrial robot industry sees tremendous contraction with the advent of global major recession
2008Rethink Robotics, originally known as Heartland Robotics, Inc.  is founded by co-founded by Rodney Brooks and Ann Whittaker with the goal of creating what are to become known as Cobots
2008FANUC, Japan, launched a new heavy duty robot, M-2000iA, with a payload of almost 1,200kg
2009Industrial Robots reach “lift-off” stage as 60 thousand industrial robots are shipped globally according to International Federation of Robotics (IFR)
2009Clearpath Robotics, Inc., a developer of autonomous industrial vehicles, was founded in 2009 by a group of four University of Waterloo graduates;
2009ABB launched the smallest multipurpose industrial robot to date the IRB120; it is ABB’s smallest ever multipurpose industrial robot weighing just 25kg and handling a payload of 3kg with a reach of 580mm



2010Adept Technologies acquires MobileRobots of Amherst, NH to create the first “arm and legs” technology combination in industrial robotics
2010121,000 industrial robots are shipped globally according to International Federation of Robotics (IFR)
2011166,000 industrial robots are shipped globally according to International Federation of Robotics (IFR)
2012Amazon acquires Kiva Systems mobile robotics business for $775M, the single largest robotics transaction to date
2012The Open Source Robotics Foundation was established to ensure that there was continuity in the work being done with ROS as Willow Garage began to contract
2012159,000 industrial robots are shipped globally according to International Federation of Robotics (IFR)



2013The COBOT “Coming out party” at Automate 2013 in Chicago;  Universal Robot and Rethink face off across aisle from each other to great interest and fanfare
2013Boston Dynamics was acquired by Alphabet, the parent company of Google for an undisclosed amount, along with 8 other robotic companies. Before the acquisition, Google was in the news for its plan to make a robotic division. Thus the 9 robotic companies became a part of Replicant, the new Robotic Division of Google headed by Andy Rubin, the co-founder of Android
Niels Jul Jacobsen, created the first example of what would one day become a MiR autonomous mobile robot using his son’s LEGO bricks. Mobile Industrial Robots was officially founded in Odense, Denmark in May 2013
2013178,000 industrial robots are shipped globally according to International Federation of Robotics (IFR)
2014Cobot company Aubo Robotics is founded in Beijing, China with development center in Changzhou (originally named Smokie Robotics)
2014Reis Robotics GmbH & Co. KG Maschinenfabrik, with its production location in Obernburg am Main, becomes part of KUKA AG
2014Fetch Robotics is founded and is the pioneer of On-Demand Automation — the only solution that deploys safe, reliable, and versatile Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) for the warehousing and intra-logistics markets
2014KUKA AG and logistics and AGV manufacturer, Swisslog Holding AG, merge
2014Seegrid files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection;  assets are eventually acquired by Giant Eagle Foods;
2014221,000 industrial robots are shipped globally according to International Federation of Robotics (IFR)
2015Universal Robots is acquired by US company Teradyne for US$285M. Teradyne is the leading supplier of automated test equipment used to test semiconductors, wireless products, data storage, and complex electronic systems
2015Omron Electronics acquires Adept Technologies of Pleasanton, CA, the robot pioneering company in North America and direct descendant from Unimation, the world’s first robot company
2015Joseph Frederick Engelberger passed away on December 1; he was an American physicist, engineer and entrepreneur. Licensing the original patent awarded to inventor George Devol, Engelberger developed the first industrial robot in the United States, the Unimate, in the 1950s
2015254,000 industrial robots are shipped globally according to International Federation of Robotics (IFR)
2016Seegrid exits bankruptcy with a record sales year
2016Ready Robotics is founded in 2016 by Benjamin Gibbs, Kel Guerin and Jake Huckaby; the trio develops the concept of a new robot operating system called Forge/OS which will unify industrial robotics creating one simple to use, flowchart based programming language that can be applied to all brands of robots and their peripheral devices
2016Universal Robots presents UR+: a unique ecosystem that adds value for the developer community, distributors, and end customers; unites the UR+ Developer Program with a showcase for presenting innovative plug-and-play applications
2016An assembly line robot inventor, former Aragon Robotics Team (ART) mentor, creator of the Scheinman Arm, an early articulated arm and contributor to the first electric Unimation robot arms, Victor Scheinman died of a heart attack at 73 years old in Petrolia, California on Tuesday, Sept. 20
2016294,000 industrial robots are shipped globally according to International Federation of Robotics (IFR)
2016$30B Chinese appliance manufacturer Midea launched a 4.5 billion euro ($5 billion) offer for German robot maker Kuka in May 2016 allowing it to control a 94.55 percent voting stake in Kuka
2017SoftBank, the Japanese telecommunications and technology company buys Boston Dynamics from Alphabet for an undisclosed amount
2017Aethon, manufacturer of autonomous vehicles for intralogistics, entered into an agreement to be acquired by ST Engineering, a $USD 6.68 billion engineering firm, with global operations and strong expertise in mobile robotics. Aethon will become a division of ST Engineering’s US headquarters, VT Systems and will be part of the group’s Land Systems sector which is led by ST Kinetics, who is focused on robot technology innovation
2017Blue River Technology has been acquired by John Deere* for $305 million. The acquisition of the Silicon Valley artificial intelligence and farm equipment making startup by farming’s largest equipment manufacturer (Deere)
2017381,000 industrial robots are shipped globally according to International Federation of Robotics (IFR)
2017In the Year of the Cobot, there are several new product launches at Automate 2017 in March in Chicago: Aubo, which is established in China in 2015, introduces its range of cobots eventually to reach four models from 3kg payload to 16kg
2017Techman of Taiwan also launched its new cobot offering in North America at Automate in Chicago; Techman is “white labeled” by Omron Automation
2017A third new entrant to the cobot space is launched at Automate 2017 is Productive Robotics (Santa Barbara, CA); the OB-7 is featured
2017400,000 industrial robots are shipped globally according to International Federation of Robotics (IFR); this is a new annual record
2017Vecna Robotics raises $13.5M to help fund mobile robot developments for logistics market
2018Maxar Technologies on July 16 purchased Neptec, a Canadian company with robotic expertise deemed useful for in-space activities like satellite servicing and building space stations; Maxar said the 42 million Canadian dollar ($32USD million) acquisition of Neptec will fold the company’s 100 employees into Maxar’s Vancouver, Canada-based MDA division; Neptec will enable Maxar to leverage advanced electro-optical and electro-mechanical systems as well as LIDAR — Light Detection and Ranging — systems for connecting structures in space using guidance and navigation sensors
2018Vecna Robotics raises $13.5M to help fund mobile robot developments for logistics market
2018Rethink declares bankruptcy; robot assets eventually sold to Hahn Group of Germany
2018Teradyne, owner of Universal Robots, acquires Energid Technologies (undisclosed amount) and Danish MiR (Mobile Industrial Robots) for $148 million
2018In September, Brain Corp (“Brain”), an AI company specializing in the development of self-driving technology for robots, partners with Tennant Company, a world leader in designing, manufacturing cleaning products and solutions for maintaining surfaces in industrial, commercial and outdoor environments; this will be an early demonstration of real-world autonomous vehicles
2018Established in 2015, South Korean company Doosan Robotics, Doosan launched its new range of cobots in North America at Automate in Chicago in March
2018421,000 industrial robots are shipped globally according to International Federation of Robotics (IFR)
2019382,000 industrial robots are shipped globally according to International Federation of Robotics (IFR); the 15% reduction over 2018 shipments is due to a developing global recession
2020In January, it was announced a new virus strain dubbed COVID-19, was rapidly spreading in Hubei province in China; it would soon spread around the world with deadly results; with the associated factory lockdowns, the importance of robotics in production becomes even more clear to everyone; robots are subsequently deployed to manufacture test kits and vaccinations
2020In October, Seegrid Corporation acquired Box Robotics, a mobile robotics startup bringing high-definition maps, three-dimensional LiDAR and deep learning to the warehouse and manufacturing automation space
2020Dr. Seiuemon Inaba, founder and honorary chairman of FANUC, passed away on October 2, 2020, at the age of 95. He significantly contributed to the development of the robot industry not only in Japan but also in the world
2020Hyundai spends $880 million for 80% of robotics innovator Boston Dynamics, a company that has been passed between a few different hands;  In 2013, it was bought by Google, and then sold to Softbank in 2017. Softbank maintained a 20% stake in the company after the acquisition by Hyundai
2020Universal Robots Reaches Industry Milestone with 50,000 Collaborative Robots Sold; announced on  December 14
2020384,000 industrial robots are shipped globally according to International Federation of Robotics (IFR) with robot sales resisting the global pandemic recession
2021The year 2021 is destined to become the year of financial deals and acquisitions, especially among mobile robot (AMR) companies
2021Brooks Automation acquires Precise Automation, a Fremont, CA-based developer of collaborative robots and automation subsystems, for about $70 million in cash in April; Precise was founded by robotics pioneers, Brian Carlisle and Bruce Shimano in 2004
In July, Boston area company Novanta Inc. acquires privately held ATI Industrial Automation for $172 million ATI is the market leading supplier of intelligent end-of-arm technology solutions to original equipment manufacturers (“OEMs”) for advanced industrial and surgical robots.
2021Zebra Technologies Corporation, a logistics automation company, in July announced it intends to acquire Fetch Robotics, a pioneer in on-demand automation and mobile robotics platforms./span>
2021In another July deal, ABB acquires ASTI Mobile Robots, a leading global autonomous mobile robot (AMR) manufacturer with a broad portfolio across all major applications enabled by the company’s software suite.
2021In September, Locus Robotics, a leader in autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) for fulfillment warehouses, announced that it acquired Waypoint Robotics, an industry leader in industrial-strength, autonomous, omnidirectional mobile robots
2021435,000 industrial robots are shipped globally according to International Federation of Robotics (IFR); this establishes a new annual record
2022In March, Fanuc Automation announces the expansion of its CRX cobot product line to include (4) new models extending the product range from 5kg payload to 25kg, which is the largest payload cobot on the market; combined with the older CR series (green) cobots, Fanuc offers eight models from 4kg to 35kg payload
2022In April, Futura Automation launches its range of “Simple Solutions” for robots and cobots in manufacturing; the range of applications uses standard “off the shelf” components with minimal engineering and cost required for customer implementation; the first solution released is for Vertical Mill Machine Tending, the F-A-R VM101