Poor Atlas. The robot developed by Google-owned Boston Dynamics in Massachusetts was subjected to a torrid stream of abuse in a recent promotional video. However, his refusal to be put off course was a timely reminder that robotics will continue to play a key role in manufacturing.
Atlas demonstrated that he is tough and forgiving, which are two facets the manufacturing industry absolutely relies on. A tired, easily-beaten robot is no use to any business attempting to develop and build the best products possible.
The role of robotics in manufacturing can loosely be divided into two ages. In this post, we’ll look at the rise of the early industrial robot and the modern variant Atlas is more closely related to.
Robotics in manufacturing: 1954 – 1979
The first robots to grace planet Earth were relatively simple creatures designed to perform one or two very simple, repetitive tasks. ‘Intelligence’ was somewhat on the low side, as was the ability to operate autonomously without the aid of several operators and minders. In short, they needed help.
Early robotics didn’t lend itself to a great deal of freedom, either. While Atlas can right himself after a nasty push to the back and stop stumbling when walking across rough terrain, the robots of the 50s and 60s could never stray off course. If they did, there wouldn’t have been much left of them.
The first industrial robot appeared in 1954 and was designed by a chap called George Devol. Its skills extended as far as transferring items from one location to another over the distance of a few feet.
In 1962, the first robot to be used by a major manufacturer – General Motors – appeared and marked the start of the robotic revolution.
Throughout the 70s, the rate at which new robotic technologies hit the market increased considerably, spawning the first fully electronic-driven robot and those which could carry significant weight over longer distances.
Things were getting rather exciting.
Robotics in manufacturing: 1980 – present day (and beyond!)
The 1980s saw industrial robots begin production in mass numbers. In fact, a new robot was being introduced every single month, and they were getting smarter, thanks to the introduction of microprocessing.
Computing power gave the robots of the 80s and 90s the one thing they’d always lacked previously: freedom. As a result, they could be tasked with more impressive jobs which were undertaken faster and more precisely than ever before. Automation was also fast becoming a reality.
As time wears on, intelligence is the key focus for robotics engineers. This is great news for manufacturing, because the complexity of modern construction and the sheer number of materials and tools involved relies on robots which have near ultimate freedom to perform tasks quickly and make ‘decisions’ when something goes wrong. Imagine a robot being able to select the right screwdriver!
Atlas could easily be dismissed as purely a display of technical prowess, but the skill with which he evades ridicule and solves problems dealt by his cruel handler is an indication of the way in which robots will evolve for manufacturing. Personally, we can’t wait!