Not-So-Famous Firsts in Robot History

August 29, 2019

In his 1920 play Rossum’s Universal Robots, Czech writer Karel Capek coined the word robot, jumping off of the Czech word robota, which means “forced labor.” Here are some interesting robot firsts.

First movie robot: A female robot named Maria is a main character in the 1927 silent science-fiction film Metropolis. That marks the first time a robot would ever appear on the silver screen.

First literary robot: Famed sci-fi author Isaav Asimov published a story called “Robbie” in an anthology called Super Science Stories. That’s the first ever published robo-fiction.

First real robot: Scientists at Stanford University in 1966 built a robot they named Shakey. Considered the first modern, functioning robot, it could be programmed with a series of commands, and then complete the task it was told to complete. (Its actions were limited, however — it could do little more than go from one room to another, and flip a light switch.)

First R.C. robot: In 1969, a robotic system washes the many windows of the Tower of the Americas in San Antonio, Texas. It’s the first practical use of a remote-controlled robot.

First robot who gets the joke. Computer scientists at the University of Cincinnati made a machine in 2007 that can understand that oh-so-human concept of humor. Their robot (more of a software program) is given a load of information, such as vocabulary lessons and the knowledge that some words have multiple meanings. Then, head researchers Julia Taylor and Larry Mazlack tell it a joke. After scanning its data banks for words in the joke with multiple meanings or which humorously sound like other words, the robot can spot what’s supposed to be funny.

First pizza robot. Back in 2013, Domino’s Pizza teamed up with British high-tech aviation company Aerosight to make unmanned robotic airplanes — or drones, as they’re commonly called — to deliver pizzas. On its first run, it successfully delivered a couple of pies to a Domino’s customer.