Unimate: The Story of George Devol and the First Robotic Arm

More

For 50 years, George Devol's invention has been speeding up production lines at manufacturing plants around the world

robotpatent.jpg

Last week, at his home in Wilton, Connecticut, George Devol, the inventor of the first industrial robotic arm passed away.

Devol's invention has reshaped production lines around the world. Famously first embraced by the Japanese, robotic arms are now hard at work in the production of everything from cars to pancakes.

Devol received his patent for "Programmed Article Transfer" in 1961. The patent begins:

The present invention relates to the automatic operation of machinery, particularly the handling apparatus, and to automatic control apparatus suited for such machinery.

The first robotic arm was installed at the General Motors plant in Ewing Township, New Jersey, lifting and stacking hot metal parts. The arm weighed 4,000 pounds and cost $25,000. Today, one of the early models is housed by the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, though it is not currently on display.

The Ewing Township plant closed permanently in 1998. In 2010, the Motors Liquidation Company ("Old GM") agreed to provide $10.5 million to clean up the site.


Kasia Cieplak-Mary von Baldegg has up on the Video channel a clip of Unimation Inc.'s president, Joseph Engelberger, demonstrating the robotic arm on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show in 1966.

Image: United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

Just In