Famous robots from the last 100 years

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April 11, 2019
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Famous robots from the last 100 years

Robots are often the subjects of Hollywood's sci-fi craze. From mystery dramas like "Ex Machina" to family flicks like "WALL-E," robots have captured our collective imagination. While sensationalized depictions of robots can become box office hits, these portrayals lead viewers to develop unrealistic expectations about robots. Some people envision metallic figures with superhuman strength, while others worry about automated beings taking jobs away from the humans who built them.

According to a Pew Research study measuring Americans' perceptions of robots and computers competing for jobs, 72% of respondents expressed some worry about this competition, and 85% of people supported limiting the use of robots to jobs considered dangerous or dirty. Despite these beliefs, sales of robots in the U.S. grew by almost 16% in 2018, with more American companies installing robots than ever before. In stark contrast, robots are viewed as a solution rather than a threat in Japan. Robots and computerized machines are being used to help solve the country's ongoing labor shortage and have become ingrained in Japanese culture.

Even if we don't notice it, robots have become a part of everyday life and provide value for millions of Americans. From robotic machines administering life-saving radiation therapy to robotic vacuums cleaning your carpets, robots are here to stay.

To better understand robots, the researchers at Stacker poured through company websites and historical documents to find 50 famous robots from the last century. The robots are listed in chronological order, from oldest to newest. Robots created in the same year are ranked alphabetically.

Some of the robots to make the list have contributed to health and science research, while others, like the talking trash can, add a comical element to the misunderstood technology. From rudimentary robots to backflipping animaloids, these are some of the most famous robots from the last 100 years.

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1928: Eric

In 1928, Eric became the UK's first robot. Eric toured Britain and the world with its creators W. H. Richards and A. H. Reffell, and onlookers viewed Eric as a robotic celebrity. Since its debut in 1928, Eric has disappeared without a trace.

1929: Gakutensoku

Makoto Nishimura invented Gakutensoku for an exhibition celebrating Emperor Hirohito's ascension to the throne. Unlike other robots thought to be scary and menacing, Gakutensoku was created to be the ideal robot—its name means “learning from natural law.”

1937: Elektro

Westinghouse Electric Corporation developed Elektro from 1937 to 1938. The robot stood 7 feet tall and shocked Americans with its ability to speak and smoke.

1949: George

George was a radio-controlled, 6-foot-tall robot made from scrap metal. Its creator, 19-year-old Tony Sale, built the robot during his spare time for only £15.

1956: Unimate

Unimate is thought to be the first industrial robot. Created in 1956, the robot finally hit the assembly line in 1961 at General Motors. This invention was the first of its kind to complete tasks deemed dangerous for humans.

1957: Ladybug of Szeged

The Ladybug of Szeged, also known as the Ladybird of Szeged, was built by Daniel Muszka and Laszlo Kalmar in Hungary in 1957. The first animal-like robot to make the list, the Ladybug of Szeged resembles a ladybug, and the spots on its back are sensitive to touch.

1970: Lunokhod 1

Lunokhod 1 was the first successful robotic lunar rover to land on the moon. The Soviet rover landed on the lunar surface on Nov. 17, 1970. The rover sent invaluable data and images back to researchers on Earth. Two years later, Lunokhod 2 successfully explored the moon as well.

1972: Shakey the robot

SRI's Artificial Intelligence Center developed Shakey the Robot between 1966 and 1972. Named for its unstable gait, Shakey could rearrange objects and perform other simple tasks. SRI continued to focus on AI and created Flakey, Shakey's descendent, in 1984.

1979: Bigtrak

Milton Bradley's robotic toy, Bigtrak, was first made available for purchase in 1979. The toy's keypad could be used to program the device to perform up to 16 commands. In 2010, Bigtrak Jr., a smaller version of the retro toy, was released to consumers.

1981: Canadarm

Canadarm is Canada's robotic claim to fame. Canadarm was a series of arms used on the Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-2), and its arms were built like human arms, with shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints.

1982: HERO

HERO stands for Heathkit Educational Robot, a build-your-own-robot kit released in 1982. Robot enthusiasts could program the robot to move and sense external stimuli like light and sound.

1985: Robotic Operating Buddy

The Robotic Operating Buddy, or R.O.B. for short, was Nintendo's attempt at bringing robotics and video games together. R.O.B. could join in the fun and act as the second player in Nintendo games.

1989: Robosaurus

Robosaurus stands at 40 feet tall and weighs in at more than 36,000 pounds. The fire-breathing robot resembling a dinosaur was created by Doug Malewicki, a seasoned inventor.

1990: Cyberknife

Cyberknife conducts radiosurgery on cancer patients. This robot uses images to target X-rays into specific regions of the body. The first “image-guide radiosurgery treatment” was conducted by a Cyberknife in 1994.

1995: PUSH the Talking Trash Can

Unlike other robots developed for technological and medical advancements, PUSH the Talking Trash Can entertained guests at Walt Disney World in Florida until 2014. PUSH fulfilled his duties at the theme park for nearly two decades, before his contract expired.

1995: RoboTuna

RoboTuna is the brainchild of MIT students looking to develop a propulsion system for submarines. RoboTuna is modeled after the Atlantic bluefin tuna, and has 2,843 parts including ribs, tendons, and vertebrae.

1997: Mars Pathfinder

The Mars Pathfinder journeyed through space for seven months before successfully landing on Mars on July 4, 1997. The Pathfinder collected more than 2 billion data points over three years and compiled evidence suggesting water once existed on the red planet.

1998: Razer

Razer is both a robot and a reality TV star. Razer competed on Britain's “Robot Wars,” a robot combat show, and won over 40 battles and seven championships.

1999: AIBO

Sony's AIBO resembles a dog, and can perform actions based on “external stimuli and according to its own judgement.” Since Sony released the toy in 1999, it has continued to iterate on the robot; the newest AIBO is available to purchase for nearly $3,000.

2000: Poo-Chi

Poo-Chi is yet another robo-dog to make the list. Sega Toys released Poo-Chi in 2000, and when it hit the market, Poo-Chi could respond to human actions by barking, standing, and singing to its users.

2000: ASIMO

Honda developed this humanoid robot known as ASIMO. ASIMO can run and walk and respond to some voice commands. Honda's researchers worked for over 20 years to create a robot that could replicate human motion.

2001: Leonardo

Created by MIT's Cynthia Breazeal, Leonardo is a robot that resembles a furry, small animal. Breazeal worked with the Stan Winston Studio, the studio behind the “Jurassic Park” dinosaurs, to make the mini robot come to life.

2001: Paro

Paro is a small, cuddly robot made to look like a harp seal. Nursing homes and memory care centers use Paro with dementia patients. Research has shown dementia patients may benefit from holding animal-like robots.

2001: Electrolux Trilobite

The Electrolux Trilobite was the first self-operating vacuum cleaner in the world. The self-charging vacuum navigated through rooms using ultrasound.

2002: Roomba

After building military-grade robots for decades, iRobot ventured into the consumer sector, launching its robotic vacuum cleaner called Roomba. Since the Roomba launched in 2002, iRobot has launched the Scooba, Dirt Dog, and a slew of other robots to make household chores a breeze.

2002: Inkha

Matthew Walker of King's College London built Inkha in 2002. The robot is a receptionist with the ability to act bored. Inkha has a unique look compared to other robots on this list; the robotic receptionist dons large red lips and long eyelashes.

2003: Actroid

Actroid, a shockingly realistic android, was created by Japanese company Kokoro in 2003. Since the conception of Actroid, more human-like robots have been created, each becoming more lifelike than the rest.

2003: Opportunity

Mars Rover Opportunity is one of the most famous rovers in U.S. history. Opportunity landed on the red planet in January 2004, and despite only being expected to last 90-100 Martian days, the rover surpassed all expectations and traversed the planet for over 14 years.

2003: QRIO

Sony followed AIBO the robotic dog with QRIO. QRIO is a small, durable, entertainment-based robot resembling humans. Unlike its animaloid counterpart, however, QRIO was never released to consumers.

2003: Spirit

Opportunity wasn't alone on Mars. Spirit, another Mars rover, made the journey to the red planet with Opportunity. Spirit operated on Mars until 2010, when it got stuck in rugged terrain.

2004: Robot Jockey

In the early 2000s, Swiss company K-team was tasked with creating robot jockeys for camel racing in the Middle East. The company manufactured the robots to look and feel like the child jockeys used in the sport.

2004: iCub

iCub is a child-like humanoid robot developed by EU researchers who set out to create a robot capable of learning on its own. iCub has proven it can learn human movements like crawling and balancing.

2005: TOPIO

While some robots on this list conduct surgery or traverse other planets, TOPIO was created to play ping pong. TOPIO is a lifesize human-like robot with built-in cameras that allows it to see and react to ping pong balls hit by opponents.

2005: BigDog

Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and built by Boston Dynamics, BigDog is an animal-like robot capable of maneuvering through tough terrain and weather conditions. BigDog has four legs, is gasoline-powered, and can carry 45 kilograms.

2005: Scooba

Scooba is iRobot's second venture into household chore-related robots. Following its vacuuming predecessor Roomba, Scooba was created to mop and clean floors.

2007: Orb Swarm

Orb Swarm, a literal swarm of spherical robots, were created for Burning Man. According to Orb Swarm's website, the orbs are guided by GPS and computer controls.

2008: Dextre

The Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, fondly known as Dextre, is another robot on this list that journeyed into space. Dextre works on the International Space Station as a robotic handyman, where it fixes cameras, replaces batteries, and assists in other upkeep.

2010: Geoff Peterson

Geoff Peterson was Craig Ferguson's robotic sidekick on CBS's “The Late Late Show.” Geoff had a unique appearance, sporting a skeleton for a body, a mohawk, and an ill-fitting suit.

2011: Curiosity

NASA's Curiosity was developed to determine if Mars could support microbial life. While on the red planet, Curiosity found rock samples containing oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen, among other key chemicals required to support life.

2012: Kuratas

Kuratas is a megabot big enough to fit an adult human inside. The 13-foot hunk of metal, named after its creator Kogoro Kurata, has brawled against American robot Eagle Prime.

2012: HAL

HAL, also known as Hybrid Assistive Limb, is a “cyborg-type robot.” People can wear HAL parts to improve their own ability to move and function. This brain-controlled, wearable robot was worn by crews assigned to clean up the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

2012: Baxter

Baxter is an industrial robot capable of moving and replacing items on an assembly line. However, the robot ultimately became popular among robotics researchers. Researchers valued Baxter's ability to be programmed and modified by anyone.

2013: DelFly

The idea behind DelFly originated in 2005, when a group of students set out to create a flying robot for the international Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) competition. Since the competition, multiple iterations of DelFly were born. In 2013, the DelFly Explorer became the first wing-flapping MAV to take flight.

2013: Atlas

Along with BigDog, Boston Dynamics also developed Atlas. Compared to its animal-like counterpart, Atlas is a humanoid robot capable of altering objects and performing strenuous work.

2014: Termite-inspired robots

The TERMES project at the Wyss Institute set out to create termite-inspired robots. Like real termites capable of building structures, these tiny robots are designed to achieve the same goal: build structures much larger than themselves using “swarm construction.”

2016: Sophia

Hanson Robotics created Sophia to expand artificial intelligence research and to provide support in real world applications. Like the humans Sophia tries to emulate, the robot is capable of recognizing human faces, tailoring its communication and responses, and registering emotions.

2016: Tay

Microsoft launched Tay in 2016, but quickly suspended the bot after it became racist. Less than 24 hours after the Twitter bot launch, Tay started to mimic some of the internet's worst tendencies when it began tweeting racist and offensive comments.

2017: Gita

Developed by Piaggio Fast Forward, Gita is designed to carry and transport items. Gita can travel indoors and outdoors, following its customers while they're on the go.

2018: RoboMart

RoboMart is one of the newest ventures from Silicon Valley innovator Ali Ahmed. Ahmed's newest vision is a self-driving robot that brings grocery shopping to customers with ease.

2019: Mini Cheetah

The Mini Cheetah is a quadrupedal robot—a robot with four legs—created by students and researchers at MIT. The Mini Cheetah can walk, jump, and even do backflips.

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