First published November 2005
Robots are machines that can be controlled or programmed to
carry out physical functions usually carried out by humans -
they can be good guys or bad guys. They are used in industry
and technology; they can be toys or characters in fiction and
The first robot appeared in a stage play in 1921 and robotic
devices have been widely used in industry, often to do work
that is dangerous or repetitive, since the 1950s.
ROBOTS IN THE BRITISH PATHE ARCHIVE
A Search for robot(s) in the British Pathe Archive gives over 90 robot
stories from the 1930s until 1969. They include stories about new
inventions, gadgets, robot weapons, space exploration buggies, toys
and robots in art. There are some USA and European stories but
mostly they are British. Also search using the keywords ‘automation’
and ‘radio controlled’.
ROBOT PLOUGH 25/08/1930 902.19
A new automatic ploughing machine is demonstrated
TIN SOLDIERS OF TODAY 16/06/1932 1592.09
Quirky story about metal dummies used to test the heat retaining
properties of army uniforms
THE FACE OF THINGS - TO COME! (ALPHA THE ROBOT) 06/12/1934
Alpha the Robot answers questions from a man and flirts with a girl -
dupe of PSP 870.
WOULD YOU BELIEVE IT? NO. 14 05/07/1934 1630.24
Huge mural takes shape in Manchester, a one-boy bus and a robot
man startles the suburbs
THE FACE OF THINGS - TO COME! 06/12/1934 1638.10
Odd story about a talking robot with curly hair answering questions
ROBOT RADIOS 06/12/1948 1261.35
Inventor John Sargrove and the mass production of his radio
invention by machines
ROBOT 18/12/1950 1283.11
Excellent footage of radio controlled robot in Saffron Waldren, Essex
ROBOT 18/12/1950 3398.04
Excellent footage of radio controlled robot in Saffron Walden, Essex.
ROBOT SENSATION 1952 2636.07
Good item showing robot in Innsbruck. Austria
GARAGE ROBOT 14/09/1953 1337.25
Saluting robot stands outside a petrol station in Stratford St Mary,
SCHOOLBOYS EXHIBITION (beware - other Colour Pics share this title)
A robot and a model aircraft carrier at The Schoolboys' Exhibition
EMETT'S IDEAL HOME 25/02/1957 59.03
Comic strip style inventor presents totally insane construction -
automatic home. Excellent
GENTLE GIANT (aka ROBOT) 20/10/1958 81.04
A demonstration of a new robot which can do many things including
sing and dance
THE STUDENT'S DALEK (aka ROBOT BOOK SELLER) 14/06/1964
An item about a remote controlled robot used to sell student rag
magazines in Coventry
LONDON - ALL SET FOR SANTA (aka CHRISTMAS TOY FAIR) 07/11/1965
Children visit Christmas Toy Fair at London hotel.
FILM NOW, LAND LATER 27/11/1966 2013.28
NASA takes photographs of the moon & Tinker, the robot, goes
shopping in Leeds
ROBOT BOY 25/05/1967 409.08
A home-made 'Robot Boy' and a Dalek come face to face in a
NIGHTMARE ROBOTS 16/05/1968 429.14
Comedian Bruce Lacey shows us his surreal home-made robots
OUT TAKES / CUTS FROM CP 689 - THE AGE OF THE ROBOT, PING-
PONG PERFECTION and INDUSTRIAL ONE ARMED BANDIT
MISS HONEYWELL 27/06/1968 455.06
Robot girl Miss Honeywell demonstrates computer equipment at an
INVENTORS' EXHIBITION 13/01/1969 2065.27
Lots of new handy gadgets on show at the Inventors' Exhibition.
ROBOT LAWN MOWER 1969 3326.09
Pat Alley demonstrates his remote control garage door and device
for mowing entire lawn.
THE ORIGIN OF THE WORD ROBOT
Karel Capek (1890 – 1938) was a Czechoslovakian writer who coined
the word robot in his play RUR (Rossum's Universal Robots) written
in1921. The idea of using the Czech word ‘robota’ meaning
drugery or servitude was suggested by Karel’s brother Joseph. In
the play has a complex narrative in which the robots take over the
world but finding that they cannot re-produce have to seek help from
the last remaining human. Capek’s Robots are chemically
produced - more like genetic engineering than the mechanical metal
robots that derived from them.
Check it out at http://capek.misto.cz/english/ and
The robots in RUR, (the 1923
New York staging of the play)
try to negotiate with the last
A VERY BRIEF HISTORY OF INDUSTRIAL ROBOTS
The first radio controlled vehicles were built by Nikola Tesla in the
1890's. The first industrial modern robots were the Unimates
developed by George Devol and Joe Engelberger in the late 50's and
early 60's. see http://www.robothalloffame.org/unimate.html
In recent times robots are usually controlled by computer
programmes and can have a capacity to ‘learn’ e.g. Sony’s toy
dogs http://www.aibo-europe.com/ - luckily there’s lots of cheaper
versions. Robots are being developed at a micro level
(nanotechnology) to create tiny robots that can be inserted into a
human being to repair, for instance arteries. In space exploration
robots are used to explore the surface of distant planets. e.g. the
Cassini mission at www.saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.cfm or
ISO standard 8373 defines an industrial robot as an ‘automatically
controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose manipulator
programmable in three or more axes’.
HISTORY OF ROBOTS IN FILM and TV
The fascination with robots in films, comics, TV and literature is often
with the threat that having acquired physical capabilities they might
somehow take on human feelings and powers of thought, break free
of the control of humans and even take over the world!
The ancient legend of the Golem describes an animated man of clay,
mentioned in the Talmud (ancient Jewish text).
Metropolis ~ 1926
The first robot on film. The great silent movie Metropolis by the Director
Fritz Lang depicts a world in which industrialisation serves the few
and enslaves the many. The inventor, Rotwang, creates as seductive
robot without a soul...view on...
The 1930s. The age of the Depression and film
Robots appeared in television and film usually as the tools of evil
forces against which the heroes fight and prevails. e.g. the Flash
Gordon series and one of the first TV robots ‘The Phantom Creeps’
starring Gene Autry.
Aldous Huxley’s novel ‘Brave New World’ published in 1932 developed
the chemical method of creating robots originated by Capek.
The 1940s. The period of the Second World War and the fight against fascism.
The 1950s. The great period of Science Fiction movies and the rise of consumerism.
1951: In "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (20th Century Fox), a flying saucer
lands in Washington D.C. releasing Gort a menacing and invincible
yet protective figure. Humanoid alien Klaatu and the robot Gort must
determine the fate of all earthlings.
1956: Robots appear as friendly or likeable for the first time. The
feature film "Forbidden Planet" (MGM) introduced, "Robby, the Robot," who
has super-human powers but clearly is under human control.
"Robby's" design had a profound impact on the toy market and was
the first movie prop to be heavily merchandized and targeted to both
children and adults.
The 1960’s. Swinging robots, “fab, gear, man...”
The great year of 1966
In the UK ‘Dr Who’ introduced The Daleks, the UK tv’s finest robotic
In the USA: ‘Lost in Space’ television series the bodyguard/servant
robot B-9 (early version of C-3PO and R2-D2) saves the day for the
humans in every episode.
Across the Galaxies: ‘2001, A Space Odyssey’ by Stanley Kubrick, in
which HAL the computer knows all...
The Iron Man was written by the poet Ted Hughes in 1968
1970s. the Star Wars decade.
"Futureworld". The robot gunslingers show the dark side of robot
‘life’ while in 1977 'droids "R2-D2" and "C-3PO" provide the comic
support in George Lucas' "Star Wars" (20th Century-Fox).
‘The Stepford Wives’ had men turning their wives into obedient
1980’s. The fight against evil goes on...
In the 1980’s life got a little darker and films explored situations
where human heroes sought to overcome evil. "Terminator" starring
Arnold Schwarzenegger, "Blade Runner" (1982) with replicants and
"Robocop" (1987) in which the hero is resuscitated through implants
and electronic limbs.
A comic robot: Marvin the Paranoid Android in ‘The Hitchhiker's
Guide to the Galaxy’
Bender the Robot in the animated tv series ‘Futurama’
XR, the indestructable, self healing sidekick robot of Buzz Lightyear
in ‘Toy Story’.
ROBOT NAME GENERATOR
Robots just love acronyms, techie sounding names and number
sequences such as C3PO, R2D2 and the dog robot K9 (a good pun).
Acronyms are where the letters of the name stand for a descriptive
set of words – e.g. LASER = Light Amplification by Secondary
Emission by Radiation.
Robot name generator: go to http://www.cyborgname.com/ pop in your
teacher’s name and see what it stands for in pseudo sci-tech
THE SOUND OF SCIENCE FICTION
Robots love sounds...bleeps and peeps and mechanical voices - like
the Daleks, “exterminate”....
In the film ‘The Day the Earth stood Still’ the theremin (the first
electronic instrument) was used to produce the other-world
electronic sound that has become identified with science fiction film.
For more on theremins see the Pathe Starter on ‘Recorded Sound’.
AI = artificial intelligence
Android, ‘droids (Anthropomorphic Robot) or humanoids - robots that
look like humans.
Animatronics Lifelike creations made for films such as Jaws, ET and
some of the Jurassic Park animals. Also used for some of the display
in the Disney theme parks. Good article with examples at
http://stuffo.howstuffworks.com/animatronic.htm These sort of
animal effects are usually done by CGI (=computer generated
imagery) digital effects now.
Automaton or Automata name used to describe machines that work
automatically. They include the Victorian drawing-room mechanical
toys like singing birds in cages.
Automation the general term for the introduction of machines to take
over the work in factories, transport housework etc.
Bionic (contraction of bio-electronics) as in the Bionic Man.
Control The word used in Design and Technology for ways of
controlling electronic/mechanical devices.
Cybernetics: study of communication, control and feedback; e.g. the
governor on an engine measures and controls the speed.
Cyborg (from Cybernetic organism) (or ‘borg’ for short) a person
who is part machine or a robot who is part human
Mass production Mass production was the aim and result of the
industrial revolution using power to drive machines to make goods.
Led to the creation of the industrial cities and large numbers of
workers in factories.
Replicants Artificially created beings who cannot be told from real
humans. See Blade Runner.
Robot (sometimes shortened to ‘bots’) A machine with human
capabilities. Comes from the Czech word meaning drudgery or
Robot in some South African countries ‘robot’ means traffic lights.
The Robot Institute of America, 1979, defined a robot as “A
reprogrammable, multifunctional manipulator designed to move
material, parts, tools, or specialized devices through various
programmed motions for the performance of a variety of tasks"
Robot performers or robotronix Performers who act as robots ~ often in
public spaces such as Covent Garden in London
Robotics the science of making robotic devices
Web robots Web Robots are programs that traverse the Web
automatically. Some people call them Web Wanderers, Crawlers or
Spiders. See http://www.robotstxt.org/wc/robots.html for detailed
techie info on web robots.
Asimov’s Laws of Robotics
Isaac Asimov is one of the great Science Fiction writers of the 20th
century. The word 'robotics' was first used in ‘Runaround’, a short
story published in 1942. ‘I, Robot’, a collection of several of these
stories, was published in 1950. The film of ‘I Robot’ was launched this
year 2004 starring Will Smith.
Asimov also proposed the "Laws of Robotics"
A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity
to come to harm.
A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a
human being to come to harm, unless this would violate a higher
A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where
such orders would conflict with a higher order law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection
does not conflict with a higher order law.
Selected, but teachers should review first... Many sites are USA in
origin and many contain adverts and sales. To restrict search to UK
search for ‘Robots UK’ on search engines.
Robot Hall of Fame: http://www.robothalloffame.org/unimate.html A
great site with videos and quality photos of Asimo, Shakey, Astro
Boy, Robby the Robot and C-3PO
How Stuff Works http://stuffo.howstuffworks.com/animatronic.htm
Play the online robot game...build your own robot and then play the game
at the Royal Society lecture 2000 website http://www.channel4.com/
science/microsites/R/robots/ uses ‘Shockwave’.
The Robby the Robot site http://www.the-robotman.com/nv_fs.html
Some other websites ... teachers first...
Robots Net http://robots.net/ very large site very detailed....
Robotics http://www.robotics.com/ USA education site...D&T-type
Android World http://www.androidworld.com/ another vast site
bursting with ideas (and sounds); basically a selling site...but has
vast array of info and news...you could build your own android at a
We are robots. http://www.thefrown.com/wearerobots/ flash site....adult
humour short cartoons of robot characters