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The Oldest Robot

Samuel Bouchard
by Samuel Bouchard. Last updated on Jan 29, 2015 10:21 AM
Posted on Jul 09, 2007 3:54 PM. 1 min read time


The above New Scientist video shows a replica of a reprogrammable automaton from the 60s. Not the 1960s, the 60s, the design of a Classical Greek engineer named Hero.

A falling mass attached to a rope that separates into two provides the energy. Each rope end winds around an axle that turns a wheel. Pegs are used on the axles to program the movement (advance, back up, turn). By changing the amount of winding, they change the direction of the wheel’s motion. Adjustments to exactly where in the winding these changes of direction occur control the movement… until the mass reaches ground. Really ingenious, and pretty fascinating from where – and when – I stand, in 2007, working on robots activated by wires!

But is it really a robot? What is a robot, anyway? In the most general sense, a robot is a programmable machine. By that definition, Hero’s automaton is a robot. But not everyone would see it that way. Joseph Engelberger, widely considered the father of robotics, has said “I can't define a robot, but I know one when I see one.”

[via AI&R]

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Samuel Bouchard
Written by Samuel Bouchard
Samuel is CEO and co-founder of Robotiq. His mission is to free human hands from repetitive tasks. He is also the author of Lean Robotics: A Guide to Making Robots Work in Your Factory. He lives in Québec City with his wife and four children.
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