Here at Changing Gears, we can’t let 2011 go by without marking a revolutionary anniversary. Fifty years ago, in 1961, GM installed the first industrial robot. It altered the course of manufacturing forever. Unimate was a robotic arm that unloaded hot pieces of die-cast metal. Joseph Engelberger, known as “the father of robotics,” saw the invention as a way to replace dangerous, dull and dirty jobs.
Unimate actually had two fathers – George C. Devol, who died in August at age 99, and Engelberger, who is still alive. Back in 1966 Engelberger joined Unimate on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, where he (the robot) sank a putt and opened a can of beer. We were struck by the wonder of that moment, the enthusiasm for the power of automation. Chrysler and Ford followed GM’s lead, but it was Japan that fully embraced the new robotics.