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What was the world’s first digital programmable robot?

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The first digital / programmable robot was called Unimate and was sold to General Motors for a $ 35,000 loss the same year its patent was approved. The Unimate was filed for patenting by George Devol in 1954 (granted in 1961 – US Patent 2,988,237).

The vehicle was housed at the GM plant in Ewing Township, New Jersey. The automaker used the 2,700-pound Unimate to extract the injection moldings and weld them to car bodies. It was a dangerous task for workers who could have been poisoned by toxic fumes or lost a limb if not careful.

The original Unimate consisted of two large interconnected boxes and a handle, the systematic tasks of which were stored in drum memory. Soon, Chrysler, Ford and other manufacturers began looking for their own Unimates, and hundreds of robotic arms were deployed in a short time.

By 1966, Unimate had begun full-scale production at Unimation in Connecticut, and that same year, a global audience on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show watched him bottle beer and play golf. In popular culture, DC Comics character Alan von Neumann Jr. created fictional robots called Unimate.


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