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Robot arm inventor George Devol dies

updated 04:25 pm EDT, Tue August 16, 2011

Invention led to robotic factory automation

Robotics pioneer George c. Devol died last Thursday. Mr. Devol is best known as the inventor of the robot arm, now commonly used in automotive and other assembly lines. He was 99.

In the early 1950s, Mr. Devol used his self-learned expertise to design a mechanical arm capable of performing repetitive tasks such as grabbing and lifting. He used science fiction as his inspiration. He applied for a patent for his idea, which he called "Universal Automation," in 1954. That patent was granted in 1961. In that year, he formed the company Unimation to productize the concept.

General Motors was an early customer. The automobile manufacturer used Mr. Devol's mechanical arm, called the "unimate," to handle hot die-cast metal parts taken directly from their molds. Usage of the automated arms expanded to the other Big 3 automakers, and especially to their Japanese counterparts. Ultimately, Unimation was sold to Westinghouse.

Mr. Devol was also a visionary as well as inventor. In 1983, he predicted that the natural evolution of robotics was to have robots communicate with each other and cooperate. [via NY Times]

Devol's Unimate mechanical arm (photos from the estate of George C. Devol)

by MacNN Staff




  1. Arne_Saknussemm

    Joined: Dec 1969


    It's quite sad...

    Not only that such minds pass away,

    but that this particular's ideas have mostly been relegated to large assemblies like cars; yet not so much to the electronic devices we all crave.

    Maybe this is why cars made in the USA, Europe, and most any first world country can be obtained for a "resonable" amount,

    whilst, only electronics made in underdeveloped, or by practically slave laborers has an "acceptable" retail value.

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