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Rise of the robots, from sci-fi to our homes

A collection of the history of humanoids

James Martin
James Martin is the Managing Editor of Photography at CNET. His photos capture technology's impact on society - from the widening wealth gap in San Francisco, to the European refugee crisis and Rwanda's efforts to improve health care. From the technology pioneers of Google and Facebook, photographing Apple's Steve Jobs and Tim Cook, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Google's Sundar Pichai, to the most groundbreaking launches at Apple and NASA, his is a dream job for any documentary photography and journalist with a love for technology. Exhibited widely, syndicated and reprinted thousands of times over the years, James follows the people and places behind the technology changing our world, bringing their stories and ideas to life.
James Martin
Shakey, Stanford Research Institute, 1969
1 of 21 James Martin/CNET

Shakey, Stanford Research Institute, 1969

From Karel Capek's play RUR in 1920 to Isaac Asimov's book I, Robot in 1950 (and the 2004 Will Smith movie inspired by it) and beyond, robots have deep roots in science fiction. But in the latter part of the 20th century, they started to become a science fact, moving out of labs and into industry and households. This is a look at the evolution across recent decades.

Stanford Research Institute's Shakey, which featured camera and touch sensors, was advanced in computer vision and language processing for its era.

Wabot-1, 1973
2 of 21 Humanoid Robotics Institute, Waseda University

Wabot-1, 1973

Wabot-1 was the world's first full-scale anthropomorphic robot, integrating a limb control system, a vision system and a communications platform.

Sensors allowed Wabot-1 to measure distances and directions to objects, and the robot could walk and even grip and move objects with hands that used tactile sensors.

3 of 21 James Martin/CNET

Hubot, Hubotics, 1981

The butler-esque Hubot was advertised as the first home robot that's a personal companion, educator, entertainer and sentry. A voice synthesizer was able to speak about 1,200 words in English.

Axlon Andy robot
4 of 21 James Martin/CNET

Andy, 1982

Atari founder Nolan Bushnell founded a company, Axlon, in 1982 to build playful toy robots. Only 2,300 of this robot, Andy, were made. It connected to Commodore 64 or Atari computers and could be controlled with a joystick.

Hero Jr., Heathkit, 1984
5 of 21 James Martin/CNET

Hero Jr., Heathkit, 1984

Home robot kits from Heathkit were guided by sonar and were able to play games and sing songs, with the ads proclaiming it "seeks to remain near human companions" by listening for voices.

RB5X General Robotics, 1985
6 of 21 James Martin/CNET

RB5X General Robotics, 1985

RB5X was an educational robot programmed in the TinyBASIC language. Sonar and "bumps switches" helped it move around. A prototype attachment that was supposed to vacuum floors didn't really work very well.

Officer Mac, 21st Century Robotics, 1985
7 of 21 James Martin/CNET

Officer Mac, 21st Century Robotics, 1985

Officer Mac was a remote-controlled law enforcement robot that  accompanied police officers, visiting schools and showing videos about public safety.

Omnibot 2000, Tomy Company, 1985
8 of 21 James Martin/CNET

Omnibot 2000, Tomy Company, 1985

The programmable Japanese Omnibot 2000 could move, talk and carry objects. A cassette player in its chest played audio.

9 of 21 James Martin/CNET

Sentry, Denning Robotics, 1995

This Denning robot security guard could patrol 14 hours, moving at 3 miles per hour, monitoring a 150-foot radius and radioing an alert to a human.

10 of 21 James Martin/CNET

Furby, Tiger Electronics, 1998

The Furby robot was the hot holiday toy in 1998, with resale prices of up to $300.

Out of the box, a Furby spoke only "Furbish" and was able to communicate with other Furbies using infrared, but was able to learn English commands.

Hasbro's Furby, a weird, warbling piece of toy nostalgia that just won't die, is back. Now, though, Furby wants to stay connected via Bluetooth. It might know what time it is, or what the World Series scores are. Furby. Will. Know.

11 of 21 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

iRobot's Swarm, 1999

This is one element of iRobot's 1999 Swarm robot system. It was based on the behavior of insects and was the company's first experiment with decentralized networked robotic intelligence. The project was funded by DARPA and didn't require a human to independently control each robot in the swarm. Instead, the user could issue a command to one of the robots, and that command would then be shared among the entire swarm.

12 of 21 Jonathan Skillings/CNET

FIRST robot, 2009

Robotics competitions have become a staple of the educational arena, in part through the efforts of FIRST, an organization founded by inventor Dean Kamen, the man behind the Segway and the DEKA prosthetic arm. The robot pictured here, which includes Lego Mindstorms components, was typical of a high school project.

13 of 21 AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO

CB2, 2009

A 73-pound (33kg) "Child-robot with Biomimetic Body," or CB2 (CB squared), equipped with 51 air actuators, five motors and 197 tactile sensors under soft silicone skin, wriggles on a bed at a laboratory in Osaka University in Japan.

14 of 21 James Martin/CNET

PR2 units, 2010

At Willow Garage's launch party in 2010, the company's PR2 units emerge in unison. Institutions that received PR2 robots for research included the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Bosch Research and Technology Center, Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Southern California, the University of Tokyo's JSK Robotics Laboratory and MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

Robots at work
15 of 21 James Martin/CNET

Tesla, 2012

Robots in automotive factories typically perform one task (or maybe two). Robots in Tesla's body shop can perform up to five different tasks, increasing efficiency and flexibility.

Honda's ASIMO
16 of 21 Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images for Honda

Honda's Asimo, 2011

Asimo, Honda's humanoid robot, appears during the FIRST Championships at the America's Center on April 28, 2011, in St. Louis.

17 of 21 DARPA/Boston Dynamics

DARPA's Atlas, 2013

In 2013, DARPA unveiled one of the more frightening and futuristic robots we've ever seen. But the 6-foot humanoid robot, which was developed by Boston Dynamics, wasn't designed to kill -- it's here to help us.

Atlas, with 28 hydraulically actuated joints, was one of the most advanced humanoid robots ever built. It was essentially a physical shell, a starting point for the software brains and nerves to be supplied by the teams in  DARPA's Virtual Robotics Challenge.

Swift Playground robotics programming, 2017
18 of 21 James Martin/CNET

Swift Playground robotics programming, 2017

Apple's Swift Playgrounds was designed to help kids learn to code by making robots and drones dance.

The robots going inside Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant
19 of 21 James Martin/CNET

iRobots inside Fukushima, 2018

After the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, robots offered a sliver of hope for investigating the damaged structures. But even years later, robots were just starting to get close enough to see how bad it really was. 

20 of 21 James Martin/CNET

Apple's Daisy recycling robot, 2019

At the center of a new Material Recovery Lab that Apple built in Texas is a recycling robot called Daisy. The lab was designed to share Daisy's technology and help advance electronics recycling.

21 of 21 James Martin/CNET

Samsung's Bot Care, 2019

At CES 2019, Samsung introduced four new robotics initiatives, including Bot Care, a personal health care assistant designed to handle an array of health monitoring tasks.

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