Robotic history from ancient times to the present day

The history of robots begins long before the 20th century. Two hundred years ago, automatons appeared capable of writing texts, drawing and shooting arrows, and at the beginning of our era there are references to various mechanisms that could be called robots. They depicted people and animals and performed various actions – for example, pouring wine or entering the king’s room.

In this article we will talk about the history of humanoid robots and where it has led us. At the same time, we do not specifically touch upon such topics as specialized robots for saving people in emergency situations, cars with autopilot, robot dogs and aircraft.

What moments in the history of robots do you think are the most important? And how do you see the robots of the future? Will anthropomorphic machines appear in our kitchens any time soon? Write in the comments!

Illustration made using Kandinsky 2.1

Illustration made using Kandinsky 2.1

Automatons: the first robots

The name “automaton” comes from the Greek word meaning “self-propelled”. These are dolls that, thanks to a mechanical drive, are capable of performing various actions: moving their arms and legs, turning their heads, opening and closing their eyelids, shooting a bow and even… writing text on paper with a pen.

Moreover, in the latter case, automata could even be programmable – that is, the symbols in the mechanism could be changed.

Various mechanisms, the functionality of which could be attributed to today’s robots, are found even before our era. One of the first mentions of a human-like robot dates back to the 3rd century BC: the engineer, mechanic and mathematician Philo of Byzantium (280 – 220 BC) created a statue of a servant: the mechanism allowed her to pour wine into a bowl and dilute it with water.

A famous inventor of mechanisms was Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519). Among his inventions is a mechanical knight. The mechanism inside the knight’s armor allowed the system to imitate various movements – the automaton could sit down, stand up, move its arms and neck. It is not known for certain whether this mechanism was actually implemented, but our contemporaries were able to reconstruct it from Da Vinci’s drawings.

Interesting fact: robot developer Mark Rosheim was inspired by the invention of Leonardo and other automata when he worked, including for NASA, he talks about this told in an interview. He also wrote the book Leonardo’s Lost Robots.

An automaton, made in the form of a figure of a monk, capable of crossing himself, raising his hand with a crucifix in it, and moving his lips, depicting a prayer. was made around 1560. The attention to detail is worth noting – even the monk’s legs are visible from under his robe.

In Japan, automatons began to appear in the 16th century in the form of servants serving a bowl of tea or warriors shooting arrows. These dolls were called Karakuri-ningyo, they were used in the theater, for games at home, and for religious holidays.

Interestingly, robot waiters similar to them were sold hundreds of years later – in the 1970-1980s, and have recently become widespread again – Russian-made robots are used at various exhibitions and conferences.



In Russia, among the most famous automatons is the peacock clock in the Hermitage, bought by Catherine II. Ivan Kulibin collected them after they were damaged during transportation.

Created in the 18th and 19th centuries, dolls could play musical instruments, draw pictures, and carefully write text that could be changed on paper with a pen. It takes a year to produce such an automaton today.

Such mechanisms may have seemed fantastic to their contemporaries. But people have always been gullible, so they were deceived by swindler inventors. The “Chess Turk” seemed to have artificial intelligence, thanks to which he beat opponents, including Napoleon. In fact, there was a person inside such a machine… For example, the strongest chess player of the 19th century, Johann Allgaier.

It is reminiscent of the scandal that erupted in 2019, when it turned out that about 40% of AI startups were deceiving investors – tasks that were supposed to be performed by AI were done by people for it.

Robots in 20th century science fiction

The word “robot” was not used at the time of the creation of the above-mentioned mechanisms. It first appeared in the work Karla Capek. In 1920, Capek wrote the play RUR – Rossum’s Universal Robots. He spoke in it about a factory for the production of artificial people from flesh and blood, who eventually got their name from the Czech word for hard labor or hard work – “robota”. His artificial people could think, and at the center of the story was such a scenario as the destruction of all humanity by robots. The play was filmed several times and essentially gave way to many people’s fantasies on the topic of robots.

Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, who was born 30 years later than Capek, wrote about 500 works in various genres, and many times he turned to the topic of robots and artificial intelligence.

Everyone knows the three laws of robotics he formulated. Even those who don’t particularly like to read science fiction learned about them thanks to the 2004 film I, Robot.

Three laws of robotics:

  1. A robot cannot cause harm to a person or, through inaction, allow a person to come to harm

  2. A robot must obey all orders given by a human unless those orders conflict with the First Law

  3. A robot must take care of its own safety to the extent that this does not contradict the First or Second Laws

But how applicable are they today? If these three laws were observed by absolutely all robot developers, the future would be ideal. But in fact, a huge amount of development is carried out exclusively for military needs. For example, the famous Atlas from Boston Dynamics and the robot dog from the same developers are created by order of DARPA, an agency of the US Department of Defense.

Will Law No. 1 be observed? robotswhich has an assault rifle attached to its body?

The wars of the future will inevitably become robot wars, where victory will be with the technological leader. When robots with artificial intelligence begin to play a key role in military operations, the scale of the disaster is difficult to predict. Although, the creators of the film “Terminator” have already shown everything. Perhaps such a war will be the last in human history if robots gain the ability to make decisions about the use of force on their own. The question is not even if, but rather “when”. And what will we do with this new “weapon”.

Will there be laws and rules for warfare involving robots? Who will formulate them? How to prevent abuse and potential threats from attackers who could hack such a dangerous “machine”? This is a new stage in the history of cybersecurity – countering terrorism using robotics.

In Soviet literature, cinema and cartoons you can also find various interesting mechanisms. Robots appear in films such as Andromeda, The Adventures of Electronics, Road to the Stars and Planet of Storms.

The last two films were directed by Pavel Klushantsev, whom George Lucas called the godfather of Star Wars. The artist and special effects specialist, who worked on the films Escape from New York, Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, consulted with Klushantsev on the topic of combined filming.

And in this illustration you can see a prototype of a robot vacuum cleaner called “Cybernetics” from Nikolai Nosov’s work about Dunno.

“At this time, the car crawled up to Pestrenky’s bed, near which lay a lot of candy papers. She crawled right along these pieces of paper back and forth – and all the pieces of paper disappeared, as if they had never existed. After that, the car disappeared under the bed. For some time, its humming could be heard from under the bed. Motley woke up from the noise, put his feet on the floor, but when he saw a car crawling out from under the bed, he jumped back into bed in fear.”

The idea of ​​humanoid robots with consciousness formed the basis of Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, published in 1968, and later based on it in the 1982 film Blade Runner. This film is considered the founder of the “Cyberpunk” genre in cinema.

The RoboCop franchise, which started in 1987, also belongs to this genre and reveals another idea – the possibility of a robot with a human brain. She rises again in the 1995 anime Ghost in the Shell.

Robots in real life

In the 1940s, neuroscientist Gray Walter developed a robot turtle. The three-wheeled robot was able to avoid obstacles. The robot was looking for light – it “saw” the absence of light thanks to the sensor. The robot avoided bright light: that is, it turned away if it came too close to the source. When confronted with an obstacle, the “turtle” stopped and went around it. When the robot ran out of battery power, it went to charge.

It seems that you just need to add a vacuum cleaner to this body to create a great helper for your home. Just like what was described in Dunno. Basically, in the late 1960s, there was already a robotic lawn mower that could mow 7,000 square feet of lawn.



The next important stage in the creation of robotics is the Shakey robot. Scientists at Stanford worked on its creation in the 1960s-1070s. This robot was not only “stuffed” with various sensors and mechanisms, but was almost able to “reason.” The robot was able to divide the commands that a person gave into its component parts, and then systematically, step by step, execute them. The automatic planner STRIPS – Stanford Research Institute Problem Solver was responsible for planning.

The following example is given: the command “push a block off the platform.” Shakey is looking for a platform with a block; finds a ramp to get on it; drives onto the ramp; pushes the block.

Shakey was developed at the intersection of robotics, computer vision and natural language processing.



What can be done with the technology and components to create a robot that can move and carry something?

Of course… a servant who will serve drinks! Such as Drink Caddy 1, Drink Caddy 2 or Omnibot 2000.

And the natural continuation is “fairytale” vacuum cleaners. Does one of them help you around the house?



Omnibot 2000

Omnibot 2000

Meanwhile, Boris Grishin, a teacher at the Kaluga Technical School of Railway Transport, presented his robot Arsik. ARS stands for Automatic Radio-Electronic Secretary. Grishin made this robot for his mother, who found it difficult to answer phone calls or call an ambulance at the right time.

The robot had two tape recorders built into it – with the help of one it spoke, and with the help of the other it recorded messages on the answering machine.

The ARS robot could:

  • move around the apartment,

  • answer calls while the owner is not at home and record messages on magnetic tape,

  • wake up the owner at a certain time by turning on the radio,

  • greet guests, offer drinks,

  • turn the lights on and off,

  • maintain the temperature in the apartment thanks to controllers connected to radiators.

In the 2000s, robots appeared that even now look quite advanced. For example, the first robot from the Asimo line from the Japanese corporation Honda. The name stands for Advanced Step in Innovative MObility. And it is no coincidence that it is consonant with the name of Isaac Asimov.

The first robot, 130 centimeters tall and resembling an astronaut in a spacesuit, showed the ability to walk at speeds of up to 7 km/h and move its arms. Robots were taught to walk up stairs and recognize people by signs on their chests. But the project itself has existed since 1986, that is, the company worked on the first prototype for quite a long time. Later, other robots in the line were introduced – they could, for example, pour drinks.

Asimo never became a commercial product, and in 2018 Honda announced the completion of the development of Asimo robots. In that statement, Honda noted that it would also focus on creating robotic caregivers.

Upright walking robots look impressive, but do robots really need legs? If you have to move on a flat surface, for example, in a business center, and sometimes look into an elevator, and if there are no problems with thresholds, it is enough to use a certain wheelbase. And here we smoothly move on to another category of robots: promotional robots.

Among the most famous is the Pepper robot, introduced in 2014. It was created by the French company Aldebaran Robotics together with SoftBank. Sensors and a neural network help Pepper detect people’s emotions. He can encourage a person, find a reason to sing a song or recite a poem. And… joke.

That is why one of the copies worked in the Margiotta Food & Wine store in Edinburgh for only a week, and then was fired. He was hired to help customers find products. However, to the question “Where can I find milk?” dear Pepper sent the buyer to look in the refrigerator, but did not specify where this refrigerator was located. And to a question related to the search for meat, the robot began to joke: “What is it called when one cow spies on another cow?” If you’re wondering, the answer is: “A steak out.” Another problem was poor audio recognition in the store due to noise.

Pepper did not cope with this particular job, but, nevertheless, he was used a lot in other positions. As waitersFor example.

Pepper as a waiter

Pepper as a waiter

Promotional robots usually do not perform any complex tasks. Instead, they communicate with people, help them find something, tell them about an event or products. Therefore, cost is important to them. In 2021, news emerged that the production of Pepper robots had completely stopped. This turned out to be rumors – it was simply “frozen” due to declining sales. Japan’s SoftBank had lost $119 million in the three years prior. Pepper cost $14,000, which is too expensive for the job; the same voice assistants from Google and Apple can perform the same functions for much less money. The company said it would wait for increased demand to resume production.

In the same year, representatives of the Russian company Promobot said that their robot was hit by a Tesla Model S. Was this a real accident or a planned action? Journalists asked this question. However, the news spread and increased the recognition of the company from Perm. And Perm began to be called “capital of robotics” Before this, by the way, Promobot ran away from the test site.

The first prototype of Promobot appeared in 2014, a year later the first 10 robots were sold. In 2018, the company signed a contract to supply 2,838 robots to the United States.

In 2019, the company was the largest manufacturer of autonomous service robots in Russia, Northern and Eastern Europe. And now such robots can be found in shopping centers. Kids gather around them, and dads lift their kids up so the robot can see them and say hello.

Using the example of Promobot and Pepper, you can understand where and how such robots can be used:

  • Both robots can work in shopping centers, stores and exhibitions. For example, Promobot in 2020 Settled consultant at Walmart in Chile. And Pepper replaced people-sellers in a cellular communication store.

  • Pepper at the Smithsonian American Art Museum translates images to music for visually impaired exhibition visitors.

  • Russian Promobot teaches Norwegian children mathematics and programming.

  • In 2022, Promobot on one of the Russian TV channels, together with the presenter, sold a record number of vacuum cleaners. This is not the first appearance of a robot from Perm on television: in 2018 he predicted results of sports matches on the American TV channel FOX News.

Promobot on American television

Promobot on American television

Pepper at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Pepper at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

PooBut everyone is waiting for the real robot assistants that were in the 2004 film “I, Robot.” Thanks to the presence of arms and legs, such assistants can not only move, but also jump, run, save people from burning buildings and pull those who are drowning out of the water. Or like in the movie “Terminator”:

– Wow… You’re really real. I mean… You’re a machine inside, right? Is he alive outside?

– I am a cybernetic organism. Living tissue on a metal skeleton.

A couple of years ago in Vladivostok Promobot began develop artificial skin, eyes and hair for androids. Humanoid robots can already be found in Russian multifunctional centers.

The development of robots with a “human” face continues around the world. In fact, at every exhibition, conference dedicated to robotics or technological achievements in general, in any country, a robot Einstein or other characters are presented.

Many interesting exhibits were recently shown at the world’s largest robot exhibition, World Robot Conference 2023, and robots there not only assembled cars and gave massages.

Latest technological advances

It’s not enough for a robot to have a face – it needs a body that can move that face. And, as we said above, it is better with arms and legs, because in this case he will not stumble on the thresholds and on the stairs. One of the most high-profile projects in the field of robots capable of running and jumping is the American Atlas from Boston Dynamics. He moves better than probably most living people, and is even capable of parkour.

The first prototype was presented in 2013, and now it is probably one of the most advanced and high-tech robots among its kind. DARPA, an agency of the US Department of Defense, had a hand in the development.



Ghff Even in science fiction novels of the last century, in films, fears were expressed that a person could lose control over robots. This could happen if robots begin to assemble each other themselves, that is, to produce their own kind. in this case, the robot can become independent from humans.

And how interesting it is to watch how Tesla robots assemble each other today. It would seem that we are already in the future, which we are so looking forward to and at the same time afraid of.

But it’s not enough to create a robot; it’s important to put it into mass production. Even if it requires other robots. This year, Elon Musk was overtaken by Apptronik: it presented humanoid robot Apollo.

Apollo weighs 73 kilograms, his height is 173 cm. And he can lift a load weighing 25 kilograms. On one charge it can work for four hours. To begin with, he will be employed in warehouses, but then the list of areas of application for this humanoid machine will be expanded.

This would come in handy at the dacha – carrying boxes to the barn and back.

Apptronik Apollo

Apptronik Apollo

Another example is the Chinese robot Fourier GR-1, capable of lifting 50 kg with the same weight. A real hard worker.

The future of robots

Sometimes the creators of various devices and scientists say that they don’t need to invent anything. It is enough to read science fiction books or watch films that show options for the development of technology – writers and screenwriters have already come up with enough for us to see the future in twenty or even a hundred years.

Earlier in the article we talked about 20th-century science fiction, and now I propose to take a look at a few more films that raise important questions about robots and artificial intelligence.

Among the films that explore the topic of artificial intelligence awareness are: “Bicentennial Man”, based on the novella of the same name by Isaac Asimov. Robin Williams’ robot Andrew, created as a servant, travels, falls in love, fights for his rights and demands to be recognized as a human.

How can you be sure that your neighbor from the apartment opposite, with whom you manage to exchange a few words or just say hello in the elevator, is not a robot? What defines humanity for you? And how much more conscious is a person than the same ChatGPT in the head of an android, who was instructed to “pretend that he is a person, go to work every day, order groceries and throw out garbage”?

Still from the film “Bicentennial Man”

Still from the film “Bicentennial Man”

AffCan a robot replace a dead child? Steven Spielberg directed the film in 2001 “AI”, which takes up the theme of artificial intelligence programmed for love. The main role was played by young Haley Joel Osment – it was a truly stellar time for the actor, whom we know from the films “The Sixth Sense”, “Pay Another One” and “Forrest Gump”, where he appeared at the end in the role of Forrest’s son.

And together with Osment we see another actor who starred in a number of science fiction films in those years: Jude Law. “Existence” And “Gattaca” starring him are also worthy of attention. The first is a film about the future of the gaming industry, and the second is about human genetic enhancements.

“Olivier and the Robots” One of the most interesting examples showing a probable future is the series “Black Mirror”. The writers and directors of the series are trying to look at technology and even social trends from different angles, to show the viewer a variety of future options – sometimes scary, sometimes inhumane.

The first black and white episode of Black Mirror is called “Metalhead”, it was released in 2017. The heroine of the series is trying to escape from robot dogs in a post-apocalyptic world. The creator of this story was inspired by robot dogs from Boston Dynamics. But here’s what’s interesting: weren’t the developers from Boston Dynamics inspired by the dog that was described by Ray Bradberry in the novel “Fahrenheit 451”?

But another episode is interesting for our story. In “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Two”, the issue of transferring the consciousness of a living person into a robot toy is raised. Will such a robot be conscious? And how does he actually differ from a person, what defines this “humanity”?

Still from the series “Black Mirror”

Still from the series “Black Mirror”

On the other hand, the creators of the new Russian series looked at robots and people “Olivier and the Robots” in the series “Robot Vsevolod”. What if a human replaces a robot, and not vice versa? Vsevolod looked after the mistress, and his family received money for this – since the robot “robot” was rented. How to remain as inhuman, strong as possible, without blinking or being seen eating?

Here the topic of one of human fears is raised: the lack of jobs due to robotization. Although research showthat with the disappearance of some jobs, others appear – and in greater numbers.

Still from the series “Olivier and the Robots”

Still from the series “Olivier and the Robots”

Bottom line

Yandex.Column, robot vacuum cleaner and window cleaner in the apartment. Unmanned taxi in Yasenevo, delivery rovers in Skolkovo and unmanned trucks on the M-11 highway. Robotic arms in factories around the world. Robotic fire fighting equipment, as well as heavy equipment in quarries and mines. Warehouse robots that help people collect packages. And this is only a part of the robots that surround us today.

In parallel, AI tools that work with text, video and graphics are being developed. The Ameca robot writes songs, claims to be conscious, draws and… argues with a person about what art is…

It’s no longer difficult to imagine a robot assistant like those in I, Robot. The similarity was shown by Elon Musk, Apptronic and the Chinese manufacturer Fourier Intelligence. All that remains is to add skin to them, and they will look like the “Bicentennial Man”. What really awaits us?

Write in the comments how you see the future of robotics!

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