I Robot: Some highlights in the development of robots and computers over time

17 September 2004

400 BC - Philosopher and mathematician Archytas of Tarentum builts a wooden dove that can flap its wings and fly.

Early sixteenth century - Hans Bullmann creates the first androids - simulated people that can play musical instruments for the delight of paying customers.

1801 - Joseph-Marie Jacquard invents a method of controlling looms using cards with holes punched in them.

1833 - Charles Babbage begins work on the Analytical Engine - one of the first computational machines.

1847 - George Boole invents a symbolic logic that would later become widely used in computers.

1936 - Alan Turing completes his seminal paper On Computable Numbers, which paves the way for modern computers.

1942 - Isaac Asimov writes Runaround in which he first sets out the three laws of robotics.

1943 - Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts do pioneering work on neural networks that can learn about the world in much the same way that we do.

1943 - Colossus, the world's first electronic computer, is built in Britain by a team of mathematicians, electrical engineers and intelligence agents to crack Nazi codes.

1948-9 - British robotics pioneer William Grey Walter creates autonomous machines called Elmer and Elsie that mimic lifelike behaviour with very simple circuitry.

1950 - Alan Turing proposes the Turing Test to decide if a computer is exhibiting intelligent behaviour.

1954 - George Devol and Joe Engleberger create the world's first industrial robots.

1956 - Marvin Minsky and John McCarthy organise a conference in the US, which brings together the leading lights in the field of robotics and machine research. The conference coins the phrase "artificial intelligence".

1966 - The Stanford Research Institute creates Shakey, the first mobile robot that can reason about its surroundings. Five years later, funding is cancelled when the shortcomings of the machine become apparent.

1975 - Victor Scheinman develops the Programmable Universal Manipulation Arm (Puma), which becomes widely used in industrial robots.

1980s - Expert systems, software programs that encapsulate specialist knowledge, become widely used this decade.

1984 - Doug Lenat kicks off the Cyc project to create a database of common sense to help robots understand our world.

1987 - Automated selling of shares almost causes a stock market meltdown.

1989 - MIT AI Lab director Rodney Brooks publishes a seminal paper entitled Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, which kicks off a new era in robot-making. Academics start to concentrate on small, smart, useful robots rather than simulated people.

1989 - Genghis, one of the first walking robots created by the mobile robots lab at MIT, makes its debut.

1996 - A robo-tuna developed by MIT scientist Michael Triantafyllou is tested in a water tank.

1996 - Honda unveils the P-2 (prototype 2), a humanoid robot that can walk, climb stairs and carry loads.

1997 - Smart computer programmes become widely used on the web to ferret out information.

1997 - World chess champion Garry Kasparov loses to IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer.

1997 - Nasa's pathfinder spacecraft touches down on Mars. Soon after, it releases the Sojourner robot rover that trundles about the planet's surface carrying out science experiments for the space agency.

1997 - The first RoboCup football tournament, where robots of various sizes compete against each other, is held in Nagoya, Japan.

1998 - Cynthia Breazeal at MIT starts work on the Kismet robot, which can mimic the emotional range of a baby.

1998 - Scottish hotel owner Campbell Aird is fitted with the world's first bionic arm (pertinent to I, Robot).

1998 - Nasa launches the Deep Space 1 autonomous spacecraft which will test technologies to be used in future missions crewed and conducted solely by robots.

1999 - Sony releases the first Aibo electronic dogs that sell out within 20 minutes.

1999 - Personal Robots releases the Cye robot that can be used to perform a variety of household chores.

2000 - Computational neurobiologist Sandro Mussa-Ivaldi, from the Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, US, hooks up a lamprey brain to sensors in order to control a robot.

2001 - The Global Hawk robotic spyplane charts its own course over a distance of 13 000 km (8,000 miles) between California, US, and Southern Australia.

2050 - As predicted in 2002 by Hiroaki Kitano, a Sony artificial-intelligence specialist and president of the RoboCup Federation at the time, a team of robots wallop the human World Cup soccer champions.

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