When did the first robot appear? What were the major stages in the history of robotics? Here are some answers in this chronology gathering some of these events. Of course the list is not exhaustive and many other wonders of technology should be mentioned.

In particular, many robots have been developed in recent years and it was of course impossible to mention them all!

The periods described in this chronology are not so clearly defined, and some may extend over much longer periods.

You will find at the bottom of the page a list of the sources used to establish this chronology as well as links, additional resources and a graphical summary.

If you want to modify it, customize it for your use or get a usable version offline, do not hesitate to contact the author.


The first mechanisms

Appearing around 3500 BC. JC. The wheel is considered to be the first significant technical work in the history of mankind, whether for pottery towers or for transportation. Image source Wikimedia Commons.



Clepsydres (water clocks) were probably invented around 1600 BC. JC. in Egypt. Simple pierced bowls whose regular flow allowed a rudimentary measure of time, were perfected in Greece a few centuries before Christ, before they constituted genuine sophisticated automata under the Chinese and Arab civilizations of the first millennium.

Watchmaking is also the cradle of the first automata of which we have the trace, the oldest conserved being the rooster automaton of the Three Kings of the astronomical clock of the cathedral Notre-Dame of Strasbourg.

Source of images: Cleopatra Greco-Roman 1090 ap. JC. «History of the clepsydre» Al-Jazari Clepsydra 1100 ap. JC. «History of Arab automatons» Three-kings automaton rooster 1354 Wikimedia Commons (photo by Ji-Elle) Jacquemart automaton of the church of Notre-Dame de Dijon 1383 Wikimedia Commons (photo by Christophe Finot)



One of the most surprising automata is certainly the digestive duck of Jacques de Vaucanson (1738). It was unfortunately destroyed in a fire in the middle of the 19th century and only photographs remain (Wikimedia Commons source).

The automaton of Henri Maillardet (1826) inspired Brian Selznick, author of the children's novel "The invention of Hugo Cabret" adapted to the cinema in the animated film of Martin Scorcese. Source of the image, and history of this automaton on the site of the Franklin Institute (in English) .



Self-regulated automata form the basis of cybernetics. Here, automatons do not just make pre-programmed movements, but interact with their environment, which governs them. Some examples : The electric dog of Hammond and Miessner (1915) is guided by light, as are Philidog, the dog of Henri Piraux (1928) and the fox of Ducrocq (1953). Source of images: the cybernetic zoo (in English)

W. Gray Walter's cybernetic turtle (1950) was equipped with tactile and luminous sensors to explore its environment ( source )


Artificial intelligence

In line with cybernetics, the goal of making intelligent machines led Alan Turing to define in 1950 a method to test the presence of a consciousness or intelligence within a machine. This is the Turing test, discussed today, but certainly a founder in the field of artificial intelligence, as does the work of John McCarthy which defines the term "artificial intelligence" (1956).

In 1963, the General Problem Solver program foreshadowed the emergence of expert systems such as Dendral (1965), programs or tools capable of reproducing analytical and reasoning skills of specialists: mathematical demonstrations, diagnoses, etc.

In 1970, the SHRDLU program could discuss and reason about the elements of a predefined world, containing cubes and pyramids. The very simple environment of this program gave false hopes as to the feasibility of a smart program in more complex situations of reality.


The rovers

Vehicles designed to explore the surface of planets in a virtually autonomous way, to make measurements and to take samples, rovers (or astromobiles) were developed by the Russians in the 1960s, such as Lunokhod 1. NASA also developed rovers from Of 1970 under the Apollo program. Sojourner explores the planet Mars in 1997 and Curiosity in 2012. Source of images: NASA .


The animats

Artificial animals, they are the object of a particular branch of the cybernetics whose objective is to copy the mechanisms of the living. Although the term animat was only defined in 1985 by SW Wilson, on the other hand machines inspired by the living have always stimulated artists and scholars.

Archytas of Taranto (4th century BC), for example, is considered to be the first robot in the history of mankind, well before the first clocks and automata of which we have physical traces: a pigeon of Wood capable of flying, propelled by steam. However, there is no vestige, no photograph or faithful representation of this mechanism.

Leonardo da Vinci is said to have built a lion automaton, presented at the court of Francis I in 1515. A replica was reconstructed in 2010 from scraps of information ( source: Reuters ).

The Duck of Vaucanson is certainly another example. Much more recently (1990-2001), one can mention Brachiator, a robot reproducing the braiding of the Gibbon moving from branch to branch. Source univ. Nagoya .

The Miller snake robot (1994-2005 source of the image ) and the Stickybot robot-gecko capable of climbing the windows (2006) are other recent animates.


Humanoid robots

The first humanoid robot is probably from Leonardo da Vinci, who in 1495 presented a knight in armor able to sit, raise his visor and move his arms. After discovering his notes and diagrams in 1950, a functional replica was built and exhibited at the Berlin Museum:

The mastery of bipedalism is certainly the most technical achievement in the history of humanoid robots. WABOT-1 of the University of Waseda (1973) is one of the first human robots able to move (in a rudimentary way). Following Hitachi's WHL-11 (1985), the first robots from Honda E0 to E6 (1986-1993) and P1 to P3 able to walk as a human and climb stairs (1992-1997).

The eleventh robot developed by Honda, Asimo, is capable of running (2000). The latest version of 2011 can skip on one foot, run at 9km / h, handle objects delicately like filling a goblet, communicate in sign language, etc. To see in v ideo (Image from Wikipedia Commons)

Sony is developing small humanoid robots named SDR for Sony Dream Robot, such as SDR-3X ( image source ). They will be renamed QRIO in 2003.

Video of the Japanese robot HRP2 in a programmed dance (2005) ( source image )

Developed from 2005-2006, Nao is a small humanoid robot from the French company Aldebaran Robotics. It is autonomous, programmable and forms an ideal pedagogical platform for research and teaching. An improved "Next Gen" version was launched at the end of 2011. Photo: Terremag

ICub is a small humanoid robot developed in 2006 jointly by several European universities. Its specifications and software are available in open-source. ( Image ) To see on video on the channel Youtube of the iCub

Mahru Robot Dancer (2006) - image source: semageek

Robot violinist Toyota (2007) Source: FoxNews

Humaoid robots are also developed for home help and support, such as Twendy one (2007, photo time.com , Twendy One's official website ) or Roméo d'Aldebaran robotics (2012 source image )

Kobian of Waseda University in Japan is a robot capable of reproducing human expressions (2010) source .

Finally, some robots have been developed for maximum realism, such as the Geminoid F (2012) of the University of Osaka and the Hiroshi Ishiguro ATR laboratory (source image official site )


The exoskeletons

Whether biomechanical or motorized, these mechanical external skeletons would have many applications: in medicine to help people with motor disabilities to move, or even in the military field in order to make soldiers stronger and more enduring.

The HAL (Hybrid Assisted Limb) exoskeleton detects movement intentions to assist them and allows to lift masses up to 10 times heavier. It can help people with reduced mobility regain the use of their legs by a degressive accompaniment (2009 source image ). Official web site of Cyberdyne

The Rex motorized exoskeleton (2010) consists of real robotic legs controlled by a joystick and allows a person completely paralyzed (complete paraplegia) to move, even if it is still only with relatively slow movements. Source image Official website: rexbionics.com

We have completed our journey through some of the most important steps in the history of robotics , we hope you found this information interesting.

Thanks to Geoffroy Chaix for his help in creating this chronology.