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Sketch of a Unimate robot
Unimate pouring coffee for a human, 1967.

Unimate was the first industrial robot,[1]which worked on a General Motors assembly line at the Inland Fisher Guide Plant in Ewing Township, New Jersey, in 1961.[2][3][4]


It was invented by George Devol in the 1950s using his original patent filed in 1954 and granted in 1961[5] (U.S. patent 2,988,237). The patent begins:

The present invention relates to the automatic operation of machinery, particularly the handling apparatus, and to automatic control apparatus suited for such machinery.[6]

Devol, together with Joseph Engelberger, his business associate, started the world’s first robot manufacturing company, Unimation.[7]

The machine weighed 4000 pounds[8] and undertook the job of transporting die castings from an assembly line and welding these parts on auto bodies, a dangerous task for workers, who might be poisoned by toxic fumes or lose a limb if they were not careful.[4]

The original Unimate consisted of a large computer-like box, joined to another box and was connected to an arm, with systematic tasks stored in a drum memory.

In 2003 the Unimate was inducted into the Robot Hall of Fame.[9]

In popular culture[edit]

The Unimate appeared on The Tonight Show hosted by Johnny Carson on which it knocked a golf ball into a cup, poured a beer, waved the orchestra conductor’s baton and grasped an accordion and waved it around.[7][10]

Fictional robots called Unimate, designed by the character Alan von Neumann, Jr., appeared in comic books from DC Comics.[11]


  1. ^

    Nof, Shimon Y (1999). Handbook of Industrial Robotics (2nd ed.). John Wiley & Sons. pp. 3–5. ISBN 0-471-17783-0.

  2. ^ “World-Information.Org”. world-information.org. Retrieved 2024-01-29.
  3. ^ Menzel, Peters; Faith D’Aluisio (2000). Robo sapiens: evolution of a new species. The MIT Press. pp. 186–189. ISBN 0-262-13382-2.
  4. ^ a b Mickle, Paul. “1961: A peep into the automated future”, The Trentonian. Accessed August 11, 2011. “Without any fanfare, the world’s first working robot joined the assembly line at the General Motors plant in Ewing Township in the spring of 1961…. It was an automated die-casting mold that dropped red-hot door handles and other such car parts into pools of cooling liquid on a line that moved them along to workers for trimming and buffing. Its most distinct feature was a grip on a steel armature that eliminated the need for a man to touch car parts just made from molten steel.”
  5. ^ “Unimate // The First Industrial Robot”. Retrieved 29 January 2024.
  6. ^ Rosen, Rebecca J. (2011-08-16). “Unimate: The Story of George Devol and the First Robotic Arm”. The Atlantic. Retrieved 2024-01-29.
  7. ^ a b “1961: The first robot”. www.capitalcentury.com. Retrieved 2024-01-29.
  8. ^ Magazine, Smithsonian; Eschner, Kat. “How Robots Left the Lab and Started Helping Humans”. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2024-01-29.
  9. ^ “The Robot Hall of Fame – Powered by Carnegie Mellon University”. www.robothalloffame.org. Retrieved 2024-01-29.
  10. ^ Video clip of Unimate on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson Archived January 13, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Booster Gold (vol. 2) #21 (August 2009)

External links[edit]