The “stuff” of science fiction stories has become more visible in the modern world. For the inventor of the first robot, it was a Czechoslovakian playwright and an American Science Fiction writer who inspired the mind of a young, southern born inventor. George Devol, inventor of the first robot, changed life in such a startling way that nurses and doctors have robots on staff.
Devol’s rise and the 1954 Patent
S2988237 A – the first patent filed by inventor George Devol in 1954 spawned the robotics revolution that we see in all aspects of industry and culture. Now, it is common to hear that Amazon packages will be delivered by flying drones; Charlie Rose interviews Sophia, an A.I. prototype, on 60 minutes; and teams of young engineers construct robots that can fall down and pick themselves back up without any assistance.
George Devol was not surrounded by these technologies. No, he grew up in the midst of early film, when the most talked about piece of technology was “moving pictures” or “talking pictures” as people called them. Devol grew up in Kentucky and opted out of college to start a business. His desire to improve the sound concept in film led him to start his own company.
Too much competition took him out early, and he moved to Connecticut. One night in his garage he came upon an image of an assembly line is a technical magazine. The image of people lined up side by side performing the most menial tasks got his mind to thinking of a mechanical device that could remove people from these monotonous tasks.
As with all great art and invention, a business man appeared. While at a cocktail party, Devol was introduced to Joe Engleberger, a successful businessman in technology. The two teamed up and unveiled the first Unimate – a hydraulically powered mechanical arm that could perform some of the functions of an assembly line worker.
The first Unimate was debuted in Japan at an auto factory given the strong attitude against robots in the U.S. When General Motors saw the boom in productivity in the Japanese market, they jumped on it and the rest is history. Factories across all industries began automating processes. Now, with today’s tech professionals and engineers pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, we have robots that can show up at work as part of staff.
Who’s the robot?
They call them “blue collared” robots and in 2012, there were over a thousand working in hospitals across the U.S. Healthcare professionals work in thirteen hour shifts transitioning their workloads in the form of a huddle to indicate the changing of a shift. Imagine the sight of nurses interlocking arms in a circle and then stop, a robot joins the mix. Companies like Aethon have embraced the need for service robotics.
Aethon’s robot, called Tug, can be controlled remotely and deliver medication to patients, take and deliver specimens, remove linens for washing, take out the trash, and more. It recently signed a contract with a hospital to staff 20 tugs for full use.
The University of St. Gallen, an international research center, has been conducting research and publishing academic articles as to the readiness of workers to integrate service robots. Attitudes against robotics drove Devol and Engleberger to debut their invention overseas before the U.S. brought it into their factories.
Final thoughts on hospital robots
Now, the robot is a staff member rolling alongside you down the hall, opening elevators, and delivering meds to patients. Can workers adjust now that the once fictional creations of science fiction writers are taking part in the scheduling of meds for say, an Alzheimer’s patient?
Studies are split citing some workers in favor of it and others pointing to a flaw in mass health care, saying that care should be smaller and more focused without the need for robots. However professionals adjust, Devol’s invention has certainly cemented itself as one of the most powerful and intriguing fixtures in modern culture.