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First Humanoid Robot (History of Humanoid Robots)

A brief history of robotics: The origin of the first humanoid robot

To understand the origin of the first humanoid robot, it is important to understand a little more about the history of robotics, and the history of humanoid robots.


The word robot comes from a Czech word, Robota, meaning "forced labour". It was first used by the Czech writer Karel ńĆapek, to denote a fictional character in the 1920s play 'Rossum's Universal Robots'.

By definition, a robot is: A machine, programmable by a computer, capable of carrying out a series of actions automatically. But what defines a humanoid robot?

Humanoid Robot

A humanoid robot is a robot with a body shape built to reflect the human body. Generally humanoid robots have a torso with a head, two arms and two legs, however, many modern humanoid robots are only based on the human body only from the waist up.

The first humanoid robot?

First Humanoid Robot, Herbert Televox

Herbert Televox, by Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co

By definition of the word, Herbert Televox, was the first ever humanoid robot. Built by Ron Wensley in 1927, the robot could lift the receiver to accept a telephone call and control simple processes by operating switches according to the signals it received. While the robot did not have the ability to speak when it was first created, it later learnt to say two simple sentences.

However, although Televox lacked the ability to speak, it had the ability to listen with a sensitive microphone placed close to the telephone receiver and could respond to actions based on sound and pitch. These sonic signals allowed Televox to control switches and consequently the appliances that were attached to it.

Televox was humanoid in appearance, however, the humanoid appearance comes from a basic cut out that was added to the robot when it was demonstrated.

Herbert Televox was only the starting point for Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co. They later went on to create ‘Elektro the Moto-Man’ in 1937 which many people consider to be the real first humanoid robot.


Elektro, created by engineer, Joseph Barnett and was constructed from aluminium and steel. Elektro is 210cm tall, weighs over 120kg and capable of performing 26 different routines including waking, talking, counting and smoking.

The History of Robotics

To understand the modern world of humanoid robots, it is important to look at the comprehensive evolution of robotics from 400BC including:

  • The mechanical progression of humanoid robots
  • The progression of factory and industrial robots
  • The social aspects of robotics

Drawings of humanoid robots exist from as early as 1495 and robots stared in plays and movies even from the 1920s. These develops in social and humanoid robotics has changed how society views robots in contemporary society.

A brief History of Robotics

400 BC

Mechanical Bird Robot

400BC was the real starting point of robotics, when Mathematician Archytas created the first steam powered mechanical bird. In its best run, it flew approximately 200 meters before running out of steam. Not only was this the first robot ever created, it was also one of the first instances of scientific research into flying.


Around 1495, Leonardo da Vinci sketched a plan for the first recorded ‘humanoid robot’, known as Leonardo’s Robot. The robot could stand, sit, raise its visor and individually move its arms. The entire robot was operated by a number of pulleys and cables.


Ford Assembly Line

In 1913, Henry Ford installed the world's first, conveyor belt, assembly line in his car factory. Henry Ford wanted his Model T car to be affordable for everyone, to do this he needed to be able to build them more efficiently. The conveyor belt assembly line reduced the time it took to build a Model T from over 12 hours down to 93 minutes.


The 1920s was the first time that robots broke into mainstream media. In 1921 the word “robot” was first coined by Czech playwriter Karel Carek, in his play R.U.R (Rossum’s Universal Robots) The play was about a factory that builds artificial people, robots, to be servants for humans.


Metropolis Robot Film Cover

1926 was the first year that robots made it to Hollywood. Metropolis was the first movie to have a geminoid robot. Maschinenmensch, the robot, became one of the most iconic robots for many years after the movie. Maschinenmensch was the inspiration to many other robot movies over the next few decades.


Herbert Televox, as previously discussed, was first created by Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co in 1927, as the first ‘Humanoid’ robot. Televox’s creation started the developmental process leading to their later robots such as Elektro was more widely accepted as the first advanced humanoid robot to be created.


In 1941 Isacc Asimov, a legendary science fiction writer, released the short story ‘Liar!’ that outlines the three laws of robotics.

Asimovs three laws are still considered the best safety restrictions that a robot could be programmed to abide, the three laws are:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

The story was later recompiled into 'I, Robot' which was reproduced as a movie in 2004.


Turing Test Diagram

In 1952, Alan Turing developed the Turing test, to determine if a machine truly has the power to think for itself. To pass the test, a robot or machine must be indistinguishable from a human during a conversation.

The Turing test is still used to this day to test robots and artificial intelligence bots. However, the test is subjective because bots are often much better at specific subjects and may only be indistinguishable from a human during specific conversation topics.


In 1961, the first digitally operated and programmable robot, the Unimate, was installed on the general motors assembly line. The robot was used to lift hot pieces of metal from a die casting machine and stack them. The Unimate became the basis of many of the industrial robots still used in assembly lines today.


WABOT 1 and WABOT 2 robots

Waseda University started the WABOT project in 1967. The WABOT-1 robot was completed in 1972 and was the world’s first full-scale android humanoid robot. It was the first robot able to walk and communicate with people in Japanese, navigate a room and grip and transport objects. They later went on to create WABOT-2 which was capable of reading a musical score and playing an electric keyboard.


R2-D2 and C-3PO

George Lucas releases the first Star Wars movie in 1977 which became one of the highest grossing movie franchises of all time. The movie inspired a new generation of research by demonstrating a human future shared with robots such as the now famous R2-DT and C-3PO.


IBM created a computer known as deep blue in 1996 with one of the first instances of artificial intelligence (before deep learning artificial intelligence was created a decade later). The computer was designed to play chess and on May 11th 1997 it beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov.


First Ever Robocup in 1997

The first ever Robocup tournament was held in japan in 1997. The aim of Robocup was to promote AI and robotics research by offering a publicly appealing but formidable challenge. The goal of the Robocup is to have a fully automated team of robotics that has the ability to beat the worlds best football team by the year 2050.


Original Asimo Robot by Honda

After more than two decades of research Honda debuts ASIMO, ASIMO had 11 robotic predecessors that were developed in order to research bipedal walking robots. Upon its release ASIMO was the most advanced robot in the world, since then it has been continually developed and was the first robot capable of running, jumping and using the stairs. ASIMO is still seen as one of the most advanced robots in the world today.


Aldebaran Robotics release Nao, a small 2’ tall humanoid robot, used worldwide by universities as a research platform and educational tool. Nao has become the face of social robotics. Nao has also replaced Sony’s Aibo robot dog and has become the standard platform for the Robocup. Over 5000 of these robots are being used in more than 50 different countries and have been programmed to do number of things such as help in company receptions, care homes and even help Autistic children.


Robonaut 2

NASA and General Motors revealed Roboaut 2, a highly advanced humanoid robot that was part of the Discovery shuttle launch in 2011. Robonaut was designed to assist NASA with space walks and has enough dexterity to use tools and work alongside astronauts in future space expeditions.

NASA later went on to develop Valkyrie, a robot that has been developed with the ability to ultimately setup habitats on Mars prior to human arrival.


Softbank Robotics release Pepper, which quickly became the leading commercially available social robot. Pepper was rolled out in Softbank’s mobile stores in Japan and has since been use in Carrefour and Renault stores across France.


Sophia Robot

Hanson Robotics release Sophia, a social robot with silicone skin, and the ability to interact with people and display more than 50 facial expressions. Sophia has been covered my media around the world and has participated in many high-profile interviews. The Sophia robot is also the first ever robot to be granted citizenship of a country.

2019 and onwards...

The future of robotics is an exciting prospect and an industry that LUCA is proud to be a part of. To keep up to date on the fascinating developments of the robotics industry please don’t hesitate to follow us on twitter.