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The first digital and programmable robot was called Unimate and was sold for a $35,000 loss to General Motors the same year its patent was approved. The Unimate was filed for patenting by George Devol in 1954 (granted in 1961, US Patent 2,988,237).
The machine was stationed at GM’s Ewing Township, New Jersey plant. The automaker used the 2,700 pound Unimate to extract die-castings and weld them onto auto bodies. This was a dangerous task for workers, who might be poisoned by toxic fumes or lose a limb if they were not careful.
The original Unimate consisted of two large connected boxes and an arm which had systematic tasks stored in a drum memory. It wasn’t long before Chrysler, Ford, and other manufacturers sought Unimates of their own and in short time, hundreds of the robotic arm were employed.
By 1966, the Unimate entered full-scale production at Unimation in Connecticut and during the same year worldwide audiences on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show watched it pour beer and play golf.
In popular culture, DC Comics’ character Alan von Neumann, Jr. created a fictional robots called Unimate.