Archive Androids: The History of Robots

Can you tell which is the robot?

We’ve taken a science fiction theme today and have been watching old videos in the British Pathe archive of robots and early computer technology. From roboticised shop mannequins to lipstick applying secretarial assistant androids – the development of robots in the 20th century was considered a fun and trivial affair. In the latter end of the archive there is a shift to much more serious robotic application however – post sorting robots, battery hen analysis and robots intended to fight wars.

Just taking the 1950s as an example here are three brilliant old newsreels related to robot science:

 “Atomic Robot a Handy Man” (1957 footage)

Video footage of a 1957 robot handing a cigarette to a secretary, applying her lipstick and then attempting to pinch her breasts!

Electronic Brain (1954)

Video footage of the Navy introducing its Naval Ordnance Research Calculator (NORC) – Lots of mad lights and spinning tape reels!

Letter Sorting Machine (1956)

“Three times faster than a man” Includes excellent footage of an early “synthetic speech making machine”, known by many today as Microsoft Sam. The machine tries to mimic the human voice.

Keen to know more we Googled “History of Robots” and found a site called Mega Giant which has a fascinating history of robots. Did you know the history of robots dates as far back as 350 BC when Archytas built a mechanical bird that propelled itself using steam. In 322 BC the idea of robots occurred to Aristotle when he wrote “If every tool, when ordered, or even of its own accord, could do the work that befits it… then there would be no need of slaves for the lords.” The word robot comes from the Czech word ‘robota’ meaning ‘compulsory labour’.

See more computer technology films in the British Pathé archive here