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The Robots Are Coming, The Robots Are Coming.
Time; 06/14/1968, Vol. 91 Issue 24, p113, 1p
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Czech Republic
Karel Capek
AMF Thermatool Inc.
CAPEK, Karel, 1890-1938
The article reports on the emergence of robots in the working industry to replace jobs which workers deem as repetitive and tedious. According to the author, the term 'robot' was coined by Czech author Karel Capek in his 1921 play "R.U.R," whose theme was world domination by mechanical workers. It adds that in the U.S., there are two firms, Unimation Inc. and AMF Thermatool Inc., which manufacture first-generation robots for companies to buy or lease.
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The Robots Are Coming, The Robots Are Coming

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In his 1921 play R.U.R., Czech Author Karel Capek, the man who coined the term robot, conjured up an army of mechanical monsters that succeeded in taking over the world. Today milder, real-life versions of such creatures are starting to find places in factories and plants, and what they are taking over is a number of industry's most toilsome chores. Unlike other automated machinery, which is usually stationary and must be manned by production workers, these so-called industrial robots can be moved from job to job and programmed to perform tasks virtually on their own.

The typical robot is outrigged with a hydraulic arm that, mounted on a desk-like base, is capable of reaching out, seizing industrial material and moving it from one spot to another. The two leading U.S. manufacturers of first-generation robots are Connecticut-based Unimation Inc. (a subsidiary of Pullman Inc.) and AMF Thermatool, Inc., of New Rochelle, N.Y. (a subsidiary of AMF Co.), which between them have about 140 of their surrealistic creations (price range: $18,000 to $25,000) operating in plants at home and abroad. With the robots proving their worth in one industry after another, the two companies expect to have sold, rented or leased 5,000 of them by 1972.

In Macon, Ga., the Burns Brick Co. uses two robots to handle 8,000 bricks an hour, a work load ordinarily requiring seven men; each of the robots plucks eight bricks at a time off a table, then drops them gently onto cars carrying them to kilns for baking. General Motors employs a robot to move heated steering linkage rods into forging dies. Ford uses one to paint engines, while robots at Corning Glass Works pick up dinnerware after it has been decorated and put it onto a conveyor belt.

Shaking Hands. Many of the machines promise to pay for themselves in labor-cost savings in as little as two years. For some applications, it is more economical to rent. One Unimation rent-a-robot plan costs the user $2.70 per hour for the first 500 hours and $1.70 thereafter. Moreover, notes Company Vice Chairman Norman I. Schafler, the tireless robots "take no lunches or coffee breaks and do not care about working more than one shift."

Organized labor has not exactly welcomed the new machines. The robot, complains a United Automobile Workers official, can "even be programmed to shake hands. Presumably it could be set up to shake hands to say goodbye to the people it replaces." Yet in many cases, the people the robots replace are glad. Caterpillar Tractor Co. uses a Unimation-made robot to feed steel pins into furnaces, a tedious task that workmen heretofore had to perform with long-handled tongs. "The work is hot and repetitive," says a Caterpillar spokesman. "For the worker, it was just not desirable." For the robot, it's just a job.

Copyright © Time Inc., 1968. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be duplicated or redisseminated without permission.

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