Robots! Merging Man and Machine

June 10 - September 25, 2005

We think of robots as modern aspects of our technology-driven culture, but the concept of the mechanical man goes back to antiquity and recurs in many cultures and civilizations throughout the ages. Today we take robots almost for granted. They are staples of literature and entertainment as well as essential elements in the production of goods.

What is a robot, anyway? Do they have to look like people? How did they get their name? When did the concept of mechanical man first surface? What makes a robot work? What can they do well, and where do they fail in comparison with living creatures? How have robots influenced popular culture? And what do you expect from robots in the future?

Robots exist in many forms and perform many functions, from entertainment and education to manufacturing and service. Here you can learn about robots past and present - from the earliest appearances of mechanical men and animals to robots that the military uses today to explore caves in Afghanistan.

The notion of artificial or mechanical men is at least as old as ancient Greece, but the word "robot" was not coined until the early 20th century when it appeared in the play R.U.R. , for Rossum's Universal Robots, by Czech playwright Karel Capek. Shortly afterwards German filmmaker Fritz Lang showed a bleak vision of a totalitarian future in his film Metropolis , featuring a beautiful female robot named Maria.
In the United States, science dominated and robots took on a more practical aspect. At the 1939 Worlds Fair in New York, Westinghouse exhibited the robotic man Elektro and his dog, Sparky. These robots were clearly here to serve mankind, not to dominate.

Since then, engineers have developed robots that can assemble automobiles, do surgery, perform precision handling of semiconductor components and chemical substances, and explore other planets. Authors and movie-makers have incorporated robots, both friend and foe, into works to amuse or terrify us, such as R2D2, HAL, B9, Robby, Gort and other cyber-stars of film and TV.

The Technology Challenge

Robot History

Industrial Robots

Robots in Society

Robots in Medicine

Robotic Vehicles

Robots in Space

Robots in the Home and Office

Quotes about Robots

Exhibit photos

Robot Roundup day



ASIMO Robot A look at Honda's ASIMO Robot

Babbage Difference Engine in LEGO How to build a LEGO-based computing machine.

Bay Area LEGO User's Group Website for BayLUG, with news, links and contacts

DARPA Grand Challenge The Robotic Vehicle race is won by Stanford! What's next?

History of Robotics 6th grade (Junior Division), 1999 History Day project: 1st place California State competition, Best Historical Website

LEGO MINDSTORM website See what's new with LEGO robotics

PC in LEGO Making a PC from LEGO elements. This article from PC magazine includes a video of the construction.

Mars Rover videos NASA/Jet Propusion Laboratory site with videos of how the Mars Rover robot operates and navigates.

NQC website NQC is an expert-level way to write programs for LEGO robots.

Robotics Research Group Robotics at the University of Texas

Short History of Robots A short summary as seen by NASA

Snake robots Videos of robots that slither!

Universal Robots Robotics as seen by TheTech


LEGO MINDSTORMS Idea Book , Joe Nagata, No Starch Press, San Francisco, 1999

Robot Building for Beginners , David Cook, Apress, 2002

Robotics Past, Present & Future , David C. Knight, William Morrow & Company, New York, 1983

Robots: Reel to Real , Barbara Krasnoff,Arco Publishing, Inc., New York 1982

Credits and acknowledgements

The Museum of American Heritage acknowledges the many contributions of individuals and organizations who contributed their time, knowledge, equipment and support to the great benefit of this exhibit.
  • Kyle Barriger, Jr.
  • Wendy Breu
  • Bay Area Lego User's Group
  • Castilleja School
  • Ri-Chee Chou
  • Computer History Museum
  • Exponent, Inc.
  • Gary Guthart
  • Dr. Gavin Miller
  • Honda Motor Co., Ltd.
  • Immersion Corporation
  • Intuitive Surgical, Inc.
  • iRobot Corporation
  • Camp Peavy
  • Monroe Postman
  • Emily, Jeff & Brandon Risberg
  • Dr. Victor Scheinman
  • Bob Schneeveis
  • Dr. Mike Van der Loos
  • David Wegmuller

MOAH Exhibits Committee

  • Theodora Nelson, Chair
  • Beth Bunnenberg
  • Dick Clark
  • Sierra Gonzalez
  • Bob Katzive
  • Isabel Kennedy
  • Art Nothoff
  • Kim Pack
  • Beryl Self
  • Bill Wehrend
2005 Museum of American Heritage Sponsors
The Frank Livermore Trust * The Moore Family Foundation * See's Candies
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This page last updated: May 1, 2006
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