Times have certainly changed – just look at what kids are playing with these days. While toy cars and dolls may still keep youngsters entertained, popular playthings of the new generation include video games, remote control toys, and toy robots.
The origin of toy robots can be traced back to the development of robots. One of the earliest robots was an automaton invented by Frenchman Jacques de Vaucanson in 1738. He made a self-automating mechanical duck that was able to eat and digest grain, flap its wings, and excrete. In Japan, Hisashige Tanaka created an assortment of extremely complex mechanical toys, some of which were capable of firing arrows, serving tea, or even painting a Japanese character.
In the 1930s, Westinghouse Electric Corporation built a humanoid robot. The robot, called Elektro, was exhibited at the World’s Fair during 1939 and 1940. From 1948 to 1949, William Grey Walter of the Burden Neurological Institute at Bristol, England developed the first electronic autonomous robots. Named Elmer and Elsie, these “turtle robots” could sense light and contact with external objects. They were also capable of finding their charging station when their battery power ran low.
The first truly modern robot that was digitally operated, programmable, and teachable was invented by George Devol in 1954. His robot was called the Unimate, which he sold to General Motors in 1960. In 1961, it was installed in a plant in Trenton, New Jersey to lift hot pieces of metal from a die casting machine and stack them.
In 1985, the Tomy Kyogo Company created the Omnibot 2000, a toy robot that could be controlled with a hand-held remote control or through programs stored on magnetic tape. In the late 1990s, AIBO the robotic dog was introduced by Sony. AIBO was capable of autonomously navigating a room and playing ball using its sensor array. Other pet robots soon followed. Tiger Electronics created the Furby in 1998, a pet toy that could communicate with its owner. In 2001, Omron released the robotic cat NeCoRo as a competitor to AIBO. It had Mind and Consciousness (MaC) technology, enabling it to generate feelings.
Toy robots have certainly come a long way from Jacques de Vaucanson’s mechanical duck over two centuries ago. They are a more common sight nowadays, and it is without a doubt that we will continue to see more of toy robots in the years to come.