Imagine yourself working in a big car factory, where you have to arrange the same car parts every day. Doing the same work repeatedly can be exhausting and boring, right?  But what if someone gave you a robot friend to help you? Feels so amazing, right? That’s what happened in the 1960s at General Motors, where the first robot was born—Unimate. Today, robots, like Unimate, are used in many different industries around the world. They help make our lives easier and safer. In this article, we will learn about the amazing story of Unimate, the first robot ever used in a factory. We’ll discover how it was created, worked, and changed the manufacturing industry forever. 

Creation of Unimate, the First Robot

George Devol and Joseph Engelberger created Unimate in the early 1960s. Devol was an inventor and entrepreneur who had been working on the concept of a programmable robot for several years, while Engelberger was a businessman who recognized the potential of automation in industry.1,2,3,4,5,6

Devol’s original idea was for a machine that could transfer objects from one location to another. But, he soon realized that such a machine would require the ability to perceive and respond to its environment. So, he developed a system of sensors and controls that could guide a robot’s movements.  He named this invention—Programmable Article Transfer and filed a patent in 1954.

Engelberger saw the potential of Devol’s invention in 1956 and convinced him to work with him to enhance the device’s performance and market it. They decided to call it “Robot.”

Together, Devol and Engelberger refined the design of the robot and developed the necessary software and control systems. They named their company Unimation Inc. and began marketing the robot, named Unimate, to industrial customers.

The first customer for Unimate was General Motors, which installed the robot in its New Jersey plant in 1961. The robot’s success in this application led to its widespread adoption in industry, and Unimation became a leading manufacturer of industrial robots.

How did Unimate Work?

Unimate, the first robot, was a large, industrial robot arm with six axes of motion, capable of lifting heavy objects and moving them precisely in 3D space. This is how it worked.7,8

  • A magnetic drum and computer controlled the robot. It received data about the environment and position of Unimate from its sensors, which included limit switches, proximity sensors, and potentiometers. The proximity sensors found nearby objects, the limit switches indicated where the robot’s range of motion ended, and the potentiometers gave feedback on the arm’s position.
  • It used hydraulic and electric power to move and lift objects.The hydraulic system was used to provide the force needed to lift and move heavy objects, while the electric system was used to control the movement of the arm.
  • The robot had six motion axes, allowing it to move in 3D space.The arm was made up of a series of interconnected segments, each of which was powered by a hydraulic cylinder or an electric motor. The arm was capable of lifting and moving heavy objects with great precision.
  • The robot’s arm had a customized tool at the end known as the end effector that could be used for various tasks.The end effector could be a simple gripper for picking up and moving objects, or a more complex tool for performing specific tasks, such as welding or painting.
  • Unimate needed to have its movements programmed on a computer in order to function. For this, a programming language called VAL was used, which allowed the user to specify the arm’s position and movement, the timing and sequence of operations.
  • Unimate had safety features such as emergency stop buttons, and the programming language included safety checks to protect the machine and its human operators.

Role of Unimate in Manufacturing Industry’s Transformation

Unimate, the first industrial robot, revolutionized the manufacturing industry by introducing automation to the factory floor. 

Before Unimate, people did all the jobs in factories, which was hard because they could get tired, make mistakes, or get hurt.

It had a substantial and far-reaching impact on the manufacturing industry. Here are some examples of how it played a significant and productive role:9,10,11,12,13,14

Increased Productivity: Because Unimate could work continuously, without taking breaks or rests, and more quickly than human workers, manufacturers could produce more products in a shorter amount of time. As a result, their overall productivity and profitability significantly increased.

Improved Quality: Unimate’s precision and accuracy reduced the risk of errors or defects in manufactured products. Because of the robot’s ability to do things the same way every time, each product was made to the exact specifications, resulting in higher quality goods.

Reduced Costs: By replacing human labor with a machine, manufacturers were able to reduce their labor costs and increase efficiency. This made it possible for them to offer products at a lower price to consumers.

Safer Working Environment: Unimate could do dangerous and repetitive tasks in factories, so it meant that people didn’t have to do those jobs again and again or risk getting hurt. This made the factory floor a safer working environment.

Increased Innovation: Unimate made it possible to use robots to do more things in factories, and this encouraged people to keep inventing new robots and ways to automate tasks. This has led to the development of new types of industrial robots, with a wide range of applications beyond manufacturing, including healthcare and service industries.

Unimate changed how things were made in factories, and we can still see the effects of its invention today. As we continue to explore the possibilities of robotics and automation, let’s take inspiration from Unimate’s innovation and push the limits of what is possible.

For more blogs on robotics, automation, and programming languages, visit Byju’s FutureSchool Blog.


  1. Unimate – The First Industrial Robot. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2023, from 
  2. George Devol Invents Unimate, the First Industrial Robot : History of Information. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2023, from 
  3. George Devol: A Life Devoted to Invention, and Robots – IEEE Spectrum. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2023, from 
  4. Unimate – ROBOTS: Your Guide to the World of Robotics. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2023, from 
  5. Unimate: The Story of George Devol and the First Robotic Arm – The Atlantic. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2023, from 
  6. How George Devol and Joseph Engelberger Developed the First Industrial Robot. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2023, from 
  7. Bob Williams, An Introduction to Robotics, EE/ME 4290/5290 Mechanics and Control of Robotic Manipulators,  Retrieved March 15, 2023, from 
  8. Emilio Jose S´ anchez Tapia, Robot Control and Programming, Tecnun,  Retrieved March 15, 2023, from 
  9. Unimate Industrial Robot in Use in Factory, 1968-1975 – The Henry Ford. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2023, from 
  10. The Robot Revolution in Manufacturing Industry | Industry EMEA. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2023, from 
  11. How have robots changed manufacturing? | HowStuffWorks. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2023, from 
  12. The Next Industrial Revolution. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2023, from 
  13. How Has Robotics Changed Manufacturing Industry? – USM. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2023, from 
  14. A Brief History of Industrial Robotics in the 20th Century. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2023, from