Most people probably think of robotics as a very modern area of engineering. However, it has a surprisingly long history, going all the way back to the year 400 BC! Less surprisingly, this feat was achieved by one of the great philosopher-scientists of the Ancient Greeks, a man called Archytas who was a good friend of Plato. His invention, which he called the pigeon, was a bird-shaped model which could propel itself around 200 metres through the air on steam power.

Some may argue whether this really was a robot or not – the term does not have a set definition. However, it was an automatic mechanical device built to resemble and function in the manner of a living creature, which satisfies many of the criteria most often used.

This was not an isolated invention; many other ancients created automata which may, in modern terms, be called robots. Hero of Alexandria wrote on the use of automata which used pneumatic or mechanical systems to create wonders in temples – doors which opened or closed automatically, and statues that poured wine.

With the dawn of the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci also worked on the concept of robotics. His notebooks contained detailed drawings and notes on the creation of a mechanical knight which could stand, sit, raise the visor on its helmet and independently move its arms. It is thought to have been displayed at the court of Milan in 1495, and since the discovery of the notes models have been built which proved to be fully functional.

Bird-shaped robots were apparently very popular in the past; as well as Archytas’ pigeon and birds created by ancient Chinese philosophers, a “Digesting Duck” was built by Jacques de Vaucanson in 1739, which could flap its wings and appeared to eat grain and turn it into excrement.

The word “robot” itself originated in a 1921 play, R.U.R.,  by a Czech writer named Karel Čapek who took it from the Slovak word for “worker”, and it was shortly after this that robotics began to take their place in industry. Humanoid robots were exhibited at the 1939 and 1940 World’s Fairs, and Unimate, the first industrial robot, was installed onto a General Motors manufacturing line in 1961.

The development of microcomputers has allowed great advances in robotics, to the extent that the Japanese Prime Minister recently suggested that a Robot Olympics may run alongside the 2020 games.


Alongside highly advanced computer technology, today’s robotics engineers also rely heavily on the humble spring; torsion springs are vital components in robotic joints, helping the engineers to create human motions.

Here at Airedale Springs, we produce a wide range of springs for an equally wide range of uses. For more information, or to talk to us about your requirements, contact us on 01535 643456.