Shakey, World’s First Mobile Robot, Honored by IEEE

In honor of Shakey the robot, watch this 1969 documentary about the world's first mobile, intelligent robot.

Shakey, the world’s first mobile, intelligent robot, was honored by the IEEE Milestone in Electrical Engineering and Computing program. The award honors “significant inventions, locations or events related to electrical engineering and computing that have benefited humanity, and which are at least 25 years old.”

Members of the original Shakey team participated in a dedication event yesterday at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. And in honor of this milestone, we’ve re-shared the 1969 documentary atop this page that provides an awesome look at how Shakey came to life.

Awesome stuff.

As cast on a bronze plaque, the IEEE Milestone’s citation reads: “Stanford Research Institute’s Artificial Intelligence Center developed the world’s first mobile, intelligent robot, Shakey. It could perceive its surroundings, infer implicit facts from explicit ones, create plans, recover from errors in plan execution, and communicate using ordinary English. Shakey’s software architecture, computer vision, and methods for navigation and planning proved seminal in robotics and in the design of web servers, automobiles, factories, video games, and Mars rovers.”

Here’s a description from SRI International about Shakey:

“Shakey, which was named after its wobbly gait, had a TV camera, a triangulating range finder, and bump sensors, and was connected to DEC PDP-10 and PDP-15 computers via radio and video links. Shakey used programs for perception, world modeling, and acting. Low-level action routines took care of simple moving, turning, and route planning. Intermediate level actions strung the low-level ones together in ways that robustly accomplished more complex tasks. The highest-level programs could make and execute plans to achieve goals given it by a user. The system also generalized and saved these plans for possible future use.

“Originally, Shakey was controlled by a SDS-940 computer acquired in 1966 with 64K 24-bit words of memory. Programmed in Fortran and Lisp, Shakey’s problem solving was done in QA3. This was replaced by a “large” PDP-10 around 1969 with 192K 36-bit words of memory. STRIPS was then used for problem solving, with QA4 developed later. When the movie was made, Shakey’s programs occupied over 300,000 36-bit words.”

Shakey Robot Specs
Early design for Shakey in 1965. Shakey’s retractable arm was never built. (Credit: SRI)

Charles Rosen, a researcher at the Stanford Research Institute (now known as SRI International) and project manager for Shakey, initially dreamed up the idea of the robot back in November 1963. Rosen and his team wrote a research proposal to DARPA in 1965 (PDF) detailing an “intelligent automata” that could “perform reconnaissance missions” that would normally require human intelligence.

DARPA eventually gave the researchers $750,000, which today equates to more than $5.8 million, to build what turned out to be Shakey. Shakey was also inducted into Carnegie Mellon University’s Robot Hall of Fame in 2004.

Shakey Mobile Robot
The video and sensor information collected by Shakey was processed by a computer. (Credit: SRI)

Shakey Robot Team
The Shakey robot team reunited in 1983. (Credit: SRI)

About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
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