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"The First of the True Robots" (1951)

In 1951 American computer scientist and popular writer Edmund Berkeley developed Squee, the Electronic Robot Squirrel. Squee has been called, "the first of the true robots," because it was the first robot able to carry out a defined task, as opposed to just steering towards light. The task was collecting "nuts," which in the robot's case meant tennis balls. Squee was also the first robot to have a manipulator under automatic control. 

"Squee (named after 'squirrel') is an electronic robot squirrel. It contains four sense organs (two phototubes, two contact switches), three acting organs (a drive motor, a steering motor, and a motor which opens and closes the scoop or 'hands'), and a small brain of half a dozen relays. It will hunt for a 'nut'. The 'nut' is a tennis ball designated by a member of the audience who steadily holds a flashlight above the ball, pointing the light at Squee. Then Squee approaches, picks up the 'nut' in its 'hands' (the scoop), stops paying attention to the steady light, sees instead a light that goes on and off 120 times a second shining over its 'nest', takes the 'nut' to its 'nest', there leaves the nuts, and then returns to hunting more 'nuts'. When Squee is operating, it is a dramatic and exciting example of a robot. It has been exhibited in New York, Pittsburgh, and Minneapolis, and has always entertained and excited the audience. The machine however is sensitive to the surrounding light level, and usually has to be shown in a room about 8 by 10 ft. with only a small amount of overhead light and black curtained walls. Data: completed; rather well finished but not professionally; 75% reliable; maintenance, difficult; our costs, about $3,000" (Berkeley, Small Robots--Report [1956]).

Berkeley constructed only one example of Squee. It is preserved at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, the gift of Gordon Bell.

Filed under: Robotics / Automata