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Why is a robot called a ‘robot’?

The word ‘robot’ comes from the Czech word ‘robota’, which can mean different things that are all related to ‘labour’. ‘Robot’ was first used in the Czech play “R.U.R.” (Rossum’s Universal Robots), to describe a humanoid machine that performed tasks. The play was written in 1920, when robots did not even exist yet.

From 1940, people began developing autonomous electrical machines. These machines were called ‘robots’, named after the play from 1920. The first robots were driving robots that looked like turtles. In the following years, robots were developed to do tasks for humans. Around 1960, the factory robot ‘Unimate’ was built; a robotic arm that could do factory work, for example on a conveyor belt.

Robots now come in many shapes and sizes. They build cars, help surgeons during operations, vacuum our homes and explore spaces that cannot be reached by people.