One of the early leaders in robotics was consumer packaged goods giant, General Mills. Early robotic arms were meant to replicate human movements lifting, pulling, pressing or pushing objects. In 1960, General Mills built the Minotaur an electrical manipulator under contract for Los Alamos Research Lab. Minotaur had two pairs of adjustable arms that responded to a remote operator’s commands. Each hand grip was adjustable to manipulate 75 pounds. General Mills followed up with the Little Ranger mobile remote handler. It could tow 850 pounds, lift 50 pounds up to 8 feet and turn on its axis. General Mills spun off its robotic manipulator business shortly after.
One of the first industrial robots used for packaging appeared in the early 1960s in a candy factory in Kitchener, Ontario. The first dedicated packaging robot, Roby, was designed by Gerhard Schubert in 1981 and introduced to market in 1984. Roby transported and placed individual products from a feeder belt or a magazine into a box or plastic tray. It was equipped with a programmable insertion unit.
In the years following General Mills’ Little Ranger, the focus was on mobile service robots that could operate independently of humans. The first fully mobile service robot, called Shakey, was built at the Stanford Research Center in 1968. Shakey was propelled by two motorized wheels and two obstacle-sensing bumpers. Shakey laid the groundwork for the programmable material handling robots of today that work alongside and interact with human coworkers.