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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Industrial Robot: An International Journal, Volume 36, Issue 6
As I write this editorial, the world is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first manned Moon landing on July 20, 1969. Looking back now at the technology that was available at the time, it is amazing that so much was accomplished with so little.
The Apollo missions were the first to use digital as opposed to analogue computers. The computer was known as the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) and the following extract from the documentation for Apollo 11 makes interesting reading:
Instruction Set: Approximately 20 instructions;
100 noun-verb pairs, data up to triple-precision
Word Length: 16 bits (14 bits+sign+parity)
Memory: ROM (rope core) 36K words; RAM (core) 2K words
I/O: DSKY (two per spacecraft) [keyboard]
Performance: approx. Add time – 20μs
Basic machine cycle: 2.048 MHz
Technology: RTL bipolar logic (flat pack)
Size: AGC – 24″ x 12.5″ x 6″ (HWD); DSKY – 8″×8″×7″ (HWD)
Weight: AGC – 70 lbs; DSKY – 17.5 lbs
Number produced: AGC – 75; DSKY: 138
Power consumption: Operating: 70W @ 28VDC; Standby 15.0 watts
The software was imperfect, but apparently it was able to go wrong gracefully as opposed to fatally crashing. Instructions were entered manually by the Apollo crew on the diskey (display keyboard) and they found it logical and easy to use.
At the time of the Moon landing, the world had great expectations regarding the future of space travel. Missions to Mars and bases on the Moon were assumed to be just a few years away. However, the “Giant leap for mankind” turned out to be just a tentative dipping of a toe in the water as funding for projects fell victim to political will and public purse strings.
Fortunately, the same cannot be said of industrial robots that became a reality in the same decade, with the Unimate hydraulic robot first finding service at General Motors in 1961. As with Apollo, one of the most significant aspects of the early robots was that they were able to operate with very limited computer power. All this has now changed, and the space race is credited with having kick-started the semiconductor industry on which we, and our robots, now depend.
Our theme for this issue is the food industry and Robert Bogue's report in this issue makes interesting reading. The food industry has always been an application area of very great potential for the robot industry, however adoption has been held back both by technical limitations and financial justification in an industry powered by low-cost labour.
Many of the technical limitations have now been overcome, as vision gives robots the eyes they need to handle the natural variation that are an inevitable attribute of food products. However, take-up is still very low when compared with numbers of people employed.
At the same time, that the media are giving good coverage to the Moon landing, the front page has now gone to the swine flu epidemic. Although the number of attributed deaths so far here in the UK is still in single figures, we are being warned that a rapid escalation may well be on the cards. By the time you read this, the planet will either be reeling under the onslaught that matches the flu epidemic that followed World War I, or bio-technology will have provide the vaccine to keep the devastation in check.
If the virus does spread, a new virtue will be added to the food robot's sales appeal as hygiene attains unprecedented importance – and if things get really bad, a base on Mars and a crash course in terraforming may be called for.