George Devol (above right) died last week at his home in Connecticut. He invented the Unimate, the first programmable Industrial Robot. But his creative genius did not stop there. Check out these five little-known inventions developed during his long career.
1. Phantom Doorman Photoelectric Door
Devol formed United Cinephone and, using photoelectric switches, created the first automatic door. He licensed the invention to Yale & Towne who used it to produce the Phantom Doorman, an automatic door like ones we see today in grocery stores.
2. Photoelectric Bar Code Reader
United Cinephone excelled at combining photoelectric cells and vacuum tube control systems to create new devices. One such device was a rudimentary bar code system that would sort packages at the Railway Express Company.
3. Orthoplane lighting
Orthoplane lighting made its way from United Cinephone research labs into factories in the US. This overhead lighting system promised to be am easy-to-install, no glare solution that provided more working light per watt than any of its competitors.
4. Automatic Laundry Press
During World War II, Devol applied for a patent that described a novel control system for laundry press machines. These controls were proximity-based and both opened and closed the press when workers approached the machine.
5. The Speedy Weeny
After World War II, Devol experimented with microwave oven technology; an interest that lead to the development of the Speedy Weeny. This machine used microwave energy to cook hot dogs and dispense them on demand. The machines were installed in several locations including Grand Central Terminal in New York City.
Besides the smaller inventions above, Devol is best known as the creator of the first programmable Industrial robot. In 1954, Devol applied for a patent that described a robotic arm whose instructions were stored on a drum. This patent would lead to the development of the Unimate industrial robot and the formation of Unimation, Inc. Seven years later in 1961, the first Unimate was installed at GM and used to transfer hot die-cast metal pieces. It was the first programmable industrial robot ever to land on a factory production line and kicked off a revolution in robotics that continues to this day. [NY Times]
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