Written by IEEE | August 10, 2016 | Updated: March 30, 2017
Harry Houdini, one of the most recognizable names in the world of magic, tried his luck as an actor rather unsuccessfully. One of the productions that Houdini was featured in did still standout — the 1919 film The Master Mystery was the first ever film to feature a robot. The robot, Q “The Automation,” takes the role of one of Houdini’s adversaries in the film. It’s been nearly 100 years since the world was first introduced to the robot and Houdini’s acting ambitious, and the movie industry has never looked back.
Everyone remembers the robots R2D2 and C3PO from the Star Wars film franchise, but when they were first created, they were figments of our imagination. Over the past few decades, advancements spearheaded by IEEE and its members in artificial intelligence (AI), computing, Wi-FiⓇ, robotics and automation, sensor technology, and a variety of other fields, have brought these robots from screen to reality, further sparking our imaginations.
Robert Downey Jr.’s character in the Ironman series, Tony Stark, is the creator of an exoskeletal robotic suit used for what most Marvel protagonists do best, protecting the world. While it may have seemed impossible to duplicate, a company based out of China is giving it their best shot. There’s even a Chinese tech company that’s working up a prototype of their own exoskeleton named NK-01, that can also be piloted by a human. The firm has clarified that the suits will be primarily used for entertainment purposes, and not for fighting off villains, despite its intimidating look.
Another inventor, James Hobson, has taken the exoskeleton idea and is using it for the benefit of others. His prototype is less aesthetically pleasing than the NK-01, but its impact could very well be significant. Hobson has been able to curl a 77-kilogram (170-pound) barbell, lift a Mini Cooper, and even pick up a truck all using just his invention. He hopes to further expand the applications of his technology, suggesting that one day it might be used as medical gear to augment or supplement a person’s physical strength.
As the film industry continues bring our wildest dreams to the big screen, engineers are working all over the world to create real versions of what were once just props in movies.
Check out our interactive Robotics Map to learn about various robots around the world.