Industrial robotics – how it started

The history of robots in Czechoslovakia is not well known in the current Czech Republic, not even among experts in the field. When it comes to Czechoslovak robots, witnesses are probably the first to remember the industrial robot PR 32. They will remember less than the PR 32 robots were originally developed as PRAM 03 in the ZSE concern (VÚSE, VÚSTE, VÚES, MEZ) and only then, during delimitation in the early 1980s, were handed over to Slovakia at the VÚKOV Research Institute in Prešov, where they were renamed PR 32-E. Under this name, they were then manufactured and supplied to the Czechoslovak industry throughout the 1990s.

However, within the PRAM series, PRAM 01 robots with asynchronous motors and stop1) control was developed even earlier, which were used for the assembly of stator plates in MEZ Mohelnice. Around the same time as the PR 32-E robots, the first KUKA welding robots appeared at the Škoda National Company in Mladá Boleslav.

At present, industrial robots are no longer manufactured in the Czech Republic. There are well-known mobile robots from BUT in the world. The team of prof. Luďka Žaluda at CEITEC BUT in Brno is working on the development of robots that can save human lives in inaccessible conditions. Other robots are being created at other technical universities, but in no case do they have the ambition to enter the market as industrial robots.

The robots of Czech industry are currently being taken care of by robots from foreign companies. Some of them have active technical offices and development centers in the Czech Republic. For example, ABB in the Czech Republic develops robotic cells for the whole of Europe. On the contrary, there are well-known Czech engineering companies in the world that implement projects of robotic workplaces.

In my professional engineering life, for the first seven years, from 1974 to 1981, I dealt with the development, construction and optimal control of industrial manipulators and robots at the Research Institute of Heavy Current Electrical Engineering (VÚSE) in Běchovice. My tutor and guarantor at CTU FME was prof. Pavel Zítek and one of my successors to prof. Zítka was the current dean – prof. Michael Valášek, ie “professional background and succession” as it should be.

For these reasons, in 2018 I was invited by the Faculty of Applied Informatics of Tomas Bata University in Zlín as an “expert-witness-educator” to the newly emerging study field “robots, programming and their applications”. At the end of my professional life, I lecture on the history, present and future of robots, under the guidance of prof. Vladimír Vašek (professionally cooperating with the editorial board of the Automa magazine) and the guarantor of the new field of study doc. Lubomír Vašek.

Robotics is latently spoken of in some current media as a completely new phenomenon associated with new trends in industry (Industry 4.0) and digitization, but this is not true because robots have been here for a long time. Robotics is talked about in the media in connection with their superior intelligent control and their connection to “robotic and industrial clouds”.

There is no talk that a robot (or manipulator) is a sovereign engineering product that cannot be manufactured at all without the advanced engineering and electrical engineering industry, let alone in the required technical level and quality.