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KR FAMULUS - industrial robot ahead of its time

Robots that make work and life easier for people: 50 years ago, this vision became reality in Augsburg. With the KR FAMULUS, the world's first industrial robot with an electric motor started work. An adventure with many surprises, and not just for the KUKA robotics pioneers.

Guest author
13 de dezembro de 2023
Tempo de leitura: 3 minutos
Written by Marcus Schick
In 1920, the Czech writer Josef Čapek used the term "robot" in a play to describe artificially created workers who were supposed to take over human activities. He thus coined the term "robot", which, in addition to technology, also brought the relationship between man and machine into the focus of production managers.

KR FAMULUS: A milestone in the history of robotics

Richard Schwarz was part of the team that developed the first robot with an electric motor for industry over 50 years ago

KR FAMULUS: The servant in ancient Rome

This is probably what the mechanical engineers at KUKA had in mind in the early 1970s when they were looking for a name for the world's first industrial robot powered by an electric motor. The result: KR FAMULUS. In ancient Rome, a "famulus" was the name given to a "servant" or "manservant".

KR FAMULUS: the first modern industrial robot with an electric motor
For the industrial robot, the name should already be the program: as a "helper" that makes the production of goods and the associated industrial processes easier for people.

Industrial robots in the 1970s

At the beginning of the 1970s, however, the road to high-performance and flexible industrial robots still seemed a long one. Very far. Hydraulically driven robots, primarily from US and Japanese production, had already taken over the then still manageable automation of production lines, especially in the automotive industry.
Hydraulic robots were used in KUKA production lines prior to the development of the world's first electrically powered industrial robot
However, recurring breakdowns such as oil leaks and a very limited range of movement prompted the desire for a different, cleaner and more flexible solution.
1970: The development team of the KR FAMULUS - the world's first industrial robot with electrically driven axes

Technological change in the history of robots

A development away from the rather cumbersome and error-prone hydraulic robots towards a modern industrial robot with an electric motor and six axes, towards the KR FAMULUS. And this is exactly what almost a dozen system engineers at KUKA in Augsburg were working on 50 years ago. "The idea of the KR FAMULUS and its implementation is still correct and relevant even after 50 years: KUKA robots are reliable helpers in industrial production with controllers and operating systems that are developed with users for users. This special added value is confirmed to us time and again by our customers, but also in our own day-to-day production," explains Edmund Bahr, Head of Quality and Production at KUKA Deutschland GmbH. Bahr has been with the company for 34 years and has experienced and helped shape the history of robotics first-hand.

You must to be passionate about technology.

Edmund Bahr, Head of Quality and Production bei KUKA Deutschland GmbH
Over 50 years ago, Richard Schwarz was involved in the development of the world´s first robot with an electric motor to be used in industry

On the Greenfield without the World Wide Web

Richard Schwarz can tell us from his own experience what it means to have a passion for robotics. The master electrician joined the company in 1973. And was immediately enthusiastic about the idea of the electrically powered KR FAMULUS industrial robot. "It was all completely new territory back then," recalls the robotics pioneer, who is now 71 years old. "There was no template for our robotics project, we had to rethink everything. We had no internet or Google, at most a few specialist journals and conference proceedings. But that also meant that our team of hobbyists had free rein. We simply made everything we needed ourselves. We taped, etched, drilled and assembled circuit boards. The fact that we didn't build the transistor ourselves was everything."
Richard Schwarz is still at home in the world of robotics at the age of 70

Robotics pioneers with German engineering spirit

Even today, Richard Schwarz likes to think of the German engineering spirit that the development team lived by 50 years ago and that is still present in every KUKA robot today. "We were absolutely convinced that we could create something completely new for industrial production with the KR FAMULUS. Even though we worked in a rather shirt-sleeved manner, everything was based on genuine teamwork, without major hierarchies, always interested first and foremost in practical solutions," recalls Schwarz. He himself never really saw it as work, but rather as a privilege.

Robotics was our life.

Richard Schwarz, KUKA retiree and part of the KUKA development team for the world's first electrically powered industrial robot
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