Electric robot pioneer dies

Björn Weichbrodt, the leader of the team that developed the world’s first all electric robot, has died aged 76

It was with great sadness that I woke today to the news that a robotics industry legend had passed away on Saturday in Stockholm

Björn Weichbrodt, who lead the team that developed and introduced the world’s first commercially available, all electric, micro-processor controlled robot passed away, aged 76, after suffering a severe stroke

Whilst individuals like George Devol and Joseph Engelberger tend to receive most of the plaudits for the invention of the industrial robot, in my mind Björn is really the true father of the current age of electric robots.

In December 1971 Björn joined ASEA’s (the A in ABB) hydraulic department with the task of leading a team to develop a robot. Everyone expected that this would be a hydraulic robot. But Björn worked on two parallel concepts – one hydraulic and one electric. Senior ASEA managers felt that the idea of investing in electric robots was not wrong for a company whose business concept was to develop the use of electric power.

And so it was that in June 1972, Björn and his team of 18 handpicked engineers began work to develop a prototype. One of their first decisions was to base the control on a new 8008 microprocessor developed by the almost unknown company Intel. The team managed to acquire the very first chip that Intel delivered and the robot control program they created required almost all of the 8kb capacity available.

The prototype also included several other breakthrough technical innovations, including the anthropomorphic arm design and the all-electric drive and control systems.

The first model was presented to the ASEA board in February 1973, where Marcus Wallenberg made the decision to continue with the development. The first public appearance of the revolutionary new robot was at the Hotel Foresta in Stockholm in October 1973, exactly 40 years ago.

It’s hard to imagine now how revolutionary that first robot IRB 6 was, but it soon became the most copied robot in the world, and formed the foundation that all of the current industrial robots have built on. Today there are almost 1.5 million robots at work in manufacturing industries across the globe, and each and every one of them owes a debt of gratitude to Björn and his original ingenious design.

Björn went on to become executive manager of ASEA Robotics from 1974 until 1986 and under his leadership the company, that is now ABB Robotics, grew to become a world leader.

Rest in peace Björn. I will always personally think of you as “the father of the electric robot.”


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About the author

David Marshall

I am Head of Marketing Communications for ABB Robotics. I am a marketing communications specialist with in-depth knowledge of industrial robotics gained in over 30 years working in the industry. I have a passion for industrial robotics and a mission to communicate the benefits to all manufacturers.
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