Wired blog This Day In Tech again. Jan-25-1921: Robots First Czech In.
Karel Capeks play marks the first use of the word robot (forced labor). The robot in the play are not mechanical men made metal. Instead they are molded out of chemical batter and they look exactly like human.
This reminds me on on a seminar work in one of the famous robotics labs (forgot which, sorry) in the 1980ies. Students were ask to design a thing that washes dishes automatically. All kind of mechanisms with redundant axes and complex kinematics were designed ....
But we had dishwashers already at that time.
So, when I was responsible for factory automation, I always tried to "preach": simplify-first-then-automate.
But pick-and-place tasks often forced us to apply robots with redundant axes and the inverse kinematics problem (given a set of paths, searched the kinematic system .. ) became quite challenging.
With the computers of limited performance a symbolic computation system would have been great to automate the modeling process itself.
Today, automation, control and control programming is built much more bottom-up (see also The AI Revolution Is On ).