A robot which is programmable and capable of movement on two axes, automated and used for manufacturing is called an industrial robot. An industrial robot accomplishes tasks, such as welding, assembly, packaging and labeling, painting, product inspection, palletizing and testing, with high endurance, speed, and precision. They are also useful in providing interfaces and material handling. SCARA robots, delta robots, articulated robots and cartesian coordinate robots are the most commonly used robot configurations. Robotic arms are the category in which most types of robots would fall into in the context of general robotics. They also exhibit varying degrees of autonomy. Some robots carry out repetitive actions with a high degree of accuracy and without variation. Direction, acceleration, velocity, deceleration and the distance of a series of coordinated motions are determined to carry out these actions. Other robots are much more flexible. The robot may even need to identify the orientation of the object on which they are operating.
The first robotics patent was applied in 1954 by George Devol. He wrote when he filed the patent for a programmable method for transferring articles, "the present invention makes available for the first time a more or less the general purpose machine that has universal application to a vast diversity of applications where cyclic digital control is desired." This patent for the first digitally operated programmable robotic arm represents the foundation of the modern robotics industry. This patent was granted in 1961. Unimation, founded by Devol and Joseph F. Engelberger in 1956, was the first company to produce a robot. The main use of these robots was to transfer objects from one point to another and therefore they were also called programmable transfer machines. They were programmed in joint coordinates and used hydraulic actuators. The angles of the various joints which were stored during a teaching phase and replayed in operation are called joint coordinates. Robots of Unimation company are accurate to within 1/10,000 of an inch. Kawasaki Heavy Industries and GKN, in Japan and England respectively, were given the license to their technology for manufacturing Unimates. Cincinnati Milacron Inc of Ohio was Unimation's main competitor till the late 1970s when several big Japanese conglomerates began producing similar industrial robots.
As an inventor, Dovel had over 40 patents. He was the president of Devol research. In addition to studying traditional subjects at Riordan Prep, he also got some practical experience by helping in constructing some buildings and he ran the school's electric light plant. He was survived by two daughters, two sons, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren as he died in 2011 aged 99.