Shakey: the World’s First Mobile, Intelligent Robot

Shakey: the World’s First Mobile, Intelligent Robot

Shakey, the world’s first mobile, intelligent robot, was developed at Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International) between 1966 and 1972. Peter Hart, SRI, retired worked on this project from the day it started until the day it ended (By which time he was the project leader). Peter Hart described “how the project got launched, how they approached this new world of robotics, what they actually did, and what the consequences have been for current technology and for modern life.” at ICRA-2015.

About Shakey Project

Shakey was one of the first Robotics System that bought together Artificial intelligence, Perception, planning and reasoning in action. Peter Heart, the Founder and Chairman Emeritus (Ricoh Innovation Corp), was one of the initial researchers in the project. It was proposed to DARPA on 8th January 1965 by Artificial Intelligence Center of Stanford University. The title of the project was named “Automata to Reconnaissance”. The goal of the project was to bring all areas of Artificial Intelligence like knowledge, reasoning, Planning, Machine Learning, Computer Vision and Natural Language processing under one roof. (Image-1 SRI)

Shakey Project Team
(Shakey Project Team – Photo:SRI)

About The Shakey Robot:

Shakey was a mobile robot with cameras and touch sensors, controlled by a large remote computer. It capitalized on progress in computer vision, language processing and planning to understand instructions (“push the block off the platform”) and direct its own actions.

Components of Shakey Robot:

Shakey Robot
(Shakey Robot – Photo: SRI)
  • Robot Motion: The robot has stepper motor for moving and dead reckoning for position estimation.
  • Sensors: It has two sensors. First a video camera, during the time of project there were no frame grabbers was available for the video camera, Researcher have to design an integrated frame grabber for this robot. Second one was Homemade Laser range finder for obstacle detection and avoidance and Touch sensors.
  • Communication: Radio link for communication.
  • Power supply: The robot was powered by Truck battery.
  • Controller: SDS 940 with 192 kB of RAM was used, later upgraded to DECPDF10 with 672 kB of RAM.
  • Experimental Setup for Testing: The Robot has to navigate in six numbers of rooms and has to identify large geometric object of Specific Color present in the room.
shakey inside view
shakey inside view (photo:Computer History Museum)

Software Architecture:

shakey software architecture
shakey software architecture

SHAKEY: Experimentation in Robot Learning and Planning (1969)


                                                                       (Video: SRI)

Shakey’s Legacy:

What impact did shakey Project had on the world of robotics and planning? In the word of James Kuffner, Director (Google Robotics), “It is truly amazing how both in terms of architecture and algorithm the Shakey project was ahead of its time and became a model for future robots system for half a century”.

Learnings from shakey Project nowadays have been implemented in various robots.“We invest in basic research in same reason as we plant trees to benefit future Generation” Peter Hart said at ICRA -2015.

Here  is a list of few such project :-

  1. Architecture derived from Shakey’s Layered Control Architecture has been used in modern Robots such as Stanley in DARPA grand challenge2005.
  2. Many Modern Robots use Robust Action Execution Method which was an integral part of shakey project namely Willow Garage’s PR2.
  3. Adaptive Cell Decomposition currently standard robot Path Planning also used in CAD, CAM software.
  4. STRIPS Planning Systems Decedents have been used to plan non playing characters in video games.
  5. Heuristic search A*: a variant of it called Field D* have been used in navigation of Curiosity in Mars.

Shakey today have been kept in Computer History Museum Mountain view, CA.

About the Peter Hart:-

Peter Hart has founded or led half a dozen companies and international research centers, and has invented or developed the theory of some of the most widely used procedures in modern computing. His technical writings have been cited over 74,000 times, which according to Google Scholar makes him the most- cited author in Robotics and the sixth most-cited author in Computer Science. He holds over 125 patents, and is a Fellow of the IEEE, the ACM, the AAAI, and the Rensselaer Alumni Association, and is a Member of the SRI Hall of Fame.

Few Words From peter Hart:-

“We invest in basic research in same reason as we plant trees to benefit future Generation”. ICRA -2015

“Behind the people that get the recognition there is team of unsung Heroes they made it possible” .ICRA 2015

Reference: Peter Hart talk at ICRA-2015

One Comment

  1. this is frustrating search for what might be an earlier version of Skakey, perhaps called something else…

    Can anyone help??
    I was a regular volunteer, board member and designer at the Palo Alto Community Theatre, and behind the scenes were those who would rather work on props or run the shows, paint scenery.. I voluteered at this theatre all during highschool and through college. So this visit to “Shakey” was probably early in its development, perhaps it was still being bolted together in temporary quarters. This is what I remember being offered a tour by one very tall, guy, long face, toothy…pen pocket protector… a real geek,but enthusiastic.

    So if I’d known I was witnessing HISTORY, and one of those “I was THERE” I would have taken photos. However it was a casual invite to tour the “SRI”…or computer lab or whatever it was called then, but I can find no reference for what I saw.

    This roboty thingy was located in what I recall was more of a cottage, down under the trees by the stadium, near El Camino. It was perhaps 2-e3 bedroom olde craftsman cottage. Not square rooms with flourescent lights.

    Ok so this robot thingy looked more like a turtle… the four wheels, low to the ground, Do not recall any height to it,nor the TV camera.I also recall it had thick bundle of cords coming from it leading to the computer. It would wheel itself around hitting barriers and then from the equation of how the wheels worked with each other, would remember its own position and the position of the barriers and walls. thus be able to do what the Robo Vacuum cleaner does…

    There was a dot matrix printer with very wide paper in it. The only reason I remember that was because when some sort of error was made,the printer went beserk and would print the one “error” word over and over, Until it filled the pages… They had so many pages of this error word printed, that they used the paper for wall paper… ha ha, I think in the bathroom??

    My theatre geek friend loved showing me that, little SRI humor. Ok so we go down the hallway which is covered in panels…and there is a bathroom plunger on the floor. “Want to see what this is for?” Sure. He plunges onto one of the panels to remove it, and there inside are wires and switches and flashing lights.. “We have to get in here sometimes when there are ‘bugs in the system.”” REAL BUGS IN THE SYSTEM! Took me years to realize I heard the birth of a phrase…REAL BUGS. Apparently the whole house was ‘the computer’??? The circuitry was not on circuit boards but were real wires and switches and lights???

    Well, darn…anyone have a clue about this cottage locale and the early stages of this more turtle like robot tethered with bunch of cords… I can see how they started to add the onboard computer and then the TV camera as they advanced the project. Would love to see early photos of this place… perhaps it was not even called SRI then…???

    Thanks, Carol Wright , currently living in Santa Clara

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