The first recognisable modern robot was Unimate, a mechanical arm which began work in General Motors in 1961 obeying step-by-step commands stored on a magnetic drum.

The word robot was coined by the Czech playwright Karel Capek from a word in his native language meaning menial labour. His play ,RUR or "Rossum’s Universal Roberts", which opened in Prague in January 1921, depicted a society served by robots. Unfortunately, Capek’s creations develop emotions and overthrow their human masters!

One particular breakthrough announced last week came when scientists in the United States succeeded in devising a computer system that uses the principles of natural selection to design robots and then build them … The results, 3 walking plastic robots, evolved from hundreds of design concepts and manufactured with almost no human intervention.

The robots themselves, born from a rapid fabrication machine linked to a computer, emerged as strange spidery assemblages of plastic limbs, joints, and neural network connections. They were built by a process which grew them from solidified plastic in a way that emulated biological systems, so that they emerged from the machine fully constructed, except for the snap-on motors, the only part of their construction which had to be done by hand.

Functionally, they had widely different solutions to the problem of movement. A One tetrahedral-shaped robot advanced by pushing a central bar against the floor. BAnother adopted an anti-phase system with 2 upper limbs pushing while the central body retracts, and vice versa. CThe third had an elevated body from which it pushes an actuator down to the floor to create a ratcheting motion.

It was Hod Lipson and Jordan Pollack, the scientists from Brandeis University, Massachusetts who created these robotic life forms.