WASHINGTON—The Smithsonian Institution held a ceremony in April to recognize the contributions of an industrial robot. General Motors Corp. (Detroit) donated the robot, named "Alice," to the National Museum of American History. It joins a collection of historically important robots that includes an early Unimate and the Odetics Odex 1.

Unlike her hydraulically controlled predecessors, Alice was the world’s first commercially significant, computer-controlled electric robot. The programmable universal machine for assembly (PUMA) robot debuted in 1978 in assembly applications at Rochester Products, a GM division that eventually became Delphi Corp. It featured another robotic first—a special programming language that allowed it to be controlled off line.

During the gathering, the Smithsonian produced a videotape to document the early history of the PUMA robot. "The video will be preserved…for use by historians and researchers," says Steve Lubar, chairman of the Smithsonian’s division of history and technology. "We hope to gain a better sense of the process of invention, development and adoption, as well as the historical significance of this pioneering effort."