Figure 9. The Hough Transform.
The “Hough” Transform
Communications of the ACM, January 1972
Figure 10. Shakey Story in Life Magazine.
Photo © by Ralph Crane, The LIFE Picture Collection.
where between Brad Darrach and Hubert Dreyfus
were labor union leaders who worried that robots
might some day take manufacturing jobs.
Charlie Rosen was undaunted by the critics, noting
that there will always be “naysayers,” as he called
them, whenever something new is done. The best
response is to push onward.
The Shakey team was generous with its time and wel-
comed virtually any visitor who was interested in the
work. We can get another perspective on the world
back then by viewing it through their eyes. Here are
A school group visited, and a teacher asked what our
“real jobs” were. “This robot is your hobby, isn’t it?”
A general visited and asked “Can you mount a 36-inch
blade on that?”
Arthur C. Clark visited just after the movie 2001
appeared, but was more interested in talking about the
New York Times review of the movie than about the
future of robots.
A young high school student drove all the way from
Seattle to Menlo Park, California, to see Shakey.
Decades later Bill Gates recalled being impressed.
A US government auditor visited and asked whether
SRI had indeed taken delivery of billions of “packets of
bits.” This question was followed by others regarding
the state of those packets, including whether there
was any tarnish or corrosion on any of those bits.
The End of the Shakey Project
The Shakey project ended in 1972, not for lack of
exciting ideas to pursue, but because the funding climate had changed and the research program became
unsupportable. What had been achieved, as viewed
from the perspective of 1972?
While there are likely as many views as there were
project team members, it seems safe to make a few
There was an appreciation that many of the individual
results — STRIPS, PLANEX, A*, and the new form of
the Hough transform are good examples — were solid
Overall, Shakey was a significant achievement, being
both the first mobile, intelligent robot, and also being
the first system that integrated AI software with physical hardware.
But Shakey’s overall capabilities, both mechanical and
software, didn’t reach the level of the initial aspirations.
This would hardly be surprising, given those lofty early
goals. Indeed, it would take decades before some were
reached, while others remain as research challenges.
Today’s perspective is very different from the view
in 1972. Shakey has had impacts on both current
research and on the everyday lives of all of us that
could not have been recognized or anticipated at the
time. Those impacts are the subject of the remaining
sections of this article.
Nils J. Nilsson
“Shakey the Robot” was the first system that integrated artificial intelligence programs (most of which
were newly developed during the project) with physical hardware. In this part of the panel discussion,