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"[Science fiction] is the one literary medium left in which we have a free hand. We can do any damn thing we please."
- Alfred Bester

Robotic Arm  
  A specialized robotic reaching and grasping device.  

Early use of the idea of a specialized robotic arm.

Suddenly the mower stopped and clicked excitedly. A panel in its side snapped open and a cranelike arm reached out. Grasping steel fingers fished around in the grass, came up triumphantly with a stone clutched tightly, dropped the stone into a small container, disappeared back into the panel again. The lawn mower gurgled, purred on again, following its swath.


(Robotic Arm from 'City' by Clifford Simak)

Technovelgy from City, by Clifford Simak.
Published by Astounding Science Fiction in 1944
Additional resources -

Another interesting illustration of a robotic arm is provided in The Star of Life, a 1947 story by Edmond Hamilton.

“No intruders are allowed in the Psychological Department tonight, under Mar Kami’s order. Retire at once.”

The machine, as it spoke, raised a jointed arm that held a lethal-looking cylinder pointed straight at Hammond. Hammond tried to temporize. Surely a man could out-wit a mere mechanical thing?

“Mar Kann sent me,” he declared, edging a little nearer. The rasping voice retorted instantly.

“You will retire at once, for you are not Mar Kann nor one of the Psychos.”

Hammond turned as though to obey, then whirled with the energy-pistol in his hand upraised. He dared not fire, lest the crashing blast arouse all the building. He tried to knock the weapon from the machine-servant’s grasp. The cylindrical weapon was bolted to the jointed arm! He discovered that in dismay as his futile blow rebounded.

“Get on top of it, Kirk!” cried Thayn in warning.


('The Star of Life' by Edmond Hamilton)

Desperately, he heeded the Vraman girl’s cry and leaped up on top of the machine-servant’s square box. Crouching on it, he hammered furiously with the muzzle of his weapon at its lens-eye. The pistol-barrel smashed through the lens as the machine rolled under him with universal-jointed arms reaching up to seize him. Then suddenly the arms stopped, and the whole machine froze motionless...

In this case, the arm belongs to a robotic lawn mower. Compare this to the steel tentacles of the invading Martian machines in H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds (1898) and Robert Heinlein's waldoes from his 1942 novella Waldo. Oh, and don't forget the sensor arm used by R2D2 in Star Wars (1976).

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from City
  More Ideas and Technology by Clifford Simak
  Tech news articles related to City
  Tech news articles related to works by Clifford Simak

Robotic Arm-related news articles:
  - The Sample Transfer Arm (STA), A Unique Mars Robot

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