History of Robotic and Remotely Operated Telescopes: The Fairborn Observatory 1979-1989
"Automated instrument sequencers were employed on solar eclipse expeditions in the late 1800s. However, it was not until the 1960s that Art Code and associates at Wisconsin used a PDP-8 minicomputer with 4 K of RAM to automate an 8-inch photometric telescope. It took reliable microcomputers to initiate the modern era of robotic telescopes. Louis Boyd and the author (Russ Genet) applied single board microcomputers with 64K of RAM and floppy disk drives to telescope automation at the Fairborn Observatory, achieving reliable, fully robotic operation in 1983 that has continued uninterrupted for 28 years. In 1985 the Smithsonian Institution provided us with a suburb operating location on Mt.
Hopkins in southern Arizona, while the National Science Foundation funded additional telescopes. Remote Internet access to our multiple robotic telescopes at the Fairborn Observatory began in the late 1980s. By 1989 the Fairborn Observatory, with its seven fully robotic telescopes, unmanned remotely-accessed mountaintop observatory, and parttime staff of two, had illustrated the potential of automation to provide observations at heretofore unachievable low operating and maintenance costs. As the information capacity of the Internet exploded, observational modes beyond simple differential photometry opened up, bringing us to the current era of real-time access to remote observatories and global observatory networks. Although initially confined to smaller telescopes, robotic operation and remote access are now spreading to larger telescopes as telescopes from afar increasingly becomes the normal mode of operation."
Genet, R. M. 2011, in Telescopes from Afar Conference, An international conference on remotely operated, automated, or robotic ground based telescopes