Archive for December, 2011

1940 – Project Pigeon (1948 – Project Orcon) – B.F. Skinner (American)

Painting (1986) by Anton van Dalenshowing B.F. Skinner with Project Pigeon.

Project Orcon

During World War II, Project Pigeon (later Project Orcon, for "organic control") was American behaviorist B. F. Skinner's attempt to develop a pigeon-guided missile.

The control system involved a lens at the front of the missile projecting an image of the target to a screen inside, while a pigeon trained (by operant conditioning) to recognize the target pecked at it. As long as the pecks remained in the center of the screen, the missile would fly straight, but pecks off-center would cause the screen to tilt, which would then, via a connection to the missile's flight controls, cause the missile to change course.

Although skeptical of the idea, the National Defense Research Committee nevertheless contributed $25,000 to the research. However, Skinner's plans to use pigeons in Pelican missiles was considered too eccentric and impractical; although he had some success with the training, he could not get his idea taken seriously. The program was canceled on October 8, 1944, because the military believed that "further prosecution of this project would seriously delay others which in the minds of the Division have more immediate promise of combat application."

Project Pigeon was revived by the Navy in 1948 as "Project Orcon" under the guidance of Dr. F.V. Taylor. The project was canceled in 1953 when electronic guidance systems' reliability was proven.

The documentary is in error in thinking that there is one pigeon sighting the target through the three portholes. There were actually three pigeons with their own porthole.

ELECTRONIC DESIGN, November 25, 1959, p. 16

A study of missile guidance by pigeon pecking has been taken out from under wraps by the Navy. At the same time, perhaps to calm fears of guidance designers, the Navy made clear that the project has been discontinued.

Started during World War II, Project Orcon (for organic control) was a try-anything approach to solving some then-current problems. Guidance systems for homing missiles were being easily countermeasured and the Navy thought animals might have potential as a jam-proof control element. Pigeons were selected for trial because they were light, easily obtainable and adaptable. Their job was to ride inside a missile and peck at an image of a target picked up by a lens in the missile's nose. The pigeon's pecking of the target image was translated into an error signal that corrected the simulated missile's simulated flight.

The project was revived in 1948 and carried further. In simulated rocket tests, the pigeons produced "surprisingly good results." The researchers were convinced that a pigeon could successfully guide a speeding missile under optimum conditions, compensating for his own and the missile's errors.

But after three years of equipment development and testing, the project was abandoned because the range of the Orcon system could be no greater than the range of any optical system and the system could be used only in the daytime. The trainer used target images photographed in color by a jet plane, which made picture-taking dives at a destroyer and a freighter in open sea.

Trainee pigeons were started out in the primary trainer pecking at slowly moving targets. They were rewarded with corn for each hit and quickly learned that good pecking meant more food. Eventually pigeons were able to track a target jumping back and forth at five inches per second for 80 seconds, without a break. Peck frequency turned out to be four per second, and more than 80 percent of the pecks were within a quarter inch of the target. The training conditions simulated missile-flight speeds of about 400 miles per hour.

The image was shown under a glass screen coated with stannic oxide to make it electrically conducting. Through circuitry based on the Wheatstone Bridge principle, pecks on the glass were translated into distance right and left and up and down from the center lines.

The target was moved by a small mirror controlled by a servo. The control circuits were such that if the pigeon stopped tracking, the target image would drift rapidly away from the center of the screen. This forced the pigeon to correct not only his own pecking errors, but those introduced by the yawing of the missile. It turned out that 55.3 per cent of the runs made were successful–that is, the pigeons were able to keep the target image on their screens for the duration of more than half their flights.

If pigeon guidance did not get very far in the Navy, it did have one valuable offshoot. The electrically conducting glass was later used in many radar displays. (ELECTRONIC DESIGN, November 25, 1959, p. 16)

The demonstrator nose-cone now in the National Museum of American History.

The nose cone was to be used on a glide bomb named PELICAN. (See here for further reference to glide bombs)


See pdf below on Animal Guidance Systems including ORCON. 

Source: Electronics Australia Jan 1972 reprint from Electronics World December 1971.

Source: New Scientist 8 Oct 1959.

Source: Toledo Blade 11 Oct 1959.

Source: Cumulatve Record : Pigeons in a Pelican by B.F. Skinner.

Further images can be found in the above pdf.


From Correspondence from Ronald C. McConnell, Ph.D.
Bell Labs retired, APL-JHU alumnus

mentions "George Carlton's "pigeon-pecking missile guidance project in the late 1940s. George headed the APL robot project 20 years later."

He later hinted to me that is was thought the real reason for the cessation of the project was that administrators could not come to terms with the issues surrounding the fact that pigeons had to die for the cause.

1967 – Robot Fred and James – Archigram Group (British)

Archigram Group's futuristic-type room at Tomorrow's Home Exhibition called 'Living 1990' held at Harrods, 1967. Robot Fred is on the left.


Possible layouts involving Robot Fred and Robot James. Robot Fred has a smaller footprint than Robot James.

The Archigram Group was commissioned in 1967 by the Weekend Telegraph [UK] to design a 'house for the year 1990'. Naturally the definitions of function imply a fixed and permanent location. In essence the exhibited area illustrates the main part of the lower floor of a dwelling cage. The 'Robots' are a development in the direct lineage of the media trolley (in the Plug'n House) and the moveable services, walls and machines that serve the occupants in Mike Webb's projects.
Walls, ceilings, floors – in this living area – are wall, ceiling and floor conditions, which adjust according to your needs. The enclosures of the living area are no longer rigid, but adjustable, programmed to move up and down, in and out. The floor state, too, is variable. At particular points the floor can be made hard enough to dance on or soft enough to sit on.
Seating and sleeping arrangements are inflatable, and details such as weight of bed covers and number of cushioned elements are controlled by the user. The old concept of a movable chair has become a travelling chair-car. The model in the living area is designed on the hovercraft principle, and can also be used outside for driving around the megastructure city. The robots can shoot out screens which enclose a required area of space, The ceiling lowers at this point and whoever requires it has a private area, The robots are movable, Refreshment can be drawn from them. The robots also incorporate radio and television — including favourite movies and education programmes, which can be switched on when you want them, The television is, at the present stage of development seen on wide screens, and can be programmed so that viewers are surrounded by realistic sound, colour and scent effects, The service wall connects with a vast service stack, shared with the megastructure city, which is one of the key facilities of the structure.
The design of the living area goes some way towards allaying the widely-held fears that the future points inevitably to standardisation and conformity of living accommodation.

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2010 – Natwalk 2.0 Walking Skyscraper – Anton Markus Pasing – (German)

From eVolo Competition – 2010 Skyscraper Competition

Special Mention – Natwalk 2.0

Natwalk II or walking tall

” The sky switches on daylight for us – or the shower. We are small gods, mere gods of the machine which is our highest. Our universe is a huge motor, and yet we are dying of boredom. In the midst of fullness, there is an sinsidious dragon gnawing at our hearts.”

Freely quoted fram D.H. Lawrence


Once upon a time, there was a picnic.
I clearly remember every detail of when we first saw one of them.
Nothing was as it had been before. All broadcasting stations were blocked. They beamed strange, seemingly organic, sounds into the ether. Some of them had bells in their huge feet.

When they reached the city, they held out their arms to us and lifted us up. Each one of them carried another world on his shoulders.
Every day their numbers increased, and the chaos in the city intensified.  Soon they covered the dark streets of our city – as if with a green puzzle …

Countless different plants grew on them. Some carried small lakes and others forests on their backs. Others resembled verdant meadows in spring.
Their bellies contained the most diverse biotopes and species from all the world and the air inside them was clear and full of oxygen…
It even seemed – impossible as it may sound – as if they were changing the air in the city with every day.

They showed us things which I no longer believed really existed because I had only seen them on television.
When they came to a standstill somewhere – anywhere – nobody could remove them any more. To this day, nobody knows where they came from, but everybody somehow grasped what they had to say to us.

I remember it as if it was yesterday: our first picnic was unforgettable. The people laughed for joy, and the leaves rustled in the wind.

I asked myself: will they stay or do they only say goodby.

I was just biting into a big apple when the traffic passing underneath me
broke down completely…

Forget Central Park, forget Copenhagen !

The End

[RH cyberneticzoo- Reminds me of the Domes of Valley Forge in the movie Silent Running  melded with Syd Mead's Walking Cargo Vehicle (as used in Star Wars AT-ATs). See also Archigram's Walking City.]

All information and original images from here.

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1985 – Marco and the Fuyo Robot Theater Expo’85 – Automax (Japanese)

Perhaps the most impressive robot show [from Expo'85] is at the Fuyo Robot Theater. In this exhibit hall, whose exterior is shaped like a pearl in an opening oyster, the robots basically have the run of the place, entertaining visitors with a complicated floor show. Through voice recognition and voice synthesis, visitors can actually communicate with the dozens of robots roaming through the hall. Fuyo claims that the robots here enjoy "a high degree of independence and social life," and while that may be true, one wonders if the robots care.

Note the Colani signature on the carts – see partial interview with Colani below.


“Tomorrow's Science For the Enrichment of Mankind”

Robots are machines created by science and technology, but they can still become man's friends. The aim is to demonstrate how advanced science and technology becomes, it must always be to the benefit and enrichment of mankind. The Fuyo Robot Theater will make you think about this by introducing you to some jolly robots.

Seen from across B Block, the Fuyo pavilion featured a lively show featuring robot performers that interacted with each other. Moving about on wheels, they interacted with each other through lights and  sounds, all set to a fast paced musical score.

The Fuyo Robot Theater is housed in a stunning pearl-in-the-shell structure.

Luigi Colani designed the Fuyo Robot Theater, and Shulshl Kanno (pictured) produced it. Note the small blue Colani-designed "Baby Robot" in the foreground.

I've been amazed over the years by Luigi Colani's futuristic biodesigns. Until building this post I hadn't realised his involvement in the Expo'85 Fuyo Robot Theater. Here is some further information of the Colani involvement:

The "Baby Robot"designed by Colani.


An extract of a conversation between Colani and Albrecht Bangert on Japan and the relationship of technology and nature. See full interview here.

BANGERT: Did Japan influence Colani or Colani influence Japan?

COLANI: European artists such as Toulouse Lautrec, van Gogh, Vallotton or Americans Frank Lloyd Wright and McNeill Whistler were fascinated and stimulated by Japanese culture. Their vision and oeuvre was strongly influenced by Japanese art. By the same token there were also many Japanese artists who were profoundly influenced by European modernity – by Le Corbusier and some Cubist painters to name but a few.

This cultural exchange has been going on since Japan opened its doors to the outside world in the middle of the 19th century and

I am proud that I was able to contribute to this process of mutual influence with my Biodesign. The connection between myself and Japan is thus of a very special nature. The invention of biodesign in the broadest and traditional sense in Japan derived from the roots of Shintoism and the Japanese notion of "kimochi", that is to say a sensibility for the atmospheric. Western culture considers ratio to be the nucleus of all human activity. By contrast in the Far East, the belief is that nothing endures unless created through kimochi as the manifestation of the universal energy or ki in our own psyches. For only this marriage of the emotional and the world of things will create something lasting that is likewise in line with our spirit. Apparently I seem to have had a not insignificant influence on the radical and deep-rooting revival of these ideas in Japan – particularly when it comes to biodesign combined with the most modern technology and production methods. The connection between my design philosophy and Japan is thus very close, in both practical and in-tellectual terms.

On the one hand, I was deeply influenced by Japan through its people, its culture and its design. On the other, I was able to in-spire many Japanese young people with a European style biodesign. The idea of an organic biodesign was enthusiastically received in Japan. Influenced by their own roots in Shinto religion and the Japanese “kimochi“, the atmospheric, an amalgam developed from the Colani-minded fund which continues to have an affect in Japan today and which in my case too, has remained the main vein of my activity.

Asian people whom I met in those days were fascinated by a mixture of high tech and emotion. This remains a precarious balancing act for all major designers constantly balance. We have to work emotionally on integrating technology, and this is just as strongly required as it was in those days. Japan has understood this better than the rest of the world, that it is about more than just pure technology, but about a feeling for technology. Sometimes more technology and less form is crucial while at other times, more form and less technology is required.


BANGERT: Back in the 1970s you already sketched robots and showed in YLEM how deep-sea robots set up and maintained algae cultures. In the 1980s, you also drew robots in Japan. What is the relationship between man and robot?

COLANI: That is very easy and concise to explain. At the time I received the assignment from the Fuyo Group to develop a robot theater, robots were rationalizing jobs away in Japan. And there was a first wave of animosity towards the robot. And then I was asked, “Colani, make the robot friendly. Bring the robot back into play as a companion and not as a foe who takes away jobs!” And I received a contract and the great opportunity of making a two-hour robot theater wihtout any people. There was a single woman who played around with it but there were many more dozen robots which were built and which were the big sensation at the Tzukuba Expo ‘85. They immediately improved the image of the robot in Japan, also a wave of imitations was launched with the cute smallest robots which were also shown in this play – from little Tamagochis to the ear-wagging Sony dogs – and today we have a wave of copies. The friendly robot image is a Colani invention from the Tsukuba Expo ‘85 where we won the first and second prize.

BANGERT: I believe that you created your greatest affinity to Japan with the robots because they look like Japanese comic figures and they really match the Japanese mentality and their love of such cute things. How is it that you were able to create such a range of Japan-like figures with so much fantasy?

COLANI: My task was to make robots cute. And this succeeded in a perfect form against the backdrop of my profound observations of Japanese design, old Japanese graphics, and the Japanese tri-vializing of forms which can be found in all aspects of life in Japan. In the ‘nezukes‘ you have these wonderful, almost sculptural brilliant depictions made with scant means, and these robots are made so succinct with extreme economy of form.

The task I was given by the large group I worked for was something really astonishing: We wanted a queue of people in front of our theater which no one could overlook. A queue which was so long that we could justifiably claim we had made the robot socially acceptable again. And this was absolutely successful. Such masses of people as those who stood before our Fuyo Robot Theater, could not be seen anywhere else in the whole Tsukuba exhibition.

BANGERT: Today, robots are once again the big attraction in Japan. The entire World Expo in Aichi appears to live from a revival of these robots. How do you think robots should be designed today?

COLANI: Today, of course, you can see signs of abrasion and wear in the robot world. The robot once again has become overly technoid in Japan and this is a mild mistake. It has to be high-tech of course but the design side is somewhat lagging behind.

And we are right now on the point of showing the Japanese again with our Baby Robot which is supposed to learn to walk, which has fallen on its nose 75 times and on the 76th try stands up quietly, attempts a first step, falls again, and then takes a second and a third, that we have to start from the very basics again. We have to go the whole way and take a profound look at the external design of robots to rid the robot of its aggression. After all, the robot takes away from us, from humans, large areas of life. From craftsmen, too. And like in the Art Nouveau period when the applied arts, sculptors and designers revolted against mass industrialization, today we have to create a Neo Art Nouveau again, we have to work on making machines much closer to nature so that we can bring Yin-Yang into computers and into robots. Once again we are too far removed from the nature-like image of the robot.

This is something we have to work on again and I would like to introduce new stimulus again about which we will have to speak at our exhibition.

April 6, 2005

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1983 – COSMO1 – Dainichi Kiko (Japanese)

Machinery Service Robot:
An Unmanned Conveyor Dainichi Kiko
This waiter robot, priced at Y5 million, is one of a number of "amusement" robots that Dainichi has developed for use in restaurants and wedding halls. Performing eight basic operations, including the ability to speak sixteen different phrases, the waiter robot is capable of a wide range of functions. It moves between tables and behaves much as a human waiter would, greeting guests, taking orders, and serving food.
The robot moves on a remote-controlled industrial cart. Electricity consumption has been kept low by using CMOS-type ICs in the control unit. One problem with using a robot in a restaurant is that people often walk about and can inhibit the robot's smooth movements. Thus, the waiter robot had to be designed for quick repair and restarting in the event of a malfunction. The electronic circuit boards in the control device are finely subdivided, and it has been programmed to stop automatically when-ever the bumper touches any object.
1983 Award for Excellence

The range of this robot's vertical arm movement is 75°: of the body revolution, 200°; of the head revolution, 180°: and of the head's vertical movement. 100 mm.

COSMO1 is a modern Japanese version of Cosmo (c1958). See here 1958- "COSMOS the Martian"

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