Archive for October, 2012

1964 – “Tree Stomper” – Robert G. LeTourneau (American)

LeTourneau Tree Stomper Model 6-110 of 1964 was a walking vehicle of the same principle of walking draglines. It was used for land clearing job in Dare Country, North Carolina. 120 t, 475 hp Detroit Diesel.


Upper picture from the book 'R.G. LeTourneau Heavy Equipment' by Eric Orleman, Iconografix, 2008. Lower pict. From book ‘The LeTourneau Legend’ by Philip G. Gowenlock, Paddington Publications Pty. Ltd, 1996.

[Source: Unusual Off-Road Vehicles]

It's advantage, over other tree crushers, was that the outside feet/pontoons would essentially "float", making it more useful in marshy or wet conditions/situations.


LeTourneau Tree Stomper Walking vehicle – see full patent here.

Patent number: 3366192
Filing date: Jun 20, 1966
Issue date: Jan 30, 1968

Ride the Machine! – although I suspect the driver couldn't sustain the heavy bumping for long.

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1923 – Mávag-Fiat “Mocher Wagen” – (Hungarian)

Scale model of Mávag-Fiat "Mocher Wagen", 1923 with feet propulsion replacing conventional rear wheels. Picture from the review 'Wheels and Tracks' N° 61 about 1998.

[ Source: Unusual Off-Road Vehicle Locomotion ]

MÁVAG, or Magyar Allami Vas-, Acel-, es Gepgyarak (Hungarian State Iron, Steel and Machine Works), was based in Budapest and began building steam locomotives as early as 1873. In the 1920s MAVAG also began to assemble tractors, starting with the prairie-style "Astra" model. The company later built the Model PT “Austro Fiat”, which featured a four-cylinder Fiat petrol engine, with chassis, wheels and other parts sourced from Austro Fiat, the Austrian subsidiary of the Fiat company. Around 1930 the BN-40 and B-30 were introduced, which bore a strong resemblance to the IHC 15-30 and 10-20 of the same period. After World War II MAVAG was nationalized, and in 1959 it merged with the Ganz company to become Ganz-MAVAG.

[Source: Steel Wheels ]

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1967 – RIVET (Remote Inspection VEhicle Telechiric) – Hugh A. Ballinger (British)

Text: Science Journal, October 1968 Special Issue: Machines Like Men

Machines with arms  p59
H. A. Ballinger

Representing a further class of machines for the radioactive environment is the result of my [Ballinger] own work at Harwell. Some four years ago a study of reports on' criticality' incidents in the United States highlighted the advantages of a machine with arms for reactor damage control duties. A survey of existing designs showed, however, that none had the obstacle surmounting ability needed to reach an accident point within a building. A vehicle study was therefore made which resulted in the design of the RIVET (Remote Inspection Vehicle, 'Telechiric'). The dimensions of this device are such that it has, when in transit, the profile of a crawling man — yet at the scene of an accident it can erect its TV eyes and operating arm to the height of a standing man. In this position it can outreach a human by manipulating loads of up to 35kg at a 1.4 m radius. A novel track design enables it to surmount those obstacles where any single step is as high as 50 per cent of its track length—the limit of a modern tank is 12.5 per cent. It can mount stairs of 45o angle, turn in a 1.2 m corridor, or enter an office, pass through the knee hole of a desk and then climb onto the desk top.

Hugh A. Ballinger is an assistant chief engineer at the Harwell Atomic Energy Research Establishment. His department develops the technology of remote and active handling for the Authority. It also provides the general scientific equipment and services for research into materials science. Previously has led groups developing nuclear fusion and fission plant; he helped to build and operate the first experimental reactor at Harwell.

I was recently researching the robots used in the 1979 movie "Saturn 3". One of the minor robots is referred to and is said to be a RIVET made by Harwell Laboratories (UK Atomic Energy Authority).

The original patent was filed in Great Britain in 1967.

Here are the details on the US patent of RIVET. See here.

Patent number: 3533483
Filing date: Feb 8, 1968
Issue date: Oct 13, 1970

A later version [but pre-1986] from UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) called "Spider".

Another later version called ROMAN.

Origins of Articulated Track

The track design, particularly that of the later model "Spider" above,  is very similar to that of iRobot's Packbot. It's interesting to note that the original track patent for Packbot does not reference the "Spider" vehicle in its prior art. Possibly the "Spider" design is not patented or only patented in the UK.  Other than similar approaches used for wheelchair climbing, the RIVET/SPIDER design is the first I've come across like this.

See full iRobot patent here.

Patent number: 6263989
Filing date: Jan 26, 1999
Issue date: Jul 24, 2001

See also later revised patent of same here which does cite Ballinger's RIVET, unlike the earlier patent.

Patent number: 8113304
Filing date: Jun 13, 2008
Issue date: Feb 14, 2012
Application number12/138,737

Challenge: If anyone comes across an earlier implementation of this design, or more information on the UKAEA "Spider" vehicle, let me know. 

It's interesting to note that an ex-employee of iRobot built and sold his own version of Packbot, called Robot FX "Negotiator".  This resulted in a controversy over patent-infringements in 2010.

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1983 – “Tanbo R-1” the Robot Waiter – (Japanese)

The Japanese owner of a Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles has installed a robot waiter because he thinks they are more efficient than his human waitresses. The robot carried trays of food and other orders on March 11 to the waiting customers and was well received by the patrons. One customer was satisfied with the speed with which his meal was delivered. Spanish-speaking Hernando Monzon was pleased with being able to order in his owner language. The restaurant owner, Shayne Hayashi, said that he was happy with the robot because he did not have any worries about absenteeism, personality problems of troublesome staff. One customer was also satisfied because the robot never spoke back and needed no tips. Hayashi said the only drawback was when the robot's batteries ran down and had to be recharged.


Tanbo R-1 and R-2.

[Source for below text: Paleofuture ]

In 1983, a Chinese fast-food restaurant in Pasadena, California hired a curious-looking pair of servers: two robots named Tanbo R-1 and Tanbo R-2.

At 4.5 feet tall and 180 pounds, the robots would scoot around; bringing trays of chow mein, spareribs and fortune cookies to customers’ tables.

Shayne Hayashi, the owner of Two Panda Deli, first put the robots to work in 1983. Each Japanese-built robot purportedly cost $20,000 (about $45,000 adjusted for inflation) but were prone to dropping things and letting radio interference make them go a bit haywire. When they worked, they were a hit, telling jokes and delivering food to customers who were assured that this would be the future of the restaurant business.

In the mid-1980s, the robots gained some national press in typical “news of the weird” fashion. The June 10, 1983 Miami News described their trials and tribulations:

The pair at the Two Panda Deli, a fast-food Chinese eatery in Pasadena, tend to blur their words drunkenly when their 12-volt power cells run down, and they’ve been known to drop food and spin in circles when police radios operate nearby. They’re programmed to be nice to customers — “Will there be anything else?” and “See you tomorrow” — in Japanese, English and Spanish. Patrons whose commands confuse the pair get the response: “That’s not my problem,” accompanied by a short blast of disco music to which the bubbleheads dance back and forth.

Hayashi had the exclusive rights to sell the robo-garcons in North America, but in 1986 told the trade publication Nation’s Restaurant News that he was having trouble with maintenance of the machines after selling one to a restaurant in Modesto, California:

“But he couldn’t take care of it,” Hayashi recounted. “All the time I had to drive out there and fix it.” Hayashi wound up buying it back. And how do Tanbos R-1 and R-2 rate as waiters? Hayashi admitted they break down often, and while they can find a table with an order, “when someone crosses in front of it, it stops. Some people move a chair or something or move the table, and we’re in trouble.”

You can still find people online who remember the robot waiters fondly, like in this post on Foder’s from 2007:

Granted, all Chinese in Pasadena pales next to the long-gone Two Panda Robot Restaurant on N. Lake. Does anyone else go back that far and remember this place? My daughter was young and loved being served by the robot. lol

The 1985 National Geographic children’s book Science: It’s Changing Your World explained that these robots were just the beginning of a wondrous era when machines would do our bidding:

The scene at the Two Panda may be unusual today. But it will become more and more common in years to come. In the home, robots may do the dusting and vacuuming. They may wake you up in the morning and serve you breakfast in bed. In shops, offices, factories, and fields, robots will do many jobs that people find boring, difficult, or dangerous. Because the jobs are of that nature, robots often do them better than humans. Robots have no minds to wander or worry. They always do exactly what they’re told. In fact, that’s all they can do.

Comment by Ken — April 25, 2012 @ 12:23 pm.

"I was on the son of the owners. I operated the robots by remote control. After the restaurant closed, eventually i sold them to a move prop company. But, haven’t seen them in movies."

At the 12th International Confectionary Exhibition in 1981, Italy (12th Mostra Internazionale Alimentazione Dolgiaria) this, what looks like an ealier version of the above Robot Waiter, was doing the rounds.

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1964 – “Freddie Ford” Promotional Robot – (American)

HXP-022351-2/23/66-CHICAGO:One of features at Auto Show here is the robot at the Ford display. Appropriately named "Freddie Ford," mechanical man answers questions fed to it by curious visitors Robot was formed from Ford car parts & stands 12-feet tall. Model Mary Ann Laurel poses with"Freddie." UPI TELEPHOTO

The earliest version of Freddie Ford, a robot employed by Ford Division's Show Exhibit Department, that I can find is from 1965, although article above suggests 1964 was Freddie's first year.


Freddie Ford from 1965.


Video clip from 1965.

1970 – A robot, Freddie Ford,  on the Mustang stand, repeats endlessly: people love Mustangs, Mustangs love people, make a date with a Mustang, put romance in your life."

Freddie Ford returns for National Robotics Week by Ron Ford.

This promotional Ford Robot is Freddie's great-grand-automoton. We are coming to the end of Robotics Week [April 2012]. That’s right, a week dedicated to all things robot. To celebrate, Ford has dug up some old pictures and press releases about an old friend. Freddie Ford was a talking promotional robot used at events in the late 1960s.
Made almost entirely out of auto parts. Towering above the crowds at nine feet high and weighing in at 800 pounds, Freddie was built almost entirely out of auto parts. He had oil pans for feet and brake shoes for hands. His ears were made of radiator caps with car antennas attached. His eyes were parking lights from a Mustang, and the backup light from a Thunderbird was his mouth. His arms were mufflers and his legs were shock absorbers. His chest was 126 inches around and his waist was 120 inches.
A tin pitchman for Ford
Freddie once was used to help Ford sell cars at state fair exhibits and at auto shows in 1967. He was no C3PO, but he could answer a dozen questions in front of an audience. Somehow, most of his answers contained corny jokes and spoke glowingly of Ford products.
Canned corn
Here are a few of Freddie’s exchanges with fair goers in the late Vietnam era, as recorded in Ford’s press release:
Fair goer: “What does it mean to ‘Walk softly and carry a big stick’?’”
Freddie: “The quotation is really, ‘Drive softly and carry a big six’.”
Fair goer: “Why do you have disc brakes for hands?”
Freddie: “They grip faster and better and 55 percent easier than manual brakes. For 1970, power front disc brakes are available on all models and standard on some.”
Want to read one more? Sure you do.
Fair goer: “Are those oil pans really your feet?”
Freddie: “Yes, sir, these are 390 V-8 oil pans from the biggest V-8 that uses only regular gas. And remember …. oil changes are only needed every six months or 6,000 miles.”
Good to know, Freddie.

Next gen corn-talking bot
The Freddie from 1967 was a second generation of the robot. His namesake predecessor was used for three earlier years, promoting Ford products until he got an upgrade.


The abover version of Freddie (2nd Generation) appeared from 1967. Note the hands upgrade from Drum Brakes to  Disc.

Freddie at an auto show [Chicago?/Detroit?] 1974.

Freddie at an auto show [Chicago?/Detroit?] 1976.

Yet another technological upgrade for Freddie and his cloned brothers.

Freddie as he appeared on the cover of a child's book on robots.

A later version of Freddie Ford. He was for auction back in 2006. Image and info below from Robotnut in Alphadrome Toy Robot blog.

Freddie Ford isn't very old, but he can see, hear and answer questions.

He is also an awfully big fellow, standing eight feet six inches tall in his bare feet and tipping the scales at almost 500 pounds. His chest measures 126 inches and his waist 120 inches.

Freddie, a second-generation mechanical robot, is one of the highlights or the Ford Division exhibit at auto shows around the country.
Freddie is almost a replica of his popular predecessor who delighted spectators for three years.

Like the earlier model, the new Freddie Ford is made up largely of parts from Ford Division products. He even has a television camera in his nose so he can see whom he is "talking" to.

Car parts comprising Freddie include oil filter caps and radio antennas for ears; Mustang parking lights for eyes, and a Thunderbird backup light for a mouth. His upper arms are Ford muffler resonators and the lower portions are formed by Mustang shock absorbers and disc brake assemblies. Wheel caps serve for Shoulders and elbows.

Embedded in Freddie's chest are such items as a Mustang speedometer with an odometer that registers miles as he talks; a Ford stereo AM/FM radio; Mustang convenience panel lights, and a seat belt. Mustang gas caps are used for knees, and a pair of engine oil pans give Freddie the biggest feet in town.


wired -04/2012

Ford Rolls Out the OG Droid for Robotics Week
By Damon Lavrinc 12, 2012

Photos: Ford Motor Company

Imagine it’s 1967 and you’ve walked onto the floor of the Texas State Fair. Among the throngs of show-goers admiring the all-new Mercury Cougar, Chrysler New Yorker and AMC Ambassador stands Freddie Ford, towering over you like an jacked up version of B9 from Lost In Space. Except… are those oil pans for feet?

They are, and if you were to throw a pair of oversized kicks on Freddie, he’d need classic Cons sized 22D.

Coming in at 9-feet tall and tipping the scales at 800 pounds, Freddie was state-of-the-art for the time, made up of the bits and pieces found lying on the floor of Ford’s production lines. And he’s gen-2, the second version of Ford’s talking, animated robot, complete with brake pads for hands and a dozen toggle switches that allow Texas Fair attendees to ask Freddie a series of questions.

What kind of questions?

“What does it mean to ‘Walk softly and carry a big stick?’” Freddie responds, “The quotation is really, ‘Drive softly and carry a big six.” Budum-bum.

Ford’s re-release of Freddie from the archives coincides nicely with Robotics Week and the automaker’s announcement that it’s completed installation of some 700 robots at its Louisville Assembly Plant to build the new Ford Escape. But if we had to bring anything back from 1967, it would’ve been the “Cougar Corner” showing off Mercury’s newest muscle car. Too bad the brand’s been dead for over a year…

For the 1979 Detroit Auto Show, Freddie Ford, a 9-ft.-tall talking robot, attracted visitors and answered questions about the 40 Ford cars and trucks on display.

The 1981 version had Pinto parking lights as eyes.

Hank the Ford Robot – Freddie's modern day replacement. A Sarcos show robot with a remote operator in a SenSuit®.

Sarcos' humanoid robots are the most advanced and life-like anthropomorphic robotic figures in the world. Sarcos' involvement with humanoid robots began in the 1980's when Disney wanted to improve upon their Audio-Animatronic robots by making the motions more graceful and realistic.
SRC (Sarcos Robot Corporation) has supplied its humanoid robot to numerous other customers. For instance, to introduce their newly redesigned Taurus in 1995, the Ford Motor Company sought an innovative way to attract and educate customers using high technology. "Sarcos", as the robot was named, traveled North America and Europe for the major car shows from 1995 to 1997. "Sarcos" was operated by two methods: live, real-time teleoperator control, and the playback of pre-programmed skits. During interactive segments, a stand-up comedian in a Sarcos SenSuit® controlled the robot. The SenSuit® and the exhibit area were equipped with a series of cameras, monitors, microphones, and speakers that allowed the robot perceive and actively interact with Ford spokes-models and visitors to the Ford display. The SenSuit® was fitted with special helmet-mounted displays, headphones, and a microphone to provide the operator with a "robot view" and facilitate communication and interactive body movements.
 SRC humanoid robots can be programmed to recreate smooth, graceful, fast human actions so effectively that they are frequently mistaken for human actors.