Archive for the ‘Not Quite Robots’ Category

1940 – “Roll-Oh” the Domestic Robot – (American)


1940 – "Roll-Oh" the Domestic Robot


"Roll-Oh" can grasp objects, has a retractable knife in its hand, as well as a plant watering system, a can opener, and a gas-flame lighter. Its foot is also a vacuum-cleaner.










Leave It to Roll-Oh (1940)

Tongue-in-cheek film showing a domestic robot freeing housewives of their chores (and intimating that their work is hardly necessary); actually a promo showing how relays and switches function in the modern automobile. Shown at the New York World's Fair in 1940.

This movie is part of the collection: Prelinger Archives

Producer: Jam Handy Organization
Sponsor: Chevrolet Division, General Motors Corporation
Audio/Visual: Sd, B&W   Source: here

[Thanks to my friend David Buckley for the link to the extended video version]

'Roll-Oh" partial transcript

Cast:     Roy from Roy's Robot Repairs (R)
             Housewife (H)

R: There Miss, you see the heterodynes were feeding back into the stimulus reaction activators causing non synapse of the motor control resistor units.

H:  Oh, that's good.
R: No Lady, that's bad. But your re-generative circuits are tuned asynchronously and that causes concatenation in the intermediate amplifiers.

H: Well that's bad, isn't it?

R: No, that's good. From now on I don't think there'll be the slightest trouble with your robut. Your domestic problems are completely solved.

         Robot Controls

Answer Door      Clean House
Wash Dishes     Get Dinner
Answer Phone    Make Bed
Get Hat              Fix Furnace

See other early Humanoid Robots here.

See other early Domestic Service Robots here.

See other early Pseudo and Fake Robots here.





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1892 – Crane – Seward Babbitt (American)

CRANE by SEWARD S. BABBITT. See full patent details here.

Patent number: 484870
Filing date: Jun 13, 1892
Issue date: Oct 25, 1892

Seward Babbitt's crane first mentioned around 1980 in terms of robotics history and timelines in textbooks, but in terms of enabling technology only, rather than being identified as a robot in itself.  That distinction is getting lost in modern references to this invention.  Its included in my timeline only to highlight that it is not a robot.  It shares characteristics of manipulator arms only.

The first mentioned of Babbitt's invention in terms of robotics that I can find is from The Journal of Epsilon Pi Tau – Volumes 6-10 – Page 98
"In 1892, Seward Babbitt of Pittsburgh patented a rotary crane with a motorized gripper for removing hot ingots from furnaces. "

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2011 – “Mystic Mec” Meccano Automaton – Chris Shute (British)

Above Photo by Chris Shute

A Meccano machine to read your palm. Built in 5 months from mostly modern Meccano parts and 13 salvaged motors. All 24 electrical switches and the 32 – step Sequencer are made from Meccano. Mystic Mec will choose an almost 'random' letter to hint at your future. Working eyelids, index fingers among other things….
The video doesn't tell you the final secret of how Mystic Mec managed to 'predict' the initials of many of my Meccano friends who had their palms read at our exhibitions. You saw that the letter drum will adavance automaticaly to stop the left arm at a new letter. The selected stopping point can be seen through a small shrouded window at the left of the drum. Now the crafty bit: the drum can also be advanced by a second motor (black, bottom left at 4.15). This extra motor is part of the Meccano Infra-red control set. The remote handset will just about operate through thin trouser pockets!

Mystic Mec
Let Mystic Mec read your palm! Using her special powers, Mec will choose a letter for you. Perhaps your name, your home, a friend or a glimpse of the future. Who knows?
Mystic Mec is (almost) entirely made from Meccano parts, except for her luscious lips and curly hair. All the electrical parts are built from Meccano, including nineteen limit switches for the various motors.
Most of the motors have been salvaged from old video and cassette recorders. Each has a single belt reduction before minimal gearing or a screwed-rod ram, e.g. the fingers, head-tilt and eyelid mechanisms. Mystic Mec's head is mounted on a built-up roller bearing. Motors for her eyelids and head-tilt are fitted below the neck, working through linkages which pass through the slotted holes of the Circular Plates. A switch on the eyelids will automatically cut power to the eyes' light bulbs when closed.
Under the table, a 32 step sequencer selects each motion in turn. As each limb completes it movement, a limit switch diverts the power back towards the Sequencer, to advance it and begin the next operation. Mec's mouth is connected in parallel with the Sequencer motor. This allows her to 'chatter' between each limb movement, and so avoids any 'dead' time between operations.
The Sequencer is a stand-alone unit, which can be reprogrammed simply by re-arranging the colour-coded leads, which connect to the various motor wires via paperclips on isolated curved Meccano strips. Beneath the curved strips is a device to reverse the polarity of the supply to the motors, when required, to change the direction of travel.
Chris Shute
Wem, Shropshire

Mystec Mec, by the way, is female, inspired by the former UK lottery-predicting lady, Mystic Meg. The model has a modest, breathing bosom, a sort of homage to the 18th Century Automata.
Unfortunately, she was dismantled in 2012 to make way for other projects.

Chris Shute with "Mystic Mec"

Photos by Rob Thompson.

Images and captions from .

A 32 step sequencer selects each motion in turn. As each limb completes it movement, a limit switch diverts the power back towards the Sequencer, to advance it and complete the next operation. Mec's mouth is connected in parallel with the Sequencer motor. This allows her to 'chatter' between each limb movement, and so avoids any 'dead' time between operations. 

The sequencer is a stand-alone unit, which can be re-programmed simply by re-arranging the colour-coded leads, which connect to the various motor wires via paperclips on isolated curved Meccano strips. Beneath the curved strips is a device to reverse the polarity of the supply to the motors, when required, to change the direction of travel.

Detail of Head by Chris Shute. Nice earings!

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1936 – The Gyro-Cycle – Hubert Charles Henry Townend (British)

The Gyro-Cycle – A pseudo-pedalling machine.

Source: "Mechanical Toys" by Athelstan & Kathleen Spilhaus, 1990

First Meccano Magazine advertisement was in April 1938.

A very ingenious scientific toy. Toy was invented by a famous airplane designer in England. Action depends on the well known gyroscopic principle. The front wheel is the gyroscope and drives the unit through a set of precision gears. When the front wheel is spun, at high speed, the stored energy will drive the cycle for a considerable distance in an upright position. The boy on the bike peddles in a very realistic effect by the turning of the rear wheel. The wheels are lithographed tin, the frame is pressed steel and cyclist is celluloid with cloth arms. The cyclist is driven by a rubber band from the rear wheel. Rubber band is still intact but dry from age. Manufacture is Tri-Ang Works of London, England in the 1950s. Size is 8¼” long by 7½” tall and 2½” wide. Toy is in mint condition, never played with. Included are the instruction sheet, bottle of lubricating Shell oil and the instruction sheet of how to maintain the toy. Original pull string is also in the box.

A new, never used  example.

Tri-Ang Lines Bros. Gyro-tricycle – interesting conversion from the Gyro-cycle comprising green celluloid figure, red pressed steel cycle frame with 3 x tinprinted balloon wheels.

Hubert Charles Henry Townend  was an inventor in the aerospace industry. His known patents were in relation to cooling of air-cooled 4-stroke aircraft engines, mainly rotary aircraft engines. His inventions are: 

1. Improvements in or relating to means for the balancing and controlling of toy bicycles. Hubert Charles Henry Townend Jan, 31 1938: GB479430 . Application date was 29 July, 1936. Note: First Meccano Magazine advertisement wasn't until April 1938, soon after the patent was officially accepted.
2. Improvements in and relating to air cooled aero engines with a view to securing an improved cooling effect. Hubert Charles Henry Townend Nov, 13 1936: GB456819
3. Improvements in or relating to aircraft. Hubert Charles Henry Townend Oct, 10 1929: GB320131

Meccano version of Gyro-cycle

(add credits here when known)

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.