Comro I with Vacuum Cleaner accessory.
Above: ComRo I with the robot pet, Wires.
(Text: Circa 1981)
A bit more utilitarian than robots serving drinks or selling products is Jerome Hamlin's ComRo I. This robot made its debut in the latest Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog. It operates two ways, by hand-held remote control, or by a programmable microcomputer in the robot's head. ComRo I could make life a little easier with its built-in vacuum cleaner, wireless telephone, digital clock, black and white TV, and manipulator arm that can lift up to 10 pounds. The price for such ease, however, is $15,000.
But its purpose really isn't to make life easier, says Mr. Hamlin, who built ComRo I in an abandoned garage. ''It's basically a toy–more recreational than practical.'' So far, Hamlin has sold two ComRo I's to Japan and one to Saudi Arabia. The product may be more technologically advanced than the other robots, but its sales seem to be trailing in the dust.
For those who are not choosy about semantics, the age of the home robot is already here. Last Christmas Neiman-Marcus offered a $15,000 robot that, the depart-ment store said, could open doors, walk the dog, take out trash, water plants and sweep floors. Playboy's publisher, Hugh Hefner, owns a $20,000 robot built by the Android Amusement Corporation of Monrovia, Calif., outside Los Angeles, that can greet guests, disco at parties and ferry drinks.
Revelers at Billy Bob's Texas, a mammoth country and western complex in Fort Worth, were recently joined by Sheriff Bud Longneck, a 7-foot-8-inch walking Budweiser beer can decked out in a flannel shirt, cowboy boots, cowboy hat, neckerchief and badge.
They are all great attention-getters, but they are not true robots. A robot is defined as a multifunction device equipped with artificial intelligence that can be programmed to perform various tasks. Mr. Hefner's robot and Sheriff Longneck are what are known as showbots, radio-controlled contrivances operated in much the same way as model airplanes. The Neiman-Marcus robot, ComRo I, does have a microcomputer that allows it to function as a robot, but all the tasks it is supposed to perform are done by radio control.
In the grand tradition of his-and-hers camels, ostriches and submarines, Neiman-Marcus's robot was not exactly a hot seller. So far only two have been sold – one to the Mitsubishi Electric Corporation of Japan and one to the head of a Saudi Arabian importing concern. Neiman-Marcus also sold four of the robot's $650 radio-control robot pets, Wires.
Neiman-Marcus officials insist, nonetheless, that the robot was a tremendous success as an attention-getter. ''We probably got more response to it than anything we've done in the Christmas catalogue in the last 10 to 15 years,'' said Tom Alexander, vice president of marketing and sales promotion.
Many large corporations such as General Electric have researchers looking into home robotics. As with home computers, much of the real exploratory work is being done by entrepreneurs such as Jerome Hamlin, whose ComRo Inc. of Danbury, Conn., produced the Neiman-Marcus robot, or Gene Beley, whose Android Amusement Corporation made Mr. Hefner's.
See more of the ComRo family of robots : "Bumpy", "Tot" and "Bubble Tot". (to to updated when posts available)
See other early remote-controlled and robotic vacuum cleaners and floor scrubbers here.