Posts Tagged ‘British’

1910 – The Electric Vampire – F. H. Power (British)


The Electric Vampire
By F. H. Power
Illustrated by Philip Baynes
(This short story appeared in The London Magazine of October 1910 with the accompanying Editor's note: 'The following short story, though of course but a figment of the imagination, is yet founded on fact. Over seventy years ago (in 1836, to be precise), a Mr Crosse astonished the British Association by reading a paper on electro-crystalisation, in which he described how he obtained living electrical insects, called acari, by artificial means — namely, by a voltaic battery, certain acids, and red oxide of iron. His experiments were closely watched by the leading scientists of the day, but Crosse himself gave them up, owing to the excited attitude of a section of the public, who assailed him with much bitterness for carrying out experiments which they considered it a "crime" to make.')


I was at breakfast when the note reached me. 'My dear Charles,' it ran — 'I shall be glad if you can come round to my place tonight, as I have something to show you, which I think will interest you. I have also asked Vane.'
It did not take a moment for me to make up my mind to go. Dr Vane and I often spent an evening at George Vickers's house. We were bachelors, and as we were all fond of things scientific, the time passed very pleasantly — so pleasantly that very often it was two or three o'clock in the morning before he saw us off his premises.
During the day I found myself speculating as to what our friend intended to show us. I recalled some of the weird and fascinating electrical experiments he had performed in his laboratory. 'I bet it's another experiment with electricity,' I said to myself, but I was only partly correct.
I arrived at the house about six o'clock, and found Vane had already arrived, and, as usual, had taken the easiest armchair in which to rest his lean body. Our host, with his ruddy, smiling face, stood with his back to the fireplace.
'I'm glad you have come, Charlie,' he said. You will be able to relieve me from that living mark of interrogation.' And he nodded towards the doctor, who sat twirling an imaginary moustache.
'Well, why can't he indicate what he has dragged us round here for?' the doctor asked plaintively. 'And fancy having as an excuse that he doesn't want to spoil my appetite for dinner!'
'Eh, what?' I ejaculated.
'Oh, now you are going to start. For goodness' sake find something else to talk about until we have had something to eat,' said Vickers, and he suggested aeroplanes.
We let him have his own way, and very soon after sat down to dinner. Our conversation during the meal would have been dry to many, but it was after our own hearts, and never flagged for a moment. The doctor's speciality was biology. My hobby is chemistry, and it was through an explosion which nearly blinded me that I first made his acquaintance, and subsequently introduced him to George Vickers.
At last George leaned back in his chair, and, lighting a cigar, said:
'You fellows, of course, want to know what on earth I am keeping up my sleeve. Before I show you, I want you to listen to this short extract from a series of lectures given by a man named Noad, and published in 1844.'
He fetched the book, and read:
"It was in the course of his experiments in electro-crystalisation that that extraordinary insect about which so much public curiosity has been expended, was first noticed by Mr Crosse." '
Here Vickers looked up from the volume, and remarked:
'Mr Crosse I might say, was a gentleman who stood foremost as one of the individuals in this country who have distinguished themselves by their researches in atmospheric electricity.'
He turned to the book again:
"In justice to this talented individual, who was most shamefully and absurdly assailed by some ignorant people on account of this insect, and who underwent much calumny and misrepresentation in consequence of experiments 'which in this nineteenth century it seems a crime to have made,' I shall give a detailed account of that experiment in which the Acarus first made its appearance.
'Here follows,' said George, a minute description of the apparatus Crosse used. Briefly a basin containing practically a saturated solution of soluble silica is placed in a funnel, and a piece of flannel hangs over the side of the basin and acts as a syphon. The liquid falls in drops on a piece of porous red oxide of iron from Vesuvius, kept constantly electrified by a voltaic battery.'
Again he turned to the book and read:
' "On the fourteenth day from the commencement of the experiment, Mr Crosse observed through a lens a few small whitish excrescences or nipples projecting from about the middle of the electrified iron, and nearly under the dropping of the fluid above. On the eighteenth day these projections enlarged, and seven or eight filaments, each of them longer than the excrescence from which it grew, made their appearance on each of the nipples. On the twenty-second day, these appearances were more elevated and distinct; and on the twenty-sixth day each figure assumed the form of a perfect insect standing erect on a few bristles which formed its tail. Till this period Mr Crosse had no notion that these appearances were any other than an incipient mineral formation, but it was not until the twenty-eighth day, when he plainly perceived these little creatures move their legs, that he felt any surprise. In a few days they separated themselves from the stone, and moved about at pleasure. They appeared to feed by suction." … Mr Crosse adds: "I have never ventured an opinion as to the cause of their birth; and for a very good reason — I was unable to form one." '
Vickers shut the book up.
'There's a lot more about it, but I think I have read all that is necessary. If either of you would like some more information on those early experiments, you will find it in the "Transactions of the Electrical Society".'
There was silence whilst we puffed at our cigars. At length, Dr Vane said:
'I was under the impression that subsequent experimentalists were not so successful as Mr Crosse ?' Vickers smiled enigmatically.
'If you will just come this way, I fancy I shall be able to prove to you that at least one other experimentalist has been fairly successful.' And beckoned us to follow him.
I had often been in his laboratory, but to my surprise he led us to a room at the top of the house, and, as he inserted the key, drew our attention to the Yale lock.
'I rely on you chaps to keep to yourselves what I am going to show you, because I am preparing a paper on this experiment, and I want to surprise 'em,' he said, and pushed the door open.
Dr Vane, with an eager look on his face, entered boldly. I followed close behind, and I remembered wondering why George, usually so unemotional, appeared to be in a state of suppressed excitement.

And then I saw what it was. May I, a man, be forgiven if I trembled from head to foot!
On a low plain wood table was a sheet of some metal about four feet square. From a cistern fixed above, and pierced by many minute holes, some liquid dropped on the slab incessantly. But these things I barely noticed, for my attention was riveted to the centre of that slab, on which sprawled a creature which I can only liken to an immense spider, its length being about two feet.
Two legs appeared from behind each side of the head, and four longer ones — they must have been nearly as long as the body — at the back. Projecting from its head, where you would expect to find the mouth, was a trunk-like object which went in and out like the trunk of a fly. All over the body about an inch apart long filaments stood out. Its colour was drab, and it was apparently covered with slime. Its eyes were like the eyes of an owl, and never blinked.
We stared at the fearsome object in dead silence.
Vickers was the first to speak.
'Pretty, isn't it?' he said, with a laugh, but the laugh seemed strangely out of place.
I glanced at the doctor. His hands were clenched, and his eyes so wide open that the whites could be seen all round.
'My God, George, what is that thing?' he whispered.
'That, my dear doctor, is the result of years of experimenting. It first became visible to the naked eye five years ago today, but it does not appear to have grown during the last six months. It vindicates Crosse absolutely. Don't you think it is superb ?'
'Superb? Oh, yes, it's superb!' said the doctor. He kept muttering to himself as he walked round the table, glaring at the thing on it, but from the few words I caught he was not calling it superb or anything like it.
At last his love of biology overcame his repugnance.
'I should like to feel one of those filaments,' he said, and stretched out his hand.
Like a flash of lightning Vickers seized his wrist, and his face was the colour of chalk. Dr Vane looked astonished and hurt.
'I am sorry, doctor, but I forgot to tell you it can give a terrific electric shock,' he said apologetically.
Vane looked somewhat scared, but his interest was plainly increased.
'Then it is some sort of relation to the Gymnotus, or electric eel of Venezuela?' he asked.
'Or the Torpedo of the Mediterranean,' I suggested. Vickers shrugged his shoulders.
'I only know that poor old Tippoo' — a splendid collie and great favourite of us all — 'happened to accompany me to this room yesterday, and poked his nose a bit too near, when he suddenly toppled over dead as a doornail. He was horribly burnt down one side.'
Our friend spoke quietly, but it was easy to see he was deeply affected as he related the tragedy.
'That must have startled you,' I said.
'Well, no, I cannot say it was a surprise. I received a very nasty shock when it was quite small — perhaps I was not handling it as carefully as I might have. But' — here he turned to that monstrous creature, and actually passed his hand down one of its hairy legs — ' but you know who feeds you, don't you, my beauty ?'
The thing evidently did know, for that trunk-like object went in and out rapidly. And I might say here that was the only movement we noticed in it that evening.
The startled look on our faces seemed to amuse Vickers. 'It's all right; it knows me. I have watched it grow day by day, and — '
Here the doctor cut in with a question.
'What do you feed the brute on?' he asked.
Vickers hesitated a moment, and looked at us. Then he walked to the other side of the room, and opened a box which had airholes pierced in it.
'The trunk,' he explained, 'is fitted with two small pointed teeth at the end, and the blood of the victim is gradually sucked out.' He anticipated our next question. 'No. It does not kill it first,' he said, and shut the lid.
The box contained live mice.
It was exactly ten days later that I was sitting with Vane in his study over a game of chess. At least, we were supposed to be playing chess. As a matter of fact, the doctor was again telling me what he thought of our friend's experiment, and the game had languished.
'I tell you it's the greatest discovery ever made — the greatest!' And his fist thumped the table, making the pieces on the board dance again. His eyes shone with excitement, but this died away as his thoughts travelled in a different channel. 'But of all the ugly things God every created —'
He stopped abruptly.
'Do you know,' he continued presently, 'that Vickers's interesting pet belongs to the family of mites — ticks, as they are popularly called — notwithstanding its extraordinary size? All these creatures are furnished with suckers through which they can draw the juices of the animals on which they are parasitic, and in tropical countries — well, I will just say they are considerably more than annoying, and leave the rest to your imagination. They are small and flat when they first settle themselves on their victim, but they gradually swell and redden, until at last, when they are fully gorged, they are as large as broad-beans, and as easily crushed as ripe gooseberries.
'It seems to me from its mode of formation that George has discovered the link between the inorganic world and the world of life — the link which is indispensable to a complete scheme of evolution; but the great objection to this idea is the creature's obvious complexity —'
My further remarks were interrupted by a knock at the door, and the doctor's maid Emily entered.
'Mr Vickers's housekeeper would like to speak to you, sir.'
I heard Vane's 'Ah!' although it was said very softly. I remember my heart was beating at a ridiculous rate, and I tried hard to calm myself as I reflected that probably the old lady had come about her 'screws,' as she called her rheumatism, and which I knew had been troubling her more than usual.
But Dr Vane went down the two flights of stairs to his surgery two steps at a time. At the door he turned round and simply nodded to me, and we entered together.
Mrs Jones, Vickers's housekeeper, was waiting, with her veil pushed up until it looked like a black bandage across her forehead.
'Is it Mr Vickers?' Vane asked abruptly.
Mrs Jones never spoke quickly, and she did not intend to be hurried that day. Her reply came slowly, so deliberately that I thought my supply of patience would ebb away long before that simple question was answered.
' Well, sir, I don't know as there is anything the matter with Mr Vickers, but he ain't had a bite since one o'clock yesterday, and yet I feel certain as he is in the house. He went upstairs — '
I think Mrs Jones had reason to look astonished, for Dr Vane, noted for his precise ways and highly professional manner, dashed to the house-telephone and shouted into the mouthpiece : Tell John to bring the car round at once ! You understand? He is not to delay one moment!' Then he turned to the housekeeper, who stood with her mouth half open, and said rapidly: 'You will come with us, and give us further particulars on the road.'
What had happened? I dreaded to think of what that upstairs room would reveal to us. The doctor and I looked at each other. Then he placed his hand on my arm.
'Charlie,' he whispered, 'you can depend on it George has got foul of that monster. I have felt something would happen, ever since he showed it to us, and it looks very much as if that something has happened.'
'I pray God we shall not be too late!' I said fervently, but I thought of that Thing, with the never-winking eyes, and shuddered.
Have you a revolver?' I asked.
He nodded, and left the surgery.
A few moments later the motor arrived. We bundled Mrs Jones in; and as Vane gave the chauffeur the address, he added: ' Drive like hell!' I shall not forget that ride in a hurry, and I am quite sure Mrs Jones won't. We plied her with questions, but her replies were so incoherent we soon gave it up. She sat with bulging eyes, one hand clutching the side of the car, the other my coat, and every time it bumped over an obstacle she shrieked. More than once I bawled into her ear: 'It's all right!' but I might have saved my breath, for she made no sort of variation on her terror-stricken cry : 'Stop it! Stop it!'
A scared-looking maid let us in. We brushed past her, and went straight upstairs. Arriving at the door of that room, we stopped and listened, but could detect not the slightest sound. We tried the door — it was locked. So, after all that tearing hurry we were met by a well-built door, and Vickers had the key. We looked at each other in despair, but with Dr Vane it lasted but a moment, and was succeeded by a look of grim determination.
'He is in there, and we have got to get to him,' he said decisively.
'I'll fetch a locksmith: I think that will turn out to be the quickest way out of the difficulty,' I said, and was on the point of moving off when the doctor whispered excitedly: 'Wait! Listen! He is speaking!'
I tiptoed back to the door, and listened with loudly beating heart, but hardly breathing: there was silence, a long silence, then I heard a voice, but what it said I could not distinguish. It seemed to come from afar off, like a voice on a telephone that had been badly connected up. Vane shook his head.
'Speak up, old man! We can't hear you!' he shouted.
Again we listened, and this time we could just make out the words … key … false … bottom … desk,' then all was quiet again.
'Which drawer, and how do you open it ?' the doctor asked loudly. But not another sound came from the room, although he repeated the question twice.
Vane turned to me. 'That's a piece of luck. I wonder why he had two keys made? Well, we have got to find that duplicate, quick,' he said.
We rapidly made our way to Vickers's study, where we knew there was a roller-top desk. We thanked Heaven when we found the door open, and also the desk. It was a beautiful piece of furniture, and the top was rolled back, showing the row of pigeon-holes and small drawers. Tucked in one of the pigeon-holes was a bunch of keys.
'Now, where the dickens is the drawer with the false bottom?' said Vane, and he hurriedly tried to find the keys which fitted the drawers.
Now, investigations of this sort cannot be hurried, and, swearing softly, he demonstrated this fact completely. The swearing grew louder and louder, till, for a moment, I lost sight of the object of the search in amazement at the extent of his vocabulary.
I relieved him of the bunch when he had opened half the drawers. Eventually we unlocked the lot, but although we quickly took a large number of measurements, we could not find the slightest indication of a false bottom to any of them.
Our nerves were in a high state of tension before we entered the study; by this time, mine were in a deplorable condition. The doctor's face was lined with anxiety.
Silently he handed me a poker, and from the wall took down an old Malay kris, which did duty for an ornament.
'You take the right side of the desk; I'll take the other,' I said.
We found the precious key, but the desk —
Again we were at the door upstairs, and, although I turned the lock, I dreaded pushing it open. The whole business was so uncanny. Was that horrible creature prowling about the room ready to rush at us the moment we entered? How should we find Vickers?
I glanced at Vane. His jaw was set, and he had taken the revolver out of his pocket. The only sounds we could hear were some carts rumbling along the roadway, and the whistling from a train a long way off.
But the business in hand was very real and desperately urgent, and I do not think anyone would have noticed any hesitancy in pushing that door open; yet the next moment we were suddenly struck motionless as a low whisper reached us: 'For God's sake, move as quietly as you can!' We entered on tiptoe.
There are some scenes which are stamped on the memory in such a way that they are never forgotten. Years after they can be called to the eye of the mind with wonderful fidelity to detail. The scene which met us was such a one.
A broad beam from the setting sun came through the bottom of one of the windows, where the blind had not been completely drawn, and we saw. Very plainly, too, for the beam fell straight on it.
Vickers lay stretched on his back in the middle of the room, with that grisly Thing straddled across his chest, its sucker buried in his throat. His face and lips were quite bloodless. His eyes were closed, and I could detect no sort of movement.
I looked at Vane. His brows were contracted till they almost met, and his breath came and went through his teeth with a little hissing noise. I reminded him of the revolver ready cocked in his hand.
'Don't be a fool!' he said irritably. 'Get some brandy, and, for Heaven's sake, look slippy!'
When I returned he had his fingers on the poor fellow's wrist, and the frown was still on his face, but the revolver was on the box which was pierced with airholes.
I suppose I must have looked puzzled. Vane spoke impatiently, yet his voice was hardly above a whisper.
'Look here: what guarantee is there I should kill this vampire before it had time to discharge its deadly current through George's body ? You know as well as I do that creatures low down in the scale of creation take a lot of killing. We can't risk it, and I am sure we can't risk hauling it off.'
The brandy was doing its work, and Vickers must have heard some of our conversation, because his eyes opened, and he said, with a ghost of a smile: 'Have you ever seen a leech applied, Charlie ?'
I started violently.
'Good heavens! you don't mean to say Vane and I have to hang about with our hands in our pockets doing nothing except speculating whether — whether —'
' Whether I shall be able to stand the drain till it shifts ?' Vickers smiled again as he took the words out of my mouth.
The thought was intolerable; surely there must be some way!
For hours Vane sat waiting. I also was waiting, but on a couch in another room, getting over the effects of a little blood transfusion. 'It is very necessary,' Vane had said, as he skilfully made the arrangements, so skilfully that the creature was not disturbed. The improved appearance of poor George was my reward.
Wearied in mind and body I fell asleep, and dreamed dreams of men and women I knew, but I gazed at them with horror, for they all had drawn, blanched faces, with great staring eyes, and something with its body across their chests and with head buried at their throats, and they beseeched me by all I held sacred to take it from them, but I was bound by invisible bands. How shall I tell of my agony of mind? I woke with a start, and in a terrible perspiration, and found the doctor looking at me, hollow-eyed and unshaved.
'Nightmare?' he asked. 'Where did you want to go, and who wouldn't let you ? Steady, steady,' he added, as 1 jumped up and swayed, owing to the floor apparently moving about. As he pointed out, transfusion has no great tendency to make things appear as steady as rocks.
'Has the thing moved?' I asked.
'No,' he answered laconically.
We looked at each other in silence. I was hoping he would guess my next question, but I had to ask it.
'How is George ?'
'Alive.' And I knew from the way he said it that he had told me simply the bare truth and that was all. There was another long silence.
'Oh! can't we do something?' I cried despairingly.
'Yes,' replied Vane. 'I am going to do something if that vampire does not move in ten minutes. The point has been reached when the risk is negligible, inasmuch as if it does not move now there will be no necessity of doing anything. I am going to shoot it.'
We returned to that chamber of horrors. Poor Vickers looked ghastly, and it did not require a trained eye to see that the end was not far off.
I took my watch out. 'Give it five minutes,' muttered Vane; and I sat on the box with the airholes, glancing first at the deathlike face of Vickers, then at Vane's set features as he stood stroking his unshaven chin, gazing at our friend.
'Time's up,' I said.
The doctor walked gently till he was opposite the creature's head, and dropped on one knee, then lowered the revolver till it was within six inches of its head. His finger was on the trigger when a strange thing occurred: the bloated monster suddenly withdrew its sucker and glared at him as if it knew that its hour of death had arrived. I thought Vane was fascinated by those baleful eyes, for he did not stir as the creature commenced to move towards him.
'Look out!' I shouted, and he sprang back. None too soon, for the thing rushed at him with incredible swiftness.

Then I had an opportunity of witnessing Vane's beautiful nerve, for not until the last trailing filament had left Vickers did he fire. I saw his finger press the trigger. The next instant a terrific report shook the building, and my hands flew up to my eyes to shut out that terrible blinding flash. Women's screams, mingled with noises as if giant hands were tearing the house to pieces, floated up from below.
The sound of someone groaning made me rouse myself.
Vane lay face downwards in an immense pool of blood, his head hanging over a ragged hole in the floor. I thanked Heaven fervently when I found that he had only been stunned by the vast charge of static electricity the creature had suddenly let loose. Like a flash of lightning the charge had struck the floor, bursting it open, then torn its way through the house.
We turned to Vickers. Vane felt his pulse.
'I will save him,' he said. And he did.

The Man who was Frankenstein by Peter Haining, 1979. A book about Andrew Crosse and his electrical experiments around 1830's.

See the timeline on Cyborgs and Bionics here.

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1937 – Telepathic Robot, The Scientific Miracle – (British)


Telepathic Robot – The Scientific Miracle photographed by Humphrey Spender – September 1937.


The Scientific Miracle Robot    

Copyright Bolton Council Image ref. 1993.83.24.35 Print ref. 1993.2.135

Description: The Mass Observers recorded overheard conversations about how this miraculous talking robot worked, and whether it was all a scam.

Source: here.

Worktowners at Blackpool: Mass-Observation and Popular Leisure in the 1930s
By Gary Cross, 2005

[Like everything else, the occultist is being replaced by the machine.]
This would be the civilised development from the gypsy and pyramid to technology and Unilever. One step from the gypsy giving your lucky number and health forecast is `Telepathic  Robot, the Scientific Miracle'. According to its spieler on Pleasure Beach, it is a

miracle of modern mechanism with a mysterious radio-brain that will describe all manner of your possessions and answer any question that  you put to it. It is baffling, bewildering, and uncanny, and it is the topic of argument  wherever it goes. How  can it know so much about you? By what means can it so actively and quickly tell you the  answer to your most perplexing problems? You will find yourself coming back time after time to stand and watch and wonder how it is done, and just when you think you have discovered the secret, it will say something that explodes your theory.

It is built like an enormous weighing machine in Martian-human form. Where the dial of the weighing machine would be, there is a glass front revealing electrical coils and other gadgets inside, and in particular two electric bulbs glowing green with an effect of monster's eyes. A spieler gathers a crowd around the machine:

  'Let me introduce you to the most wonderful piece of mechanism the world has ever known. I expect many of you will remember that I personally had the honour to introduce it at the Exhibition at Wembley, at the World Fair in Chicago, and at the International Exposition in Paris, and in many other places. Now I am not going to bore you with a technical description of how this truly amazing machine works, but will content myself with showing you a few of the things that it can do. But first let me convince you that I am not, as is often suggested, a ventriloquist. You know that it is not possible to say two things at once —  not even your mother-in-law could do that. I am going to ask the Robot to talk, and then talk myself.' … [After this] he goes around the audience, about sixty in number,  and  asks  them to show him small articles, and these the Robot describes. … `Let’s see if we can get something tricky — anything  you like from a  battleship to a brassiere, the Robot will describe it’. … [The Robot] describes someone wiping his nose, a paper with music on it and the composer's name, Schubert.  … He now says, `Well, ladies and gentlemen, you must admit this machine is very wonderful.  But what you have just seen it perform is nothing. Today this machine is progressing many stages further. It will actually describe you. In the form of a horoscope it will give character delineation. It will describe you better than your own mother could hope to describe you. Nothing private will be disclosed. It prints your character by electricity. But my time is short. The Robot gets overheated very quickly. So please have your money ready.'
   First a woman, 55, gave him sixpence, and he asks the Robot to describe the coin. Then he makes the Robot name the woman's lucky number as he goes to the machine and draws out a paper which he folds and hands to her. … Then he goes  back to the Robot and repeats his speech from 'a correct horoscope and true delineation of your character. All your love affairs, all your business affairs. …'

Throughout 1937 and 1938 observers heard this speech continually, and it never altered. The character charts dispensed are constructed in the same way as the booklets at the Ellis booth. Eighty-six possible characteristics are typed and crosses are put in against certain of them. A four-line analysis of character appears at the top of the page under which appears, `For Amusement Only':

  You were born under a lucky star and should make the best of every opportunity that presents itself. Life holds good things in store for you, but do not  abuse the gifts that are offered you. Keep bright and cheerful and optimistic.
     Most of characteristics marked are complimentary but there are also `self-opinionated', 'fond of criticising', and 'have your  share of troubles'. In four tries, all mark 'You  are very  good  company'. On its average  prediction for age, payers  would live to over 72; none below  70. An  hour's observation showed Robot's turnover at £3/10.

   How its answers are engineered is a thing we failed to find out after a season's attempts. A familiar method where answers are involved is the use of a code, although we have not yet traced one here. One of our observers asked the Robot, 'What am I?' Reply: 'A Mass-Observer'.

See other early Humanoid Robots here.

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1935 – “Mental Telepathy” Robot – Enrico Garcia (Spanish/British)


Two girls inspecting the robot today. c1935.


Mr. ENRICO GARCIA showing the "works" of the new ROBOT, which answers questions without codes.

A ROBOT WITH BRAINS OF ITS OWN. 14 Years to perfect new invention.
The "mental telepathy" ROBOT, on which Mr. ENRICO GARCIA has spent pounds700 and 14 years untiring effort to perfect, was today February 4th demonstrated in a London Cinema.

See other early Humanoid Robots here.

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1820 – Prosopographus, the Automaton Artist – Charles Hervé



Selected extract from the full post by Patrick Feaster here.

Between 1820 and 1835, a machine was exhibited around Great Britain that was advertised as taking people’s portraits by strictly automatic means.  Someone had only to pay a shilling and sit perfectly still next to it for the space of a minute to obtain a likeness alleged to be more accurate than anything a living artist could have drawn.  The machine relied on principles very different from those of photography, first introduced to the world via the daguerreotype in 1839, and its portraits didn’t anticipate the photographic portraits of later years in any technical sense.  However, they did anticipate them quite closely in a cultural sense.  As far as subjects were concerned, they might have gone to get their pictures taken by this machine in 1825, and again by a photographic camera in 1845, without perceiving any fundamental difference between the two experiences.  In both cases, they would have been told that their likenesses were being captured automatically, without the mediation of a human observer, although they might still have paid extra for someone to touch up the results afterwards or add color to them.  The earlier machine went by the name of “Prosopographus, the Automaton Artist,” and it produced silhouettes—thousands upon thousands of them, if reports from the time are to be believed.  I was recently fortunate enough to acquire one, which is what prompted me to pull together the following account.


In appearance, Prosopographus was a miniature android figure dressed in fancy Spanish costume, shown above as illustrated on a period handbill.  I’ll refer to it here myself as “it,” but contemporaries generally anthropomorphized it as “him,” consistent with the grammatical gender of its Greco-Latinate name: Prosopo- (“face”) -graph- (“writer”) –us (second declension nominative masculine ending).  It held a pencil in its hand, and when someone sat down next to it, it would use this pencil—within full view of spectators—to trace an outline of the person’s profile.  The process was described variously as taking less than a minute, half a minute, or less than half a minute, but subjects had to hold perfectly still during that time: “The least movement on the part of the sitter will occasion the Automaton to shake his head, and the operation of taking the outline to be recommenced.  Advertisements emphasized that this work was carried out “without even touching the Face, and indeed “without touching, or having the slightest communication with the Person.  Daylight wasn’t necessary either, patrons were assured, so that likenesses could continue to be taken after sunset.  The proprietor never revealed the specific process used to capture people’s profiles, but it was claimed to be wholly mechanical, and hence superhuman in its accuracy.  Thus, Prosopographus was billed as “performing more perfect resemblances than is in the power of any living hand to trace,  and as “so contrived that by means of mechanism it is enabled to trace a more accurate and pleasing resemblance of any face that may be presented than could be produced through the agency of any LIVING artist whatever.

The basic portrait to which every visitor was entitled by default seems to have consisted of the profile painted in black, and some later advertisements specified that this included glass and a frame.  For a surcharge, however, the profiles could also be cut out, shaded, bronzed, or done up in full color, as well as mounted in a fancier frame, at prices up to thirty guineas if anyone cared to pay that much. The result, in any case, was something visually indistinguishable from a conventional silhouette portrait of the period.

And that complicates our present ability to identify surviving specimens of Prosopographus’s work.  According to Profiles of the Past, a website dedicated to the history of British silhouette portraiture, “very few silhouettes [by Prosopographus] are known today,” even though countless thousands are said to have been taken.  Technically, however, what’s rare is a silhouette that can be attributed to Prosopographus because it’s labeled that way on the back.  The few reported types of Prosopographus trade label are linked to just a few exhibition venues, so it may be that silhouettes taken in other places weren’t labeled, making them impossible to tell apart from “ordinary” silhouettes.  For all we know, nearly all unlabeled silhouettes of the 1820s and 1830s might be the work of Prosopographus, which would make them extremely common.  However, it’s only when there’s a label that we know for sure what we have.


The Prosopographus portrait I recently acquired is one of those with the Halifax trade label and promotional text on the back, augmented by a handwritten inscription identifying its subject as Ellen Waterhouse.  The silhouette itself is a likeness of the basic type that was thrown in free with the price of admission: the profile painted in black, with just a few embellishments added in the same color to represent hair and veil.

See the full post by Patrick Feaster here.

See other early Robots in Art and Drawing Machines here.

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1981 – “Deep Rover” Submersible – Graham Hawkes (British/American)


1981 – "Deep Rover" Submersible.

See 7:10 into the Video.




Dec84-deep-rover-2-Popular Science-x640

Top: Dr. Sylvia Earle. Bottom: Graham Hawkes.

Extract from Popular Science, Dec 1984.

An acrylic-bubble undersea habitat called Deep Rover will take oceanographers and oil-rig technicians to depths of 3,200 feet, where they'll work at sea-level pressure—in near-living-room comfort. The vessel "flies" like an underwater helicopter and has a set of manipulators that can lift 200 pounds apiece—or cradle an egg.

Though Deep Rover is expected to find much of its work in offshore oil fields, it was a marine biologist, Dr. Sylvia Earle, the noted oceanographic curator of the California Academy of Sciences, who planted the idea in Hawkes's mind. Three years ago she challenged him with a question: "Why can't we dive in comfort to the bottom of the ocean?" Having logged more than 4,500 hours underwater, she had the right—indeed, the need—to know. Some time later Hawkes, Earle, and Phillip Nuytten (president of Can-Dive, a Canadian company that furnishes diving support for offshore oil fields) met for dinner in Seattle. Hawkes, responding to Earle's scientific and Nuytten's commercial inputs, produced an elegant napkin sketch of the plans for Deep Rover.

MANIPS by By PETER BRITTON, Popular Science, Dec 1984.

"Manips": the human connection
Graham Hawkes describes his work as "simplicity through complexity." Deep Rover's elegant manipulators reflect that philosophy. The official name for them is the Sensory Manipulative System. Hawkes calls them the "manips."
Their object is to extend the pilot's reach and use his unmatchable combination of intelligence, experience, depth perception; and eye-hand coordination. "We rely on the human brain rather than a computer to operate the system," says Hawkes. "If the pilot's hand is trembling, the manip will tremble in sympathy, down to about five cycles per second," he adds. The manipulators are of such dexterity and response that NASA is considering them, along with a Deep Rover-like vehicle, for excursions and work from the space shuttle.
Made of aluminum, stainless steel, and graphite-loaded nylon, the modular manipulators can vary in length from 5.6 to 7.5 feet and weigh up to 150 pounds. Each carries a light and a low-profile television camera.

Dec84-deep-rover-3-Popular Science-x640
An analogy with the human arm and hand is useful in grasping the concept of degrees of freedom, and hence what the manipulators can do. An extended arm can (A) move up and down and (B) move from side to side. It can (C) bend at the elbow. The wrist can (D) move up and down, (E) move from side to side, and (F) rotate. And the hand can (G) open and close.
The complementary manipulator motions are activated through the handgrip by moving it backward and forward (resulting in action A), side to side (B), and by rotating it (C). A thumb switch on top is moved up and down (0) and side to side (E) to control the wrist. Two buttons rotate the wrist clockwise or counterclockwise (F), and a trigger opens and closes the "hand" (G).
The four-function "hands" each have two large jaws and two tips. When the serrated edges of the large jaws touch an object and close on it, the force is instantly transferred to the tips, which then also close. When a four-point contact is achieved, a steady grip
The manips employ five elements of sense (some details of which are proprietary): sight, motion, force, sound, and touch. For the manips the tactile sense is the most important. But it is not touch as we know it.
Hawkes explains: "Robots generally are designed to recreate a sense of touch by sensing remotely in the manipulator and conveying that sense to the pilot through electrical readouts. But the readouts mean nothing by themselves and must be translated. What we do is translate the tactile sense into an audio signal and feed it to the pilot through his ears.
"We're using accelerometers, and we get a sense that is analogous to the sound that comes from scraping a brick with a fork. However, we pick up not sound but accelerations in the jaw tips—vibrations, if you like."
In operation, a pilot could probe below the mud line with the manips and correctly identify whatever material he "touched," be it plastic, metal, wood, or concrete, through the sound from the cockpit speakers. A trainee, according to Hawkes, can learn this new "language" in about two hours.
This function operates in real time, and Hawkes designed the manipulators to respond quickly—through a combination of electronics and hydraulics—so that the pilot can take full advantage of it. When the pilot commands a manip through the handgrip, he activates a motion switch built into the controller. An electrical signal goes from the controller to a power amplifier, which puts out an electrical signal that drives an actuator outside the hull. There is one actuator for every function on each manipulator.
The actuator converts the electric signal to hydraulic power through a gearbox and a lin-ear/rotary ball-bearing unit, which causes the displacement of a piston. This forces hydraulic fluid out of the actuator and into the manipulator, where a joint is moved—or a jaw is clenched. Withdrawal of the fluid causes a motion in the opposite direction.

Related Patents.

Electromechanical manipulator assembly
Publication number    US5000649 A
Publication date    19 Mar 1991
Filing date    22 Aug 1986
Priority date    15 Feb 1983
Inventors    Graham S. Hawkes
Original Assignee    Deep Ocean Engineering Incorporated


This is a continuation of application Ser. No. 466,606, filed Feb. 15, 1983, now U.S. Pat. No. 4,607,798.

The present invention relates, in general, to remotely-operated, manipulative devices and relates, more particularly, to underwater or sub-sea, remotely-controlled, powered manipulator arms.

In recent years the use of manned and unmanned underwater apparatus to explore and develop natural resources has increased dramatically. In the petroleum industry, for example, off-shore drilling has required both manned apparatus (submersibles) and unmanned underwater apparatus (robotic devices) which are capable of performing a wide variety of manipulative tasks. Typically such apparatus includes one or more remotely operated, powered arms which have a terminal device, such as claws, pincers or jaws, which are analogous to a human hand. The manipulator arms are usually jointed or have several axes of movement and may be controlled in a preprogrammed manner or by a remotely-operated input device. Such manipulator assemblies are exposed to very adverse environmental conditions, particularly when operated in bodies of salt water at substantial depths, which is the normal operating environment for most off-shore oil exploration and recovery equipment.

Prior underwater, electromechanical manipulator apparatus have typically employed a D.C. motor coupled to a hydraulic pump as the primary power for actuation or moving of the arm assemblies. The hydraulic pumps are coupled to a hydraulic circuit employing solenoid valves to control displacement of the manipulator arms and operation of the claws or jaws on the end of the arms.

If these prior art solenoid-based manipulator systems are relatively simple, the operating characteristics have been found to be poor. The smoothness and dexterity of movement with Which the arm and claws can be manipulated are not satisfactory for many applications. In order to attempt to have a smoothly operating solenoid valve- based system, the valving and pump controls can be made very complex, but the resulting complexity substantially increases cost and the incidence of breakdown.

Another prior art approach to underwater manipulative assemblies is to employ a D.C. motor-feedback servo amplifier system in which the motor directly drives the mechanical elements in the arm. Such a direct coupling of the D.C. motor to the mechanical manipulator elements has been found to require extremely close tolerances with attendant undesirable cost. Moreover, there are substantial shock loading problems in the gearboxes of such systems.

A remotely operated, underwater manipulator assembly should be capable of smooth motion over a wide speed range. Thus it should be able to move uniformly and smoothly at low speeds for precise work and smoothly at high speeds for rapid arm positioning. Underwater manipulator assemblies also should be able to exert a variable force at any of the speeds in its range of operating speeds. Moreover, a remotely operated underwater manipulator arm or assembly should have the capability of simultaneous and cooperative motion in two or more directions to give full freedom of movement of the terminal device or gripping jaws. The combination of smooth functioning over a wide speed range, variable force throughout the range, and multidirectional movement provides an underwater manipulator arm assembly which begins to closely approximate the motion and dexterity of a human arm and hand.



Additional related patents:

Publication number    US4471207 A
Apparatus and method for providing useful audio feedback to operators of remotely controlled manipulators

Publication number    US4655673 A
Apparatus and method for providing useful tactile feedback to operators of remotely controlled manipulators


See other early Underwater Robots here.