Posts Tagged ‘Edmund C. Berkeley’

1953 – “Franken” Maze-Solving Machine – Ivan and Bert Sutherland


The original Franken maze solver was designed and built by Bert and Ivan Sutherland. I suspect it was built for Edmund C. Berkeley.  Berkeley , it appears, had used the early version as a prototype, and engaged his other associates, namely Bob Jensen, Juli Skalski and Stan Skalski in drawing up a revised document suitable for sale as plans, kits, or small-scale production in 1957.

Above pdf has notes Franken made by Bert Sutherland as sent to Ed Berkeley.

Berkeley's internal memorandum on Franken, The Maze-Solving, Food-Getting, Learning Beast was based on Claude Shannon's earlier 1951 Maze solver using a sensing-finger rathjer than a magnetically controlled mouse.

Ivan and Bert Sutherland first started designing Franken in 1951. The prototype appears to have been built around 1953, if not earlier, according to a letter by Bert Sutherland to Ed Berkeley.. Improvements were was later suggested by Ivan Sutherland (see pdf below). 

It was finally handed over to Ed Berkeley in May, 1955.

[Note: Claude Shannon was later Ivan Sutherland's Thesis supervisor.]

See Claude Shannon's note on Maze construction considerations to Ed Berkeley here.

From Edmund C. Berkeley's SMALL ROBOTS — REPORT, 1956

5. Franken (named after Frankenstein) is a maze-solving robot. The maze consists of an aluminum board with 32 squares, around which partitions may be set up in any desired pattern by a member of the audience so as to make a maze. The searching and moving element which explores the maze is a wooden mouse or rat containing a permanent magnet. This is moved by four electromagnets themselves moved by machinery underneath the aluminum surface of the maze. The computing unit consists of some 60 relays; the memory consists of a magnetic drum (called Magdum; see below).

When Franken is completed, a member of the audience will be able to go up to Franken, mark one square with "Food", another square with "Latch One" and another square with "Latch Two". The machine will then be able to learn successively that "Food" is in the "Food" square, and that it has to go to "Latch Two" first and then to "Latch One" so as to "unlock" the "Food" and satisfy its hunger. The machine will also learn the maze, discovering the path to each of the three special squares after exploration. The machine will not be able to distinguish a shortest path from the path which it first finds, but it willbe able to eliminate all blind alleys. Data: 75% complete; finish, laboratory style; reliability, not known; maintenance, will be difficult; our costs so far, about $4,000.

6. Magdum (from "magnetic drum") is a small magnetic drum (materials cost about $50) and associated circuits including some 60 electronic tubes, constructed in order to be the memory for Franken. It has one timing channel and one information channel, and at present can store 128 numbers of 2 binary digits. A member of the audience can select any one of the 126 registers, enter a two-binary-digit number (one of 00, 01, 10, or 11) and find some time later that that number is still there, seeing the number in two neon tubes. This machine was constructed by Ivan Sutherland, age 16, for science fair competitions; and from it he won a $3,000 scholarship to Carnegie Institute of Technology. Data: 99% complete; finish, professional style; reliability, about 97%; maintenance, difficult; our costs so far, about $1,500.


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1951 – James the Intelligent Robot – Edmund C. Berkeley (American)

Despite his attempts in trying, as seen in the attached documents, I don't believe Edmund C. Berkeley ever realized the construction of James the intelligent robot.

Specification of James: A man-like robot, with six sound tracks, a load speaker, and three or four sensory organs, which will seem to respond intelligently. – For rent to stores, etc.

The only other mention to James is in his Small Robots Report seen elsewhere on the web (my link to it found in my earlier post on Squee here.).  When I located these papers I thought I would display them as it gives an insight into Berkeley and the robots he was proposing in the 1950's.


It's interesting to note in one of the attatched papers that Berkeley was proposing training people to build the robots off the plans he was providing. Arguably he is the originator of 'home' or DIY Robotics. Here's the OCR'd extract

"Project 4. Robot World

A continuing exhibit of small one-of-a-kind robots including Simon, Squee, etc. Charge admission, sell plans; sell training in the construction of small robots; sell supplies. …"

See also the rare paper on robots titled "The Construction of Living Robots" by Berkeley in my earlier post here.

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1950 – Maze-Solving Mouse – Claude Shannon (American)

The diagrammatic view of the 1950-1 Maze-solving Mouse built by Claude A. Shannon.

Claude Shannon knew Edmund C. Berkeley quite well. Berkeley had two young associates working part-time with him on his early robots, by the names of Ivan and Bert Sutherland.  Ivan was soon to have Claude Shannon as his Thesis supervisor.  Berkeley was keen to add a maze-solver to his catalogue of small robots, and engaged the Sutherland brothers to build one. This was called "Franken" and will be subject to a later post. Shannon put together the two page document to assist Berkeley and the Sutherland brothers in their quest.

Although there are "indicating lamps" marked in the schematic, I cannot confirm that the above photo is of those indicators in that version of the maze-solving mouse.

I have not been able to confirm how many maze-solvers were built, both by Shannon and later copies by Bell Labs. We have a reasonable description of the 1951 model as it was presented to the Eighth Conference on Cybernetics. More information is available is on the later 1952  "Theseus" mouse model. See a later post on this, more well known version here.

The pdf of the 1951 paper titled "Presentation of a Maze-Solving Mouse" from the Eighth Conference on Cybernetics is available here ShannonsMaze51 .

Although the paper was presented in 1951, I believe this first version of Shannon's maze was built in 1950.

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1957 – Machina Versatilis – Ivan Sutherland (American)

Ivan Sutherland with M. Versatilis.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University Archives

Machina Versatilis , pictured above and below, was so named due to the versatile modular plug-in boards. M. Versatilis was the final of three models built, and at least two of this model were supposedly built. The first version, see blog post here, was originally built in Spring 1956 by Ivan Sutherland's older brother Bert (William Robert Sutherland) and his then class room-mate Malcolm "Mac" G. Mugglin.

That model had shortcomings and was abandond. Later that year, Ivan took charge of the project and produced a second model. This model used a cast aluminium plate, easily removeable wet battery, and plastic bumpers. It still utilised vacuum tubes [valves] at this time. The third and final model was primarily built by Ivan in September 1957,  was fully transistorised and used only dry-cell batteries. 

To my knowledge, although Grey Walter had said he had built a transistorised tortoise in a letter dated Jan 1957, this is the first cybernetic animal to utilise transistors that we have proof of.

Another first was that a second M. Versatilis was built along with a light mounted on a rolling platform to be pushed around as a toy. Ivan later describes his idea on improving M. Versatilis even further with a direction-guiding gyroscope to enable a game of soccer to be played.  This effectively is the first ever mention of the concept now known as robo-soccer.

The pdf below, along with the letters published here give a good all round description of M. Versatilis.

There is a video clip featuring the Sutherland brothers giving a talk on their lives. There's a brief mention of the robots about 19 minutes into the clip titled "mom loved him best" .

Electro-Mechanical-Animal Sutherland-  a pdf of the below article

Although thought to have been #6, the stamping clearly shows a '5', contradicting WGW's and Sutherland's correspondence.





Documents showing schematics of plug-in modules.

There are not many references to Machina Versatilis. Unfortunately one of the more recent tomes on the history of A.I. (Boden: Mind as Machine) incorrectly credits the Sutherlands' as the builders of Edmund C. Berkeley's "Squee" of 1951, rather than M. Versatilis.

See other Cybernetic Creatures here.

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W. Grey Walter, Edmund C. Berkeley, Ivan E. Sutherland and the Tortoise

Who is Ivan E. Sutherland? Ivan was born in 1938, Nebraska, USA and is a computer pioneer, inventing Sketchpad, being the first what we now call a Graphical User Interface (GUI). He also built a walking machine, but that will be the subject to another post later.

As an under-graduate student, Ivan, with his elder brother Bert, and Bert's then close friend Malcolm Mugglin built their first "beastie".


Here's a transcript of the letter send from IEW to Grey Walter in 1957:

Nov 10. [IES  to WGW]
“Dear Sir:
Early last month I had sent to you two copies of a paper entitled “An Electro-mechanical Model of Simple Animals” which was submitted by my brother, Bert (William R. Sutherland), and his close friend, Mac (Malcolm G. Mugglin), to their department of Electrical Engineering. Perhaps a little of the history of that paper would be of interest to you.
I am now a Junior (3rd year) at Carnegie Tech, also studying electrical engineering – in this and many other things I have followed the lead of my brother. Bert is two years older than I, recently became married and is now on active duty as an officer of the U.S. Navy. Our interest in mechanical and electrical things probably comes from our father, a Civil Engineer from New Zealand: Ph. D. from London, but our first good luck and stimulation came when we met Edmund C. Berkeley in 1952.
Mr. Berkeley took an interest in the work that we had already done, namely a simple adding machine, and encouraged us to continue, both by suggesting problems and by providing funds for their solution. During the period October, 1952 to June, 1955 we worked under the guidance of Mr. Berkeley. We did a major protion [sic] of the work on a mechanical maze solving mouse similar to one constructed by Claude Shannon of Bell Labs. During the latter part of this same period, Bert left home for college, and I continued our work alone.
During this contact with Berkeley’s organization we often saw “squee”, his mechanical squirrel; this was our first contact with the species of mechanical animals. Our next contact came when we read your The Living Brain. We were both interested in all the things you have done, but most familiar with the mechanical and electrical aspects, and most interested in your Machina speculatrix. Can you imagine the joy of two young people reading about important work accomplished far away in a field they were just becoming part of?
It was no surprise to me when Bert suggested, about Christmas of 1955, that we build a mechanical animal also. On page 45 of Bert’s thesis is a picture of the first crude result. When this first model was finished, about May, 1956, Bert for some reason lost interest in the project for a time. During this period, May to December, 1956, I continued work on the second model, the one which finally became the subject of the paper sent [to] you.
About Christmas 1956, Bert decided to write his thesis. By the end of January I had finished making the frames, motor mounts etc for the models shown in the various pictures; these Bert took over, assembled and used as a basis for his work. Mechanically these machines were good; electrically they were incomplete, as the thesis shows. They had two big drawbacks however: the wet battery needed constant care, and by the way cost us many pairs of pants through acid holes; the machines were cumbersome and heavy.
At the moment, Bert is busy with his new wife and the Navy, so I am in charge of our project. To get around the two drawbacks mentioned I have constructed a third type of beast. This new model, commonly called “beastie” because of its smaller size, uses dry cells for power, is entirely operated by transistors and proves to be the best we have yet accomplished. However, although I have the mere construction problems fairly well met, I have not yet obtained any results from this latest model The problems which were not yet solved in when Bert’s paper was written are still not solved.
Perhaps by now you are wondering just why I should write this letter. It is a sort of news report, an information carrier rather than a questionnaire. I examine what we have done: we have a rather nice looking machine which will respond to light and avoid obstacles in a rather crude sort of way. We have a great many possibilities for future work. I examine what I think we should do next: proceed with communication and learning as interesting behaviour. Perhaps making the machines (I’d like to build more of the “beastie” type) play tag might be a good start. We need a better obstacle strategy.
Building these machines has been, to say the least, an education in itself. I have found time and time again that to us the problems of actual design and construction were fairly straightforward; the decisions such as I face now of what to do next are more difficult. Perhaps you have some ideas. I am, of course, curious to know what you think.”



July 13 ECB to Hy Nagourney of Science Materials Center (HN) – ECB spoken to WGW on recent visit to England and discussed possible manufacture of small robots.
Dec 19. IES to WGW
Dear Dr. Walter:
I have written a paper for the American Institute of Electrical Engineers which attempts to show how simple animals steer themselves. It considers, amongst other things, your Machina Speculatrix. This paper is soon to be published in Electrical Engineering, the monthly publication of the AIEE.
I would like to include a picture of Machina Speculatrix with my paper. Would you be so kind as to send a picture suitable for publication?
I am particularly interested in showing the “tricycle” [sic] type steering system which you used. A side view with the cover removed would, I think, be best. …..”


Jan 23 [Ivan Sutherland to WGW]
“I thank you very much for the photographs of M. Speculatrix. ….I observed the numeral 6 stamped on several parts. Was this the sixth model you have built?

Feb 1. [WGW to IS]
“the number ‘6’ which you saw on the chassis is, as you guessed, the serial number of the model.
You may be interested to know that Basic Book Inc …., who run the Science Library, are proposing to manufacture these models for demonstration purposes.”

RH-Note – its interesting to note that Berkeley was including IES in on the tortoise deal Mar 1 1961.


Mar 1. Berkeley invites Ivan Sutherland to join Science Materials Center. Berkeley writes "We would like very much for you to be associated with us at Science Materials Center in one or more projects, including particularly to small robot project. …..we could draw on all of Grey Walter’s and all of your ideas and capacities, in order to produce small robots which would be of scientific value and instruction. I am sure that we need your help in addition to Grey Walter’s in order to make a resounding success of this project.”

No further correspondence known of from Berkeley archive.

I will talk further in another post about Ivan and Bert about later cybernetic models, including Franken, the maze solver.