Posts Tagged ‘Hugo Gernsback’

1915 – The Radium Destroyer – Hugo Gernsback (American)

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November, 1915
THE ELECTRICAL EXPERIMENTER by Hugo Gernsback.
Front cover -"THE RADIUM DESTROYER" from a painting by Thomas H. Wrenn. (typo- actually Thomas N. Wrenn)
Warfare of the Future
The Radium Destroyer
THE European War has clearly demonstrated what a tremendous part modern science plays in the offense as well as in the defense of the contending armies. It has often been said during the past twelve months that this is not a war so much of men as of machines. Nothing could be truer. In fact, it might be said that this is a war of infernal machines against more diabolical machines.
It has been stated editorially in this journal that there will be war always, or at least till we arrive at a period when some scientific genius (or shall be call him devil?) invents a machine which at one stroke is capable of annihilating one or several army corps. When that time arrives, soldiers, no matter how courageous, will think a long time before they will offer themselves to be slaughtered by the hundred thousand.
In the meantime, probably for many generations to come, the war death-dance will go on without any doubt whatsoever. Humanity simply has not advanced to such a state where disarmament is possible. Our real civilization only dates back less than 100 years, and as human progress is extremely slow, it may take a thousand years and more before humans will learn how to trust each other implicitly. As long as we require policemen and jails to keep us out of mischief, we are not able to take care of ourselves and we cannot call ourselves emancipated—we are still held in bondage by the brute in ourselves, which threatens to break out at any opportune moment, as is witnessed in the present war.
Therefore, the pacificists, particularly those in our country who think that this is the "last war" and who go around shouting peace at any price, are not only a sorry lot, but they are cheerfully oblivious of the teachings of history as well as of human evolution.
These good people would shout murder if you dared suggest to them to dismiss at once all policemen and patrolmen of their home town, but they would trust a strange nation implicitly from making war on this country, simply because that nation pledged itself on a piece of paper not to make war
If the present war is ghastly with its poison shells, its deadly chlorine gas, its bomb-throwing aeroplanes, its fire-spraying guns, its murderous machine guns, etc., what can we expect of the wars of the future?
What will happen when the scientists of a hundred years hence begin making war on each other?
Suppose that by that time our scientists have solved the puzzle of the atom and have succeeded in liberating its prodigous forces. Imagine that at that time one atom can be disintegrated at will, instantly into another, what will happen? The results will simply be overwhelmingly astounding and almost incomprehensible to our present minds.
It has been calculated that if we could liberate the latent energy at present locked up in a copper one cent piece we would be enabled to propel a train with 50 freight cars over a distance of 600 miles!
Now, then, bearing this in mind, let us imagine that 100 years hence some scientist invents a means to unlock atomic forces, and how to control them. We can see him stepping to the throne of his future War Lord (if such still exist then), addressing him in this fashion: "My Lord, with the means of my invention the world is yours; will you make yourself the first Master of this Planet?"
The War Lord promptly asks for a secret demonstration of the new "Atomic Gun," and what he sees intoxicates his imagination to such a degree that he decides to make war on the entire world as soon as his generals have assured him that enough atomic guns have been manufactured to make success certain. And one beautiful spring morning our War Lord finds a perfectly logical pretext to make war on a few nations, and the latest war dance is on.
Within a few hours the first atomic gun. popularly known as the "Radium Destroyer, has crossed the enemy's frontier.
The Radium Destroyer is mounted on fast moving auto trucks and is controlled entirely by Radio energy. No man is within a mile of the Destroyer—it is too dangerous to be near it when in action. A young lieutenant with phones clapped over his head and who follows the Destroyer in the "Control Auto," and who gets his own orders from the General Staff by Wireless, guides each and every motion of the distant Radium Destroyer simply by moving certain keys and switches in front of him.
Soon his Destroyer has arrived in front of the enemy's first line of concreted steel trenches, protecting the land behind them. In front of the trenches the ground has been purposely cut up to impede the progress of ordinary vehicles. The General Staff, of course, knew this, and built the Destroyer accordingly. Our friend the lieutenant stops the Destroyer's truck and moves a lever. Immediately the Destroyer hops from the truck and begins to jump with amazing speed over the cutup ground, in grasshopper fashion. A few hundred feet from the well-concealed concrete trenches the Destroyer is made to halt. Our lieutenant moves a few switches, turns a knob and presses a key—then lot the inferno begins.
A solid green "Radium-K" emanation ray bursts from the top of the Destroyer and hits the concreted steel trench. Our front cover gives but a faint idea of what happens. The Radium-K emanation has the property of setting off spontaneously the dormant energy of the Atom of any element it encounters except lead. So when the ray hits the trench it went up in dust, concrete, steel, men and guns behind it, everything. After spraying the trench lengthwise for a few minutes it is gone completely. Only a dense cloud of vapor hanging in the air remains.
The fleet of Radium Destroyers now enters through the gap, destroying everything in their path. No gun can hit the Radium Destroyer for ere the gun can get the proper range, the Radium-K Ray has hit the gun or the ground below it and has sent it up in vapor, including the men behind it. As a demonstration, the Commanding General asks that the first town encountered, a city of 300,000 souls, be vacated within three hours. The terrorized inhabitants are forced to comply with the request, whereupon a dozen Destroyers line up on the hills and spray the unlucky city with their fearful rays. Within five minutes the entire city, houses, churches, bridges, parks and everything else have gone up in a titanic Vapor cloud; only a vast crater in the ground where the thriving city one stood remains.
After this demonstration the enemy sues for peace; resistance would be folly. The country is conquered. Within a fort night the War Lord has conquered the entire world and has proclaimed himself as the First Planet Emperor.
What happens afterwards when the secret of the Radium Destroyer is discovered by the War Lord's enemies is another chapter, so we will desist !
The above may read very fantastical and extremely fanciful. It is, however, not only very possible but highly probable. Modern Science knows not the word Impossible.


See other early Hopping and Walking Machines here.


1945 – Radio Jockey – Gernsback / Leslie (American)

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Caption: This electronic Robot might have prevented the horse-racing ban, but it would cause technological unemployment among the jockey fraternity.

Source: Radio-Craft for March, 1945.
RADIO JOCKEY – Electronically-Controlled Robot Rider By ERIC LESLIE
HORSE-RACING—the game of kings—has one great weakness. The suspicion of "fixed" races, of "pulled" horses and of dishonest jockeys, has prevented this sport from taking its place with such American national institutions as baseball or football. Even where track officials make every effort to keep their races "clean," an unsavory aura still attaches to the practice of racing horses.
A freak race in the early days of radio broadcasting gave rise to suggestions for a type of horse-race in which the jockey would be eliminated. The event referred to took place at the Cook County Fair, Chicago, in 1922. A horse—appropriately named Radio—raced with no jockey other than a radio receiving set and a horn loudspeaker on his back. His jockey, or more properly trainer, remained in the stands at the microphone of a small transmitter, giving directions and shouting encouragement. According to reports, as the horse came into the home stretch the trainer shouted, "Come on, Radio! Come on, boy !" and the horse responded nobly, just as if the trainer had been sitting on his back and was urging him on toward the finish line.
Spectacular as the stunt was at that stage of the development of radio, it proved only that the speaker was no substitute for a jockey, who not only with voice, but with hand and heel, urges his mount on to victory.

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Some years ago [CZ: prior to 1945], H. Gernsback proposed a device which uses equipment and methods not available in 1922 to supply all these. The loud-speaker works as in the older setup, the reins and crop are controlled front transmitters in the stands, at which the trainers can sit comfortably while watching the progress of their "mounts" at any part of the track. The "jockey" would consist of a modern radio receiver, with outputs fitted both to a speaker and to relays which would set into action motors which control the arms to which the reins are attached, or operate the crop. Additional motors can be provided—or attachments made to those used-which would permit changing the posture of the "jockey", causing it to lean further forward or rise upright, to sway to the left or the right, as may be required during the race. It is well-known that a jockey uses his body as well as his voice and the reins in guiding his horse.
Should there be any suggestion of "pulling" or other unfair action, it would not be necessary to depend on the opposed statements of a pair of jockeys, neither of whom might have been in the best condition—either physically or emotionally—to note actually what had happened during the portion of a second in which many of these incidents occur. A complete record of all the jockey's actions can be kept on a tape which would form a part of the transmitting apparatus, so that there could be no dispute as to how any incident had occurred or how much restraint was applied to a horse at any given period during a race.
Old-time sports may believe that such a system would take the "kick" out of racing, but they do flock to the dog-races to watch the electric rabbit !

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Caption: "Jockeys" who are electronic experts, and have to watch their fingers instead of their weight may help to make this proposed Radio Robot a reality.


Gernsback resurrects the idea in his annual publication "Forecast" (distributed late 1961).

Source: The Deseret News, 27 Dec 1961.
If Robots Replace Jockeys What Happens to Racing? Forecast Of Future Finds 'Robots' Replacing Jockeys….

INEZ ROBB The holiday season always brings to my door a pair of publications that brighten life considerably. The first is the Farmers' Almanac, without which I would never know quite when to put on my long underwear, plant potatoes, or mothproof the woolen closet……………  

The second publication to spread knowledge and happiness through the household is the annual "Forecast" of Hugo Gernsback, widely acclaimed as "the father of science fiction" and the editor and publisher of Radio-Electronics Magazine. Gernsback is a man on rapport with the future, to say the least. And while I am overjoyed to know that if I can live until 1986, the threat of atomic, hydrogen, cobalt or any other missile is kaput (the submarine demises two years earlier), nonetheless, the most sensational prediction in "1962 Forecast" is of concern to The Society for Improvement of the Breed of Bookies. Sometimes in the future – Gernsback doesn't pinpoint the date electronics will replace the jockey. Or rather the jockey won't be up. The future Sande or Hartack or Arcaro will be in a remote control tower that can do anything the jockey does, including whipping." Instead of saddle and rider, the horse will carry a power pack weighing 35 to 50 pounds that will be capable of "reining" any future Native Dancer.

Presumably the power packs will be painted in the colors or the respective stables of owners, although this is a fanciful thought of my own that I hand on to Gernsback. From his control tower the jockey will be able to sweet-talk; his horse home, since the steed will be wired for sound.

Gernsback believes his system, already feasible in his opinion, will make "for faster and more scientific races."
There are only two problems here: (1) Can you "fix a power pack? (2) Will the future jockey, manipulating in his control tower a panel that looks as complicated as that of a jet plane, have to show a degree from M.l.T. or Cal Tech? Since I am not a horse player, I don't know whether Gernsback's prediction will kill or cure racing. But there it is, for tote board and bookie alike to ponder. ……………

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Arthur Radebaugh's interpretation of Gernsback's Electronic Jockey. 1962.


Camel Jockey

A robot jockey is commonly used on camels in camel racing as a replacement for human jockeys. Developed since 2004, the robotic jockeys are slowly phasing out the use of human jockeys, which in the case of camel racing in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, often employs small children who reportedly suffer repeated systemic human rights abuses. In response to international condemnation of such abuses, the nations of Qatar and the UAE have banned the use of human jockeys in favor of robots. See more in Wikipedia here.

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Patent info.


See also Syd Mead's Racimals here.

See the timeline on other Animal Control here.


1954 – Teledoctor – Hugo Gernsback (American)

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Gernsback, Hugo "The Teledoctor", Television, Feb. 1955 pp. 22-24.

Hugo Gernsback's 1954 solution to the doctor shortage was the ultimate in bringing the patient to the overworked physician: an updated version of the 1924 Radio Doctor called the "Teledoctor."

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Delivered to your front door on a rental plan, this melding of television and diagnostics was supposed to be capable of measuring blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and even had a built-in stethoscope.

But it wasn't just a remote monitoring device with a two-way television attached, it also incorporated the latest in remote-controlled robot hands (or claws in this case) that allowed the attending physician to administer tests, write prescriptions, give injections, bandage wounds, and even perform minor surgery from the comfort of his office.

All this television interchange, data traffic and robot-manipulation signal was transmitted through an ordinary phone.   It's interesting how the television apparatus pictured here looks the right size for 1954, but the mechanical arms and such take up surprisingly little room even by today's standards.

Notice also that the mechanical arms on the patient's end have elbows, but the doctor's control rods don't, which would have made it a bit like performing surgery in a pair of arm casts.  Above images and text sourced from David Szondy.

The hand controls on the doctor's master arm are reminiscent of John Payne's 1948 manipulator arms.

It wasn't until 1954 that Ray Goertz developed his  Electro-Mechanical Manipulator. As well as offering force-reflection (force-feedback), it was acknowledged to offer the capability to operate the slave remotely from the master (because it is  electrically coupled, not mechanically coupled). This extended remote control materialized with Goertz's Remote Servo-manipulator in 1958.


See other early Teleoperators here.


1960 – “Homobile” Lunar Rover – Hugo Gernsback (American)

In 1960, the indefatigable Gernsback came out with another lunar rover design. He called it the “Homobile.” It had a pressurized cabin mounted on tracks and powered by electricity from fuel cells, with a leg-powered generator as an alternate source of energy. The cabin also had a pair of manipulator arms.

Source:Originally from “1961 Forecast”, 1960 pp8-11 by Hugo Gernsback.


Similar illustrations from an early book of space travel and a Sci-fi magazine.

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Illustration from Première Croisière Sur La Lune by Fletcher Pratt, 1952.

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Illustration by Frank R. Paul, Fantastic Adventure, 1940.


See other early Space Teleoperators here.

See other early Lunar Robots here.


1925 – Teledactyl Remote Manipulator – Hugo Gernsback (German/American)

I'm having difficulty in obtaining a copy of this magazine, so I have used the original article and illustrations from Matt Novak's wonderful Paleofuture/Smithsonian article here.

Hugo Gernsback’s device was called the "radio teledactyl” and would allow doctors to not only see their patients through a viewscreen, but also touch them from miles away with spindly robot arms. He effectively predicted telemedicine, though with a weirder twist than we see implemented in 2012.

Source: Science and Invention, February, 1925: Original illustrations by Geo Wall.

The Teledactyl (Tele, far; Dactyl, finger — from the Greek) is a future instrument by which it will be possible for us to “feel at a distance.” This idea is not at all impossible, for the instrument can be built today with means available right now. It is simply the well known telautograph, translated into radio terms, with additional refinements. The doctor of the future, by means of this instrument, will be able to feel his patient, as it were, at a distance….The doctor manipulates his controls, which are then manipulated at the patient’s room in exactly the same manner. The doctor sees what is going on in the patient’s room by means of a television screen.


The doctor of the future examines a patient (1925)

Quite impressively, the teledactyl was imagined as a sensory feedback device, which allowed the doctor to not only manipulate his instruments from afar, but feel resistance.

Here we see the doctor of the future at work, feeling the distant patient’s arm. Every move that the doctor makes with the controls is duplicated by radio at a distance. Whenever the patient’s teledactyl meets with resistance, the doctor’s distant controls meet with the same resistance. The distant controls are sensitive to sound and heat, all important to future diagnosis.

Gernsback positions his predictions about telemedicine within the rapidly changing communications landscape of the 1920s:

As our civilization progresses we find it more and more necessary to act at a distance. Instead of visiting our friends, we now telephone them. Instead of going to a concert, we listen to it by radio. Soon, by means of television, we can stay right at home and view a theatrical performance, hearing and seeing it. This, however is far from sufficient. As we progress, we find our duties are multiplied and we have less and less to transport our physical bodies in order to transact business, to amuse ourselves, and so on.

The busy doctor, fifty years hence, will not be able to visit his patients as he does now. It takes too much time, and he can only, at best, see a limited number today. Whereas the services of a really big doctor are so important that he should never have to leave his office; on the other hand, his patients cannot always come to him. This is where the teledactyl and diagnosis by radio comes in.

It wasn’t just the field of medicine that was going to be revolutionized by this new device. Other practical uses would involve seeing and signing important documents from a distance:


The man of 1975 signs important documents by videophone (1925)

Here we see the man of the future signing a check or document at a distance. By moving the control, it goes through exactly the same motions as he would in signing he document. He sees what he is doing by means of the radio teleview in front of him. The bank or other official holds the document in front of a receiving teledactyl, to which is attached a pen or other writing instrument. The document is thus signed.

This diagram also explained how the teledactyl worked:


Diagram explaining how the teledactyl was supposed to work (1925)

Interestingly, we’d see this idea for telemedicine pop up again in 1990s concept videos from AT&T and Pacific Bell.

A year after this article was released Gernsback began publishing Amazing Stories, the first magazine that was devoted entirely to science fiction. Gernsback published a number of different magazines throughout his life, but I’d argue that none were filled with more rich, retro-future goodness than Science and Invention.


See about Waldoes here.

See other Teleoperators here.