Posts Tagged ‘Selenium’

1920 – “The Kaiser” Mechanical Man – Capt. Alban J. Roberts (New Zealand/Australia/U.K.)

The name "Kaiser" comes from the title of a video clip found at British Pathe here. Its actual name is not known at this time.


Captain Alban J. Roberts – mobile, light-operated automaton 1920's (responsible for robots attributed to Jasper Maskelyne (music halls) and occasionally incorrectly attributed to Capt W. H. Richards (Eric the Robot) in error due to similar names. Errantly, we also see the name Alan Roberts pop up as well.

I'm going to make a few claims about  Capt. Alban J. Roberts and his automatons.

From my research, "Kaiser" is the first:

  • electrically powered automaton suited in sheet metal ie a tin man.
  • electrically powered automaton to offer a walking / skating action without the need for an external prop ie a cart.
  • electrically powered automaton (in human form) to be remote controlled, in this case by light.
  • electrically powered automaton (in human form) to be semi-autonomous ie self-contained (no external power or control wires), but not self-controlled.

By these claims, Robert's "Kaiser" pre-dates the previous holder of some of these "firsts" – namely Capt. Richards' "Eric" of  1928, which appeared around the same time as the humaniform of Wensley's "Televox". I'll go a step further and even suggest that "Kaiser" may have even influenced Fritz Lang's visualisation of "Futura" in his production of  "Metropolis" which commenced in 1925.

Although born in New Zealand, the technology behind Roberts' automatons was evolving and being used by him in New Zealand, Australia, even USA and India. However, the first occurrance I can find of the existence of his automatons is in London, U.K.

Biography of Alban J. Roberts:

1880 – Alban Joseph Roberts -Born in Wellington, New Zealand 28/8/1880
Registration Number 1880/12836
Family Name Roberts
Given Name(s) Alban Joseph
Mother's Given Name(s) Kate Clara
Father's Given Name(s) William Henry

1904 – Running Municipal Electric Lighting Works – Patea, N.Z. Resigned June 1904.

1905 – Christchurch – Patented Meat marker.Instructor in Electricity at Kaiapoi Technical Classes.

1908 – Early experiments in wireless in 1908 in Sydney, Australia.

1909 – registered new member for Aero Club of the UK ("Flight" magazine)

1910 – Wireless motor-launch at Dagenham Lake, Essex, England with F. Heeley
 Hippodrome demonstration with wireless dirigible [same year as Raymond Phillips]. Torpedo demonstration.

1913 – Demonstration of Wireless Dirigible back in New Zealand.

1914 – AJR on his way to London via Australia – Demonstrates Wireless dirigible. Stays due to war outbreak.

1914 – 1918 – World War I

1915 – Flight Apr 16, 1915 mentions "wireless Dirigible" at the Hippodrome, London. operator is Mr Raymond Phillips, not Roberts. [see earlier date of 1910 for Phillips].

1916 – "Flight"  Sept 21 1916 – "distant control of aircraft by whistling" -reprinted in (Scientific American Supplement, No. 2155, April 21, 1917, p. 245.)
Mentions  he experimented in Australia, India, America, and the UK.

1918 WWI – Alban Joseph Roberts. RNAS Officers Service (Royal Naval Air Service)

1920 – Automaton walks by sound control – reported in London "Era" and Australian "Argus" . Newsreel also reports 12 Feb 1920 as the date for "Kaiser" the robot.

1921 – (1 August to 13 September) – St George's Hall appearance.

1921 – Capt Alban J. Roberts performed for Maskelyne at St George's Hall. Mentions "Life-Size Automaton Controlled by Light Vibration."

1923 – (2nd to 14th July) Capt Alban J. Roberts performed at St George's Hall for Maskelyne (according to "The Times" advertisements). 

1924 – Dutch / German Circus poster (Circus Busch) showing female automaton on skates.

1925 – "Argus" Newspaper – Aerial Torpedo  12 Aug 1925

1928 – (10 September) Roberts returns to St George's Hall for a five week engagement with "The Robot". Most published press available is of this event. Robot looks like a sheik – maybe "Lawrence of Arabia". Probably booked by Noel Maskelyne.

1930 – Roberts patents advertising device – UK 1,769,311

1938 – Director of Visular Directions Ltd, a new company in London (Flight Mag)

1950 – Died in England, U.K. aged 70.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. , Australia Saturday 22 May 1920 Page10 

"No more amazing turn has been seen even at the Coliseum than that labelled "Vibrations Harnessed" (writes the London "Era"). Captain Alban J. Roberts, a New Zealand inventor, has apparently learned how to subdue light and found to his will, by a brilliant ray of light he causes balloons to explode and bells to ring, and by sound he makes an automaton walk and a miniature motor-car move at his direction. The scientists may be able to understand this harnessing of light and sound, but we frankly admit that to us it partook of the miraculous."

The Technology Behind Alban J. Roberts' Automatons.

Although I have another post describing the underlying technologies behind early automatons and robots (see here), I will highlight those deployed and even invented by Roberts.

The automaton is not mentioned in the below article from Popular Science, April 1929. Examples of light control and sound control are shown. notice also the mis-spelling of "Alban". 

from Flight Magazine
Flight  Sept 21 1916

"Distant control of aircraft by whistling"
reprinted in Aircraft.—Distant control of aircraft by whistling. Diagram of device. (Scientific American Supplement, No. 2155, April 21, 1917, p. 245.)

Some posters from a Dutch site on early European Circus (see here)

Alban J. Roberts – "Kaiser" photo gallery – (stills from video clip)


 See Robert's later Mechanical Man here.


Death Rays

A.J. Roberts involved with Motorcycle 'death ray' experiment.

The Harry Grindell Matthews story is quite amazing. see here Grindell 'Death Ray' Matthews .  It appears Matthews 'stole' Robert's ideas and tried to make money from them himself.  The "Death Ray" was most likely a focused light then when being shone onto a selenium cell, triggered some function, such as turning the power off or operating a relay to break a circuit. It was a trick.  

Interesting also that Matthews probably stole Roberts idea re aerial advertising. Roberts was to patent an advertising device in 1930.

Key points of the Matthews story:

Now, in 1914 and faced with the prospect of a lengthy conflict, the British government was desperate for innovations which would help them wage war against Germany. Two inventions interested them greatly. The first was a ray which would disable the Zeppelins, and the second was a ray which could control unmanned craft. A reward of £25,000 was offered to the person who came up with either. Matthews was convinced he could provide the latter and claimed he had developed a remote control system using cells containing selenium. After testing his invention on Edgbaston Reservoir, he demonstrated it to Admiralty officials at Richmond Park’s Penn Pond. They were so impressed that Matthews received his cheque for £25,000 the following morning, a not inconsiderable sum of money in 1915.

Yet there was something not quite right about this event. Although the remote control boat had been proven to the Admiralty officials and a vast sum of money paid, the idea never manifested as workable in practice. The Admiralty, for whatever reason, chose not to pursue Matthews’ selenium control system which, besides operating boats remotely, was claimed to detonate explosives at a distance. Was this ignorance and jealousy on behalf of the War Office or the first hints that Matthews wasn’t quite as genuine as he appeared? Again Matthews lapsed into obscurity. He re-appeared briefly, yet significantly, in 1921, breaking new ground by producing the world’s first talking picture. This was a short interview with the explorer Ernest Shackleton prior to his fatal attempt at circumnavigating the Antarctic. This film is important because it proves Matthews, despite the hype and ambiguity which often attended his inventions, was not a charlatan, and was in many ways years ahead of his time.

Matthews turned his mind to the idea of a possible death ray in the autumn of 1923. After reading news reports of French airplanes dropping out of the sky over Germany, he said: “I realized that the Germans had found an invisible ray that put the magnetos of the aircraft out of action. I concentrated on efforts to discover what it was, and with the electric ray now at my command I think I have succeeded.” Select journalists were given a demonstration of Matthews’ ‘ray’ stopping a motor cycle engine at a distance of 50 ft (15m). “I am confident,” Matthews announced, “that if I have facilities for developing it I can stop aeroplanes in flight –- indeed I believe the ray is sufficiently powerful to destroy the air, to explode powder magazines, and destroy anything on which it rests.”

Thus the death ray was born in the mind of the popular press. Matthews capitalised on his new-found fame, being well aware that his stock was not particularly high with the British government. So, rather than approach them directly, he went to his old friends the press. They were only too happy to help, and fanciful accounts of the death ray and what it could do began to appear by late 1923. Bemused by Matthew’s sudden re-appearance but fearful that the publicity he was enjoying would lead to another nation bidding for the death ray, the War Office was forced to act. Swallowing their pride and suspending their disbelief, in February 1924 the Air Ministry offered Matthews the opportunity to demonstrate his death ray to them. Matthews at first ignored their advances, perhaps hoping the government would simply accept his assertion that the ray did as he said.

When no such offer was forthcoming, Matthews contacted the press with further dramatic claims and by April 1924 the death ray – or more properly the idea of the death ray – was world news. The London Star announced the invention as a “wonderful invisible ray which has turned into fact the dreams of Wells’ fiction.” And they hadn't even seen it yet! A wide-eyed Star reporter was ushered into Matthews’ London laboratory and shown a bowl of gunpowder being ignited by the ray. Matthews was at pains to explain this was only the beginning, a small scale demonstration of what could easily be the destruction of ammunition dumps at huge distances or the destruction of aeroplane engines in flight.

The scientific principles on which the ‘ray’ worked were glossed over by all concerned. Ionized air carrying an electrical current was mentioned by some commentators, others talked of exceptionally short radio waves. Matthews wasn’t saying and no-one appeared to be asking the right questions, certainly not the press. To them the idea of a death ray was enough.

Furthermore, Appleton claimed Matthews was “working the press, but had now lost control of it.” The explicit conclusion of this meeting was that the government did not trust Matthews. Yet they were loathe to dismiss him completely as long as even a small chance remained that he could be onto something. No government wanted to turn down the death ray only for it to turn up later in the arsenal of an enemy. Air Vice Marshal Salmond wrote immediately to Matthews suggesting further, more detailed demonstrations. Matthews replied that he could not understand why the government would not accept the evidence he had presented to them.

He had now lost patience with England and was offering the ‘ray’ to the French. Following this breakdown of communications, events took a turn that was both dramatic and ludicrous. Tuesday 27 May 1924 saw scenes which could have come straight from an Ealing Comedy. The Daily Express summed up the farce perfectly a day later with its front page headline “Melodramatic Death Ray Episodes”. Their lead article opined: “Melodrama has seldom surpassed the heights which were reached in yesterday’s ‘Death Ray’ episodes. Hurried legal action in the High Court was followed by an unsuccessful motor-car chase, an air journey by Mr. Grindell Matthews to Paris, a belated renewal of conversations on this side of the channel, a reopening of negotiations in France and a deluge of claims by rival inventors. Beneath all was the undertone of tragedy suggested by the terrible powers which are attributed to the ray.”

Once again, the government was forced by popular opinion to make official statements and on 28 May questions were asked in the House of Commons. Mr Leach, Under Secretary for Air, was questioned by Commander Kenworthy, who demanded to know what steps were being taken to prevent an invention of the death ray’s magnitude from leaving the country. Leach re-iterated the government's position, “We are not in a position to pass judgment on the value of this ray, because we have not been allowed to make proper tests. Therefore whether there is anything in it or not still remains unexplored. The Departments have been placed in a difficult position in dealing with the matter partly because of the vigorous Press campaign conducted on behalf of this gentleman, and partly because this is not the first occasion on which the inventor has put forward a scheme for which extravagant claims have been made. The result is the Departments are not able to accept Mr Grindell Matthews’ statement about this invention without a scrutiny which he is not prepared to face.”

Furthermore, His Majesty’s Government believed that “the conditions under which the demonstrations were made by Mr Matthews were such that it was not possible to form any opinion as to the value of the device.” Carefully worded or not, the implication seemed to be that Grindell Matthews at best may have not demonstrated his invention under correct laboratory conditions, and at worst had brazenly attempted to defraud the British Government. The statement went on to stress that the government had been at pains to be scrupulously fair with Matthews, offering him the chance to repeat the demonstration. All they required to be convinced was that he use his ray to stop the engine of a petrol driven motorcycle engine provided by them. On successful completion of this test, Matthews would then be given £1,000 as a retainer for 14 days whilst the government considered “the basis of further financial negotiations for the purchase or development of his invention.” As yet, the government didn’t even want to know how the ray worked, just for it to be demonstrated to their satisfaction using their own laboratory conditions. Not an unreasonable request.

The 1st of June 1924 saw Matthews returning to London, and he was angry. In an interview with the Sunday Express he defended his life’s work even to the point of raging at those who referred to his notorious invention as a ‘ray’. It was, he claimed, a ‘beam’, not a ray, although quite what the difference was he failed to say. Matthews still believed he had a deal with Royer and was insistent his death ray was all packed and ready to be shipped to France for further development.

From an entertainment perspective the film made great viewing, coming as it did in the wake of the massive publicity given the death ray furor. Yet there was no evidence that the subject matter of the film had any basis in reality. Stills show fantastic apparatus, claimed to be the death ray, but which bear no relation to the small Heath Robinson-like machine demonstrated to the government weeks earlier. Poetic license was clearly at work and S R Littlewood, in The Sphere, made some perceptive observations relevant to the whole affair: “…The Death Ray in which Mr Grindell Matthews is shown pulling levers of his machine and a rat is shown falling dead in its cage, a bicycle stopping and aeroplanes galore falling down in flames from the sky. From the scientific point of view – that is to say as a proof that it was the ray that killed the rat – I do not suppose that The Death Ray is intended to be regarded as of any value at all. One does not for a moment disbelieve Mr Grindell Matthews. At the same time a film which could have been so obviously ‘faked’ leaves one simply with the same amount of information as one had before save, perhaps, as to the shape of the machine, which is a sort of searchlight with three megaphone-like ears attached to it.

There the saga of the death ray ends. Matthews never managed to successfully demonstrate his invention to anyone's satisfaction. Whether this was because it was a complex money-making scam or whether the world’s governments were incapable of grasping the enormity of his ideas is unclear. We do know however that no-one ever developed a death ray, nor did Matthews pursue the invention further. Instead he went back to America where he worked as a consultant for Warner Brothers, putting his genuine skills in sound and vision technology to good use.

By the late 1920s, Matthews was back in Britain with a series of new, bold inventions which actually worked. His piece de resistance was a device to project advertisements on clouds.

On Christmas Eve 1930 he stunned London by projecting the image of an angel onto clouds above Hampstead Heath. The apparition was so realistic that people miles away apparently fell to their knees in worship, believing the Second Coming was at hand! He followed this with demonstrations in New York, where he projected the Stars and Stripes 10,000ft (3,000m) above the city (see below).

This invention clearly worked, yet once again Matthews was beset by problems. Although the invention could have revolutionised the emerging advertising industry, no-one seemed interested. Matthews had little time to reflect on this new failure as darker clouds were gathering and in 1931 he faced bankruptcy. His bankruptcy papers make interesting reading.

Financially secure again, he embarked on another series of inventions. Seeing that the Second World War was on the horizon, he began to develop the idea of ærial mines fired by rockets or suspended by barrage balloons. These, he claimed, could create an effective ærial ring of defence round cities such as London. This idea was discussed seriously by the government but never taken up as a practical proposal. Matthews’ mind, never still, then came up with the idea of the ‘stratoplane’ – a “plane which could fly on the edges of space.” He became a member of the British Interplanetary Society and actively pushed forward ideas which led eventually to the development of rocket technology.

Genius or charlatan, probably a little of both, Grindell Matthews inspired intense debate and massive publicity. Some of his inventions such as the talking films, ærophone and sky-projector certainly worked and were years ahead of their time. Other ideas such as his theories of space travel would come to fruition later in the 20th century. 

What is it about early robot builders and "Death Rays"?  Prof. Harry May, the person behind "Alpha the Robot"  also claimed to have a "Death Ray."

See Alban J. Robert's later Mechanical Man here.

See all the Early Humanoid Robots here.


1928 – Phil the Radio Dog a.k.a. “Philidog” – Henri Piraux (French)

This is what everyone’s been waiting for – new and more detailed information on “Philidog” by Henri Piraux (sometimes Henry Piraux, of Philips France).

One of the articles to be presented tells us that the dog has gone through a bit of an evolution. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to get a date of the original incarnation.  Here’s the list of versions created:

1st was not mobile,
2nd was mobile and batteries,
3rd was mains powered,
4th mod included touch sensitive whiskers.

Mechanical dog exhibited in Denmark - 18-November-1929

Image source: Getty images

I was fortunate enough to locate an article that gives a description of operation, as well as a circuit diagram!!

The Anatomy of PHIL the Radio Dog

An ingenious device has been produced by Philips Radio for demonstrating the working of their new photo-electric cells. This is “Phil,” the “Radio Dog.” Wherever he has been exhibited, his ability to bark and to move forward or in circles at the command of his owner, has caused much speculation, Below we unveil the mystery of his anatomy.

Fig. 1 shows the radio dog deprived of his external covering [not the above pic]. The “eyes,” formed by two photo-electric cells stand out clearly, Furthermore, there are the amplifying valve’s and several relays, an accumulator, batteries, and several other electrical accessories the operation of which will be explained in the continuation of this article.
A photo-cell consists at an exhausted glass bulb containing two electrodes. One electrode consists of a metallic mirror deposited  on the inner side of the bulb, while the other electrode is a spiralised filament. The metallic mirror will emit electrons when light falls upon it, just, as in the case of the filament of a radio-valve. If the metallic mirror is connected to the negative pole, and the spiralised filament to the positive pole of a source of voltage, these electrons will be attracted by the anode so that by exposing the photo-cell a current is generated.
If a resistance is placed in the circuit, there will be a drop in potential dependent on the strength of the photo-electric current passing through it.
As the resistance is also included in the grid circuit of the amplifying valve, this drop in potential at the same time controls the amplifying valve, so that the anode current of the valve is altered in the same ratio as the current passing through the photo-cell.

Fig. 2 shows the next stage [not shown but included in Fig 4.]. For the sake of simplicity we assume that relay 1 is in direct. connection with the positive pole of the anode tension supply. A relay is an apparatus which makes it possible to close with low power a second circuit for higher power. It consists of an electro-magnet and a movable armature which, being attracted, makes and breaks contact when the magnet is excited by an electric current.

With the Radio-Dog, when the photo-cell is exposed to light, the anode current of the amplifying valve passes through Relay 1 (Fig 2), so that the armature is attracted and closes contact C. This excites Relay VII., the result being that armature AIV is changed over and motor MI switched on via contact D.
As the other “eye” can start the second motor in  an entirely similar manner, both motors will turn when both “eyes” are exposed, thus causing the dog to move forward The two motors are entirely independent of each other, so that by exposing only one of the photo-cells, one of the motors is made to turn, thus causing the Radio-Dog to revolve on its axis.
“Phil” can also bark like a real dog. Fig. 3 shows [not shown but included in Fig 4.] the circuit by which this effect was obtained. The anode current of both amplifying valves passes through relay III., which is connected in series with the anode supply of both amplifying valves. The adjustable resistance, R4, is shunted on its winding in order to regulate sensitivity. This resistance has been adjusted in such a manner that relay III. does not operate until the two valves supply their saturation current. This is the case when the photo-cell is strongly illuminated. Then armature AIII. is attracted, thus exciting relay VI.
As armature AV. is changed over, the supply of the two motors via contact F is interrupted, so that the dog stops, and as armature AVI. touches contact G, the horn is operated. Moreover, an interrupter is incorporated in the horn circuit, so that the dog does not keep on howling, but barks only at intervals.
If the above description is read attentively, will be easy to follow the complete circuit diagram of the Philips Radio-Dog, as shown  in Fig. 4. The greater part of the electric currents supplied are obtained from the lighting mains by rectifiers.

From San Antonio Light newspaper 08 June 1930 p59  -text below

Le chien de garde electrique (electric watchdog) was the hit of the recent radio show in Paris, where its “kennel” drew greater crowds than did the blue-ribbon winner at the Winter’s dog show.
Mr. Piraux’s first canine robot merely barked and worked its jaws whenever light fell on its glassy eyes. The power for this was supplied from a storage battery, inside the wooden hound. Then the inventor put wheels on the legs and supplied them with motors to pursue anyone who turned a light on the automatic animal.
These, however, with the storage battery, made too much weight for the power and resulted in such a slow-footed “dog” as to be unimpressive.
To pep him up, the inventor removed the battery and connected his pet with a long wire to the electric light socket. This had the effect of making the “chien electrique” as quick and vicious as if he had been fed all Winter on raw meat. Being a patriotic Frenchman, M. Piraux, of course did not build his chien on the lines of the German police dog nor the English bull either, but chose the French poodle which, to his mind, is the noblest form of canine life.
In the head of the 1930-model mechanical poodle are eyes, containing lenses behind which lie photoelectric cells. As long as no light falls on these nothing happens. But, if someone lights a match or turns the rays of a flashlamp in their direction, the light passing through the lenses causes the photo-electric cells behind them to allow a current to pass through. This current is amplified by two radio tubes and several relays before reaching the motor.
One of these motors works the lower jaw and its teeth up and down and with the same action draws a phonograph needle over a steel record, producing a series of growls and barks, calculated to alarm the invader and rouse the household.
This much happens whether the light falls on either eye or both. The mechanism that sends the mechanical Towser in pursuit of the person carrying the light is more complicated.
If the light falls on the left eye, the photo-electric cell beneath sends current only to the wheel on the right side. When the light falls only on the right eye, the opposite happens.
In either case the result is to turn the “animal” around until it is headed for the light, which then falls on both eyes alike and then both wheels revolve at the same speed, causing the robot poodle to charge at the source of the illumination, barking and snapping as he goes.
Provided the sudden, noisy interruption does not scare the wits out of the burglar, he probably could avoid the jaws easily enough, because they only work vertically, but the inventor has added another feature more suggestive of the cat family. This consists of a set of long feelers, or whiskers, made of pointed steel and electrically charged.
It would be harder to avoid these, and if one touches him the intruder will find the dog’s sting worse than his bite. A bullet shot into the mechanical mutt would probably cause it to die of short circuit, but after the barking and the firing no burglar would hesitate about getting out of the neighborhood as fast as he could.
The synthetic dog cannot be chloroformed, poisoned or beguiled by meat and candy but he has other faults. He is too incorruptible. The average family dog, left to sleep downstairs by the door, uses some discretion, like a policeman. He recognizes the belated steps of the head of the house, even if they are a trifle unsteady, and known it is not necessary to betray the fact that he ia coming home at an unseemly hour.
But how is the mechanical Fido to know who is who? It might not be so hard to sell these dogs if only the man of the house would be exposed, but nowadays, everybody, including the flapper daughter, has a latch key and sometimes “checks in” a little later than she wants to advertise.
M. Piraux is ready to adapt his idea to all sorts of other forms besides the dog. In a museum, where it would not be desirable to have the electric animal charging around among glass specimen cases, he suggests on the wall a bison’s head that will bellow and keep it up till the watchman comes and opens a switch, or a suit of armor that can be made to swing a sword or battle axe.

From the French magazine Atomes Oct 1957

“Il fut présenté en 1929 au Salon International de la T.S.F. de Paris et à l’Exposition Internationale de Magic-City. Il était l’oeuvre d’Henry Piraux, aujourd’hui chef de la propagande technique à la Société Française Philips, qui doit donc être considéré comme un pionnier de la cybernétique. Sensible à la lumière, ce chien suivait une torche électrique, tournait, virevoltait autant de fois qu’on le lui commandait. Mais, quand on lui présentait la lumière de trop près, just sous le nez, il se mettait à aboyer, pas content du tout.”

“It was presented in 1929 at the International Salon of the TSF in Paris and at the International Exhibition of Magic-City. It was the work of Henry Piraux, now head of technical propaganda at the Philips company in France, who should hence be considered as one of the pioneers of Cybernetics. Sensitive to light, this dog followed an electric torch; turned and twirled around as often as it was told to do. But when the light was presented too closely, just under its nose, it started to bark, not happy at all.”

Collage by the French Surrealist artist, Andre Breton (from here).

See other early Electronic and Cybernetic Animals here.

1915 – Electric Dog – Christian Berger – (Hungarian / American)

I found a single reference to a French Electric Dog that "will jump out of its kennel when a whistle sounds". The rest of the brief article talks about Miessner's "Electric Dog".

Ingenious Mechanism – Le Grand Reporter, 30 Dec 1921 p2 

The electric dog which will follow a lantern in the dark—a mechanical curio constructed by John Hays Hammond, Jr.— has a rival in a French electric dog that will jump out of its kennel when a whistle sounds. The Hammond dog is controlled by selenium cells. The amount of electricity that will pass through selenium varies with the amount of light shining on the metal. With a selenium cell for each eye of the dog, and a small electric current operating a steering gear inside the toy. the dog will steer its course so as to have an equal amount of light on each eye, which means that it will keep its head toward any light. Storage batteries, and a motor, or clockwork, may be used for moving the dog.—Christian Science Monitor.


My next post in this category will be Piraux's 1928 Radio Dog "Philidog". This dog went through a few modifications before the one listed.

However, article suggests the 1921 dog is activated by a whistle, not a light, so it probably is different to Piraux's.

There is a patent that describes a similar contrivance, and may be the same item, so I will present that here.

Christian Berger's patent 1,405,708
Patent number: 1405708
Filing date: Nov 14, 1918
Issue date: Feb 7, 1922

Berger was originally from Budapest, Austria-Hungary. In 1909 he applied for a patent for "CONTROLLING FROM A DISTANT POINT THE OPERATION OF A MECHANISM OR INSTRUMENT. Patented in the US in Mar 11, 1913 Ser # 1,055,985.

Having an affiliation with Europe, it is quite possible that the "electric dog" mentioned is actually Berger's invention.

Pat US1279831. See here.

Berger's toy as described in The Electrical Experimenter, June 1917.


1916 – Wireless Dog – Steinbrook

 Originally published in the Electrical Experimenter (issue unknown but probably late 1916).

This version from the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette 24th Dec 1916 p12

It is probably more a ‘electric dog’ than a creature built to exhibit phototropic behaviour and the like.  Although it has a selenium cell, it is for selector circuit activation purposes, not light following. I’ll refer to this dog again in the robots section, as the design principles are largely those used in all the early mechanical men, automatons, robots, etc.

The Wireless Dog That Will Follow You Around

And How to Make One Just Like It Yourself For a Christmas Present

He Can Growl, Scare Tramps, Follow You, Flash His Eyes, Come When Called, And He CAN’T BITE!

When you wake up on Christmas morning how would you like to find beneath your stocking an electric dog that will follow you around like a faithful pup, that will growl when you want bun to growl, and glare at intruders with flame-shot eyes?
Better still, how would you like to make such a dog yourself? For, if you want him, you will have to make him, which will not be difficult if you have a fair knowledge of electricity and of electrical apparatus.
The first thing to make ie the "works".
When these are all complete and in running order they should be encased in a hollow shell of papier mache on a wooden frame, or the frame may be covered with paper and shellac.
The mechanism of the dog is described in the Electrical Experimenter by F. A. Steinbrook. It is all based upon the fact that the mineral selenium, which is not normally a conductor, becomes a conducor of electricity as soon as a ray of light falls upon it. Therefore a selenium cell is placed where it will fit into the top of the dog’s back when the animal is completed, in such a position that light rays may be focussed upon it. As soon as this happens the selenium closes the circuit to the polarized relay (8) in the accompanying diagram.
This closes the circuit to the selective device (1), and the magnet (12), which releases the rotator and this will continue to revolve until the circuit is closed.
It can stop at any one of six positions called stops.

If the light be flashed and immediately shut off the rotator turns to stop 1. This closes a circuit and starts motor 5, and the dog runs forward.
A second flash sends the rotator to stop 2 and closes the circuit to the solenoid 9. This turns the wheel 21 to the
left, steering the dog in the same direction.
A third flash, and the rotator goes to stop 8, closing the circuit to solenoid 8 and making the dog turn to the right
A fourth flash, the rotator is at stop 4, closing a circuit to the electrical horn; which is adjusted to emit a growling note.
A fifth flash and the rotator moves to stop 6, closing a circuit to the automatic flasher (7), which makes the electric lights (19) -flash on and off behind the pup’s glass eyes.
To know certainly at what point the rotator stands, a pointer should extend up to the dog’s back and move upon a dial numbered from 1 to 6.
A small aerial may be mounted on Towser’s back, and when it is desired to control the nimal wirelessly the switch 4 is turned to. point 2. This places the coherer in circuit with the polarized relay (3). A copper plate (18) on the dog’s side serves as a capacity ground. Each time the key of the radio sending set is depressed, the apparatus will work in the same manner as when operated by flashes upon the selenium cell.
The animal may be simplified by making him obedient only to wireless, or exclusively to light. Now, here is an opportunity to make a really useful, not to say ornamental, Christmas present for somebody, and there is still time to do it before Christmas. There is no use trying to buy one of these wireless hounds, because they are not for sale. If you want one you will have to exert all your mechanical and inventive genius in constructing one according to the working diagram given herewith. The wireless hound has many advantages which common dogs do not possess—you don’t have to pay a dog license for him or buy him a muzzle and he won’t run away.

HERE is a wiring diagram for the wireless dog showing relation of propelling motor, radio apparatus, selenium cell, steering mechanism, eye lamps, flasher and growl producer.

THIs sectional view shows how to build up the interior mechanism of the wireless dog.

1912 – Seleno, the Electric Dog – Hammond / Miessner

A lot has already been published already about Seleno, try these links:
and my Addendum.

Here are some pics and excerpts showing different aspects of the "Electric Dog".

Technical articles on the Electric Dog appeared in Scientific American Supplement No. 2267 p376-7 June 14, 1919 written by Benjamin Franklin Miessner, in the Electrical Experimenter, 1915, p. 202. , and Popular Science Monthly.

Miessner described in some detail the behavior of the electric dog in Radiodynamics: The Wireless Control of Torpedoes and Other Mechanisms [Miessner, 1916].

Whilst the Electric Dog itself was not patented, certainly the technology was in terms of light guided missiles/torpedoes. Look up these in Google patents

Filing date: Jun 7, 1912
Issue date: Sep 4, 1923
Filing date: Jun 7, 1912
Issue date: Aug 16, 1921
See Fig 1. in this patent diagram. It is essentially the patented circuit of the "electric dog".

As mentioned in another post on Enabling Technologies, one of the best references is: 
Radiodynamics, By Benjamin Franklin Miessner (PDF file) – Chapter XXIV {24} (which begins on page 189 and continues through page 199) contains a description of the "orientation mechanism" that is the heart of Seleno, the Electric Dog. The entire book can be downloaded as a PDF file.

The earliest date I can find for Seleno is 1913, although Hammond was certainly exploring Selenium control since 1912 when he was looking at torpedo remote control. I tend to date on the creation of the model itself, rather than the underlying technology.

[Note: RH –  Jan 2010 – see new addendum here that actually dates "electric dog" in 1912.]

Miessner vs Hammond : It appears the the Electric Dog was developed when Miessner worked for/with Hammond. Most of the articles the include the "Electric Dog" either have Hammond or Miessner, never both.  It is unclear if they 'shared' the same dog, or the Hammond photographs are earlier than published, whilst Miessner seems to have the dog in latter years.

I have since seen a reference in a book by Miessner (1964) on "The Early History of Radio Guidance" where Miessner talks about Hammond loaning him the "Electric Dog" to demonstrate at a few lectures he was giving. At this time Miessner had already parted to work with the Navy and for further education.

[Note: RH –  Jan 2010 – see new addendum here that actually dates "electric dog" in 1912 and gives the story on Miessner vs Hammond.]


Selenium is Magic Eye Which Sees Hundreds of Miles; Controls Torpedoes and Crewless Airships
Young Scientist Predicts Marvelous Results from Experiments With Selenium—
Points to "Electric Dog" as Example of Its Possibilities.

(By Kenneth W. Payne.)
Lafayette, Ind., Feb. 27.—After seeing young Benjamin Franklin Miessner's "electric dog"—a small glass-eyed box on three wheels—actually pursue his
master about the room; after hearing Miessner predict that in time men in San Francisco will be able to witness a prize fight in Australia; after seeing a flattened bullet with which Miessner nearly killed himself while perfecting a magic "thief catcher;" after hearing him say that right now he could guide an absolutely unmanned Zeppelin from a boat in the English channel on a raid over coast towns; and after—
Well, naturally, after all this voyage into the land of miracles, one is too thrilled and dazed to know how to begin writing a story in a conservative, unenthusiastic way.
Yet this story must be told, for it concerns some extraordinary experiments with the element, selenium, which are taking place right under our noses in America today, and about which, in spite of their vast significance, only a few scientists know anything at all as yet.
Let's begin at the beginning, with Selenium.
"It's one of the elements,'' Miessner explained. "It comes in bluish-gray slicks which look like sealing wax; and it costs about $3 an ounce.
"Selenium has the peculiar property of changing its electrical resistance when influenced by light. That's the simple secret of all the weird things that scientists are doing with it."
Miessner is only twenty-five year's old now, a graduate of the Huntingburg (Ind.) high school, and of Uncle Sam's navy. After serving three years in the radio-telegraphic department of the navy, he worked for two years with John Hays Hammond, Jr., at the interesting job of steering deserted ships all over Gloucester harbor from a wireless station on shore.
Now Miessner is studying for a degree at Purdue university—and incidentally telling his learned professors a few things about radio-telegraphy and electrical engineering which they never heard before.
To illustrate his experiments, Miessner called his electric dog. From an electric flash he threw a bright light in the dog's goggly eyes, and the strange object at once ambled obediently out toward his master. Wherever Miessner went, about the room with that light, he dog patiently followed, as inexoribly compelled as the moth by the flame.
"The electric dog has two cells of selenium, one behind each of those glass
eyes," explained Miessner. "When I throw the light upon him, if it falls upon either eye it reduces the electrical resistance of the selenium, as I explained before and and an electrical current is allowed to pass through, starting the motor which turns the dog's wheels. He begins to advance. But if the light comes from the right, say, it hits only the right eye, because of the projecting screen between the eyes, then the current passes through that, eye, only and not through the other. An arrangement of batteries and electro-magnets then pulls the little rear wheel to the right and that turns the dog straight towards light, whereupon it shines in the other eye also, and the current passing through this eye charges an electro-magnet which pulls the little wheel, or rudder straight again. So you understand whenever the dog sees a light, he simply has to go.
"Now, we can make our electric dog over into a 'dog of war.' By simply readjusting the mechanism, the two selenium, eyes can be made to pursue a dark object amid light surroundings.
Supposing a torpedo fitted with such apparatus were launched from shore on a bright day toward an attacking fleet.
The battleships would stand up as the only dark objects against the bright sky and the torpedo would head straight for them with infallible and inescapable precision.
"A change in the mechanism makes it possible to drive your electric dog, or torpedo, or Zeppelin, away from "you by prodding it behind with a search–light, instead of pulling it toward you."
Miessner threw over a switch on his electric dog, and then when he flashed the light on the bulging eyes, the dog promptly, almost fearfully, backed away.
The marvelous see-at-a-distance projects of which Miessner talks, are based also on the ligut sensitivity of selenium, the "magic eye." The apparatus consists roughly of a great "compound eye," composed of some ten thousand selenium cells, each cell connected with a similarly situated glowlamp on the receiving apparatus. The selenium cells are unequally illuminated "by the light which falls on them from the objects within their range of vision, thus allowing currents of varying strength to pass through, they will light their respective glow-lamps in exact reproduction of the light and shadow of the objects before them.
"By a somewhat similar apparatus photographs have actually been transmitted by wire from Monti-Carlo to Paris, and published in the papers." Miessner commented.

The selenium thief-catcher invented by Miessner consists of a selenium cell with guns, bells, a camera and flash light. As soon as the light of the burguIar's dark lantern hits the selenium eye the whole array of noise makers goes off in one grand hubub. The thing's practical, because Miessner tried it out before a meeting of the Electric club in Chicago, recently, and nearly frightened the club out of its wits, besides taking a very good photograph of himself.

(Picture caption)
This extraordinary photograph—the first selenium-snapped picture ever published in Fort Wayne— shows Benjamin F. Miessner, surprised by his own burglar-catcher. Miessner was on the darkened stage before a meeting of the Chicago Electric club. When the flashlight in his hand hit the selenium cell—the small white object on the standard at 10ft—a gun was fired, a flash of powder went off, bells rang, and the camera took this picture. Below, Miessner drawing his electric dog toward him with a pocket electric lamp.
The canine's selenium eyes arc located behind the two glass lenses, in vacuum tubes whose tops form the dog's "ears" in this picture. His nose is the screen projecting between the eyes, which prevents light falling on both unless it is situated directly in front.


An interesting article describing the possible futures of the "Electric Dog".

Washington Post 02 May 1915 p55

Dog That Does The  Housework

[Technical World Magazine ]

He is a queer-looking dog. He has only three legs. He doesn't bark, bite, nor chase the neighbors chickens. He is even at peace with the family cat, which purrs contentedly as it ;vetches with speculative mien the peculiar antics of this unknown thing which seems to be at the beck and call of his master. Of course her feline, majesty doesn't know he isn't a reel dog. She judges so only from hearsay—that is, she heard some one say, "Oh, isn't he a wonderful dog!" – So she trusts her ears and doubts her eyes. This dog possesses none of the malicious characteristics of "Snarleyow, the Dog Fiend." Rather, he could be likened to faithful "Old Dog Tray." His cost—that bugbear word in these days of high prices and low wages—is merely nominee. As to food, that is nil. Regarding repose, like the famous detective, he never sleep's. In fact, his every action is guided by the rays that penetrate his material being.
The eyes of this melancholy-looking creature are of bulging glass, each one as large as a saucer. Hie body is an oblong mahogany box, which contains an electric motor, a storage battery, two selenium cam, two relays, and two solenoid magnets. He has no tail to speak of, but in its place is an electric switch. He is controlled by three brass wheels, two in front and one in the rear.
When the motor inside the dog is started he will do some extraordinary things. If you walk before him carrying a lighted lantern, he will follow you, turning to the right or left as you turn, although you neither touch nor control him in any way that is visible to the spectator. He steers himself briskly after his leader in a way that is positively uncanny.
The mystery is solved, however, when it is explained that what guides him is the light from the lantern, which operates upon the strangely sensitive element called 'selenium. If this light is moved to the left, the left selenium cell receives more of it and thus more stimulation than the right veil, and so allows more current to flow from the storage battery into the left-hand magnet, which then deflects the hind wheel to the left and the dog turns in that direction. For the same reason. when one turns to the right, the dog follows. If one wants the dog to go backward, all that is necessary is to reverse the tail switch. Then. when his master advances on him with the light. he will seemingly become timid and back away in a most surprising manner. But how can this annual be made useful? Welt, so far, of course, the Held has not been thoroughly explored; but there are certain household utilitarian purposes to which we might imagine he may be adapted.
Sweeping rugs and carpets constitutes one of the numerous duties of the housewife. The form of drudgery may be done away with by utilizing the electric dog. While vacuum cleaners and patent carpet sweepers have to a certain extent supplanted the old-fashioned but still efficient broom there, is yet a necessary amount of manual labor required to operate either of them_ By a very simple arrangement a rotary brush, similar to that used by street railways to sweep the tracks, could be attached to the rear of the dog. together with a pan to catch the refuse from the floor. – Then, with a pocket electric light or a small dark lantern in her hand, used as a guiding star. the lady could take her ease in a chef: and direct across the carpet the course of this faithful and tireless servant.
In flats or houses not Wired for electric lights the dog may be used to help out the housewife with her sewing. in Order to attain this result it would be necessary to have a grooved wheel. a simple accessory that could easily be attached to the mechanism of the apparatus. The latter could then be clamped to a box of convenient height, the sewing machine strap removed from the large wheel and adjusted to the grooved wheel of the dog. A pocket flashlight is installed where the operator could reach it with her foot. By pressing a button, the light could be turned on or off at will, thus starting or stopping the machine as desired.
One of the tables on wheels used for carrying kitchen dishes from the dining table into the kitchen might easily be mounted on the back of the dog. He could be made to follow the maid or mistress about as she piled the plates, cups, saucers, &c, on the top, and then follower her into  the kitchen.

Also, there could be arranged on the top of this table a receptacle for the aby, in which it could be placed for its afternoon nap. Directed by the rays, the whole apparatus; would traverse the room and a mechanism could automatically reverse an electric switch after the vehicle lad gone a certain distance, and compel t to retrace its path. In the course of erne, and with proper development, this selenium dog, with his accessories, might 3e utilized in the moving of heavy furniture, such as pianos, tables, refrigerators and trunks, and thus assist materially luring the trying days of Baring cleaning. There are various other devices in which this peculiar animal, with his sensitive attributes, could be utilized. He could. be used for a burglar alarm, in connection with an electric battery and relay. This may be wired to the alarm bell proper. connected with dry batteries, wherever it may be deemed advisable place the alarm bell—if in the home, in the bedroom of the head of the house; if in the office, the wire may lead to the nearest police station. When the gentlemanly burglar enters the room and flashes his electric pocket light, its rays will strike the selenium cell and the gong will ring. But this is not &1 that may be accomplished. If a little mechanical ingenuity is brought into play. A. revolver and a camera might be added to the equipment to complete the discomfiture of the burglar The revolver. aimed in his direction, would either cripple him or give him a good fright, while at the same time a flashlight would enable the camera, to take a photograph of him.
By mounting a revolver drum or capstan on the dog, and equipping the head of each flight of stairs with a hook, the dog could be made to pull himself from floor to floor, in order to fulfill his household duties anywhere in the structure Inasmuch as .-he would be a heavy dog, this !might be necessary. but of course, he could be made to carry loads on his back while climbing. For instance, he could take the family washing from the laundry, carry it to the stairs, and. when planks are laid, and his rope connected to the hook, he would carry it up to the floor where a was wanted.
By mounting a row of three auxiliary eyes, each with a different-colored glees in front of it, even greater results would be secured. Turning on a red light would actuate only the red cell, Inasmuch as the light would not pierce the blue and yellow filters. f some place In expected to burst forth into flame—as. for instance. a rubbish heap—the doe might be. put on watch. ready to Send an alarm if red and yellow light from an incipient fire fan upon his eyes. For ordinary household use, a lantern equipped with white, red. yellow and blue eyes could give a. variety of signals that would cause the,dog to perform a multitude of tasks.
A refinement that would immensely increase his usefulness would result if his eyes could be kept turned toward the light, no matter where he should be in the room. With such a device, and mirror opposite the doer, the dog could even be sent out of the room on errands. Truly, the possibilities for the electric dog ere endless

The following 2 images located on David Szondy's site here.

Popular Science Monthly March 1916.

It didn't take long for other students at the time to be inspired…

Moberly Daily Monitor 14th May 1915 p3ElectricDog
(no pic)

Electric Dog Is Faithful
That engineers do not lose interest in animal life by dealing with machines is proved by the fact that the electrical engineering students of Highland Park college, Des Moines, Iowa, are making a dog which will follow his master all over the place.

This dog consists of a small box shaped like the animal with two rather prominant eyes in its head.

The eyes are made of metal Selenium . Thin mechanical dog moves his head around until he sees a light; when he at once fixes his eyes intently upon the light toward which be moves rapidly.
It in only necessary for the dog's master to carry around an electric light, a pocket search light, or something of the kind to cause the, dog to follow him. The inside of the dog, made entirely by students of Highland Park college, consists off wires, Motors,  and other electrical elemients. If this mechanical dog loses his master, he stands still and moves his head around until he discovers the light again.


See other early Cybernetic Creatures and Models here.