The Robots – ‘They Play On authentic Instruments’

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Les Robots Musique

The Robots: Oscar on Accordion, Ernest on Sax, and Anatole on Drums (image via 4peepsake)

Seen above is The Robots first lp record album cover released in the late 1960s. They were the first animatronic musical group that actually play real instruments.

An ex-POW in Germany during WWII, [Edouard] Diomgar was an engineer willing to raise money for his ex-POWs relief foundation (whose logo can be seen on the bass drum). During the 1950s and 1960s, he exhibited his robots trio at fun fairs, open air markets or train stations in France…Automatically synchronized, the bots’ movements are impulsed by photoelectric cells reading punch cards, sending information to arms and fingers via electromagnetic action. Most importantly, the robots actually produce music from their instruments, contrary to playback systems in US animatronic. Only the sound of the saxophone is replaced by what sounds like a mechanical Ondioline. Their repertoire includes everything from French musette accordion and popular songs, twist and rock’n’roll numbers from the 1960s, US musicals (#1, Leonard Bernstein) or jazz (#6, Sidney Bechet).

Les Robots-Music were exhibited during an all-robot show in Berlin’s Museum für Kommunikation in 2007. Check out their lively rendition of La Bamba below…

To read a bit more about the history of animatronic robot orchestras click here to get the scoop from Continuo.

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Behold The Machine…! Hugo Gernsback’s Radio Police Automaton

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Hugo Gernsback’s Radio Police AutomatonScience and Invention magazine, May 1924

Radio Police Automaton

AS is well known, radio can be used today to produce mechanical effects at a distance. This new art is known as radio-telemechanics. Many years ago already it was possible to start and operate vehicles and machinery entirely by radio. The United States Navy a little over a year ago operated the warship “Iowa” entirely by radio. The firing of the boilers, the steering of the ship and all the controls were entirely effected by radio.

The Automaton is kept erect by the stabilizing gyroscopes. The machine does not really walk like a human being, but rather glides along the road over all obstacles by the small caterpiller tractors attached to the feet. This makes it unnecessary for the Automaton to take steps, and the machine will therefore progress by a gliding motion which is quite rapid.

Stabilizing Gyroscopes and Caterpillar Treads

Stabilizing Gyroscopes and Caterpillar Treads

Such a machine would seem to be exceedingly valuable to disperse mobs, or for war purposes and even for industrial purposes. In the upper illustration is shown the police car which controls all the movements of a regiment of such automata.

Radio Control Car and The Thin Automaton Line

Radio Control Car and The Thin Automaton Line

For fighting mobs use is made of tear gas which is stored in a tank under pressure and which alone will quickly disperse a mob if necessary.

Tear Gas Tank and Oulets

Tear Gas Tank and Outlets

The arms are provided with rotating discs which carry lead balls on flexible leads. These act as police clubs in action.

Rotating discs which carry lead balls. on flexible leads.

Rotating discs which carry lead balls on flexible leads.

For night attack the Automaton is provided with eye-lights and the loud speaker is used to shout orders to the mob which orders can be given direct from the radio control car. Inasmuch as this car is always in the rear of the Automata it can watch their movements and direct them as necessitated by circumstances.

Eye Lights, Loud Speaker, and 'Telegraphone'

Eye Lights, Loud Speaker, and ‘Telegraphone’

As a close hand-to-hand lighting machine the Radio- Automata have no equal. Bullets do not affect them and if equipped with a twenty to forty H.P. engine, they will be well nigh irresistible. They probably have no superior for fighting mobs or for war purposes.

The Radio Police Automation - Run for your lives!

The Radio Police Automation – Run for your lives!

When Selling Miraculous Breathing Pellets You Can’t Go Wrong By Using An Acrobatic Automaton

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Advertising sign for a pharmacy storefront with two moving figures of a clown and acrobat

Pastilles Valda, Advertising Automaton ‘Clown & Acrobat’, 1930s

This neat advertising display was intended for pharmacy storefronts selling VALDA Pellets – ‘to prevent and treat cough, colds, sore throats, laryngitis, bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma.’ For healthier ‘air, breath, lungs, muscles.’

If it’s good enough to keep this athletic acrobat going it’s gotta be good for those just taking in air.

The acrobat gets into his swing. The clown's in position to spot.

The acrobat gets into his swing. The clown’s in position to spot.

The acrobat comes over the bar backwards and releases for a one-hand grip. His clown buddy enthuses for the viewers.

The acrobat comes over the bar backwards and releases for a one-hand grip. His clown buddy enthuses for the viewers.

A view from the top.

A view from the top.

This display is an electric sheet-iron lithographed piece. One can really appreciate the thought and craftsmanship put into these automaton displays. Apparently someone did in a real way – this particular item sold on auction for €1,298.00 ($1,458.17).

Exposing The Device – The Unbelievable ‘Miss Honeywell’

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In the 1960s there was a flurry of electronic and computer innovation and breakthroughs. Near the end of the decade, in 1968, London, England, hosted a trade fair – the Instruments, Electronics and Automation Exhibition at the Olympia conference center. One would imagine that it should have been filled with all kinds of new and exciting examples of modern ingenuity. After a very thorough search through several databases, only one exhibit appears to have made an impression.

The video below is from the fantastic British Pathé collection on YouTube. It features Miss Honeywell – “a futuristic ‘robot girl’ demonstrating various pieces of equipment by computer company Honeywell Controls Ltd..” The commentator is skeptical. The observers seem fascinated.

 

Yes indeed. The commentator is correct – the man at the controls is illusionist Mark Wilson. Wilson has been credited as the man who brought stage magic innovation to television. He’s since had a very successful career, earned the title of Master Magician, and has been honored with numerous national and international magician awards by his peers. ‘Miss Honeywell’ was more than likely Wilson’s wife and longtime assistant, Nani Darnell.

It appears that the innovation that stole the show in 1968 wasn’t an electronic computerized automation at all – it was instead a dazzling low-tech illusionist invention. Below are two pages of Mark Wilson’s ‘APPARATUS AND METHOD FOR PRODUCING DISPLAY ILLUSIONS’ abstract. It was filed in January 1969 and was patented October 1971.

US Patent 3,612,516 Abstract

US Patent 3,612,516 Abstract  (Image via cyberneticzoo.com)

US Patent 3,612,516 Figures 1 and 2

US Patent 3,612,516 Figures 1 and 2  (Image via cyberneticzoo.com)

Just one last thing about the ‘robot girl’ – she wasn’t a one-trick-automaton. Wilson’s creation traveled to a number of exhibitions and trade shows. Earlier in ’68 she did a gig for Hamilton Beach as the highly efficient housecleaner ‘Roberta the Robot’ at the Home Furnishings Exposition in San Francisco. By 1970 she developed a glitzy glammish look and took to speaking French – La ‘femme robot ménager’ can be seen here.