Tag Archives: Robert the Robot

Robots are Cleverer than Humans

Deep Blue was a chess-playing computer developed by IBM and on February 10th 1996 it defeated Garry Kimovich Kasparov a Russian chess grandmaster and a player many consider to be the greatest World champion chess player of all time.  Here finally was proof that robots were cleverer than humans.

I had grown up with robots of course and throughout my childhood and adolescence it was in the certain knowledge that one day robots would take over and mankind would be declared redundant.  Every week from 1965 the BBC television programme ‘Tomorrow’s World’ with Raymond Baxter presented new technology and inventions and made extravagant predictions (usually wrong) about what life would be like in the future and this generally involved a robot or a computer or both.

So who were my favourite robots?

First of all it has to be Robert from Fireball XL5. Set between the years 2062 and 2063, the series featured the missions of a spaceship commanded by Colonel Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol. The crew included glamorous Doctor Venus, a doctor of space medicine; navigator, egg-head  and all-round clever-dick Professor Matthew Matic; and co-pilot Robert, a transparent anthropomorphic robot and Earth’s most advanced mechanical man.  Despite being completely see through Robert was really smart and made a full contribution to the space missions and every week he ended the show with his catchphrase ‘On our way home, on our way home’ in his irritating electronic buzzing voice.

Like most boys I was always fond of comics of course, Victor, Eagle, Wizard, Tiger and Lion, and a weekly feature in the Lion was Robot Archie who was built by Professor C.R. Ritchie to be the world’s most powerful mechanical man. Originally he was called The Jungle Robot (due to his early adventures taking place in the jungles of Africa and South America) and was remote controlled by Professor Ritchie and his nephew Ted and his best friend Ken Dale.

Not all robots were good though and my favourite villain is the android gunslinger played by Yul Brynner in the film West World. The story is set sometime in the future, in Delos, a high-tech, highly realistic fictional adult amusement park featuring androids that are almost indistinguishable from human beings. One of the main attractions is the Gunslinger – a robot programmed to pick fights. Thanks to its programming, humans can always outdraw the Gunslinger and kill it but naturally things go spectacularly wrong and the robot cannot be controlled and goes on a killing spree throughout the holiday resort.

Now, Deep Blue might have been clever but it wasn’t the first know-it-all robot because that was the Magic Robot which was a children’s general knowledge game would magically give the correct answers when asked a set of questions.  As kids we were amazed at just how clever this thing was as it never failed to answer correctly. The robot figure went into a socket circled by questions and was turned it until the rod held by the robot pointed to the question that you wanted answering. The robot was then transferred to a circle of mirrored foil surrounded by the answers to the questions from around the socket and ‘by magic’ the robot spun until the rod pointed at the correct answer!

It wasn’t magic at all of course because It was done with a simple magnet.  The robot was fastened into a swivelling base and that, when fitted into the socket, was held fast so that when you turned the robot to your question it was turning it within its own base.  This meant that the polarity of the magnet in the robot was positioned so that when it aligned with the magnet beneath the mirror, the robot would swivel to the correct answer every time! A real cheat really!

Clever but, let’s face it,  cheating and when Kasparov was beaten by the computer at chess he accused IBM of cheating as well and we will never know if he was right because shortly afterwards they dismantled the machine for good before anyone could prove it.

A Life in a Year – 20th February, Space Travel is no longer Science Fiction

The astronaut John Glen became the first American to orbit the Earth, aboard Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962, on the “Mercury Atlas 6” mission, circling the globe three times during a flight lasting 4 hours, 55 minutes, and 23 seconds.

These days orbiting the earth, going into space and walking on the moon are just things people do but when I was a boy this was a really exciting thing and everyone was talking about it.

We used to be enthralled by the idea of going into space, meeting martians and fighting evil aliens and playing at being spacemen was right up there with cowboys and indians and second world war commandos.

As heroes we had men like Flash Gordon and Dan Dare but my favourite space programme in the early 1960s was Fireball XL5.  Set 100 years in the future the series featured the missions of a spaceship commanded by square jawed and impossibly handsome Colonel Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol. The crew included the glamorous Doctor Venus, a doctor of space medicine; middle-aged navigator, engineer and all-round clever-dick, Professor Matthew Matic and co-pilot Robert, a transparent anthropomorphic robot with an irritating metallic voice.

The World Space Patrol was based at Space City, located on an unnamed island in the South Pacific, and headed by Commander Zero who was assisted by Lieutenant Ninety.  For unspecified reasons, the 25-storey T-shaped control tower at Space City rotated; in one episode a character inadvertently made it rotate fast enough for those inside to suffer from vertigo.

Fireball XL5 patrolled Sector 25 of charted interstellar space (although there only appeared to be three sectors marked on the space chart seen in the Space City control room). The patrols were missions of three months duration, but the ship was also on call when at base.

The World Space Patrol included a fleet of at least 30 ‘Fireball XL’ ships (an XL30 was referred to in The Firefighters episode). The ship itself was made up of two detachable sections. The winged nose cone was known as Fireball Junior and contained the cockpit and separated from the main body to land on other planets. The rest of the ship contained a navigation bay, laboratory, huge lounge, workshops and separate crew quarters, along with fuel and main nutomic rocket motors for interstellar travel. It would generally remain stationed in orbit after arriving at an alien planet. When Fireball XL5 returned to Space City, the whole ship would land vertically.

Fireball XL5 managed to travel around the galaxy without going faster than light (until the episode Faster than Light). The series observed few of the limitations of rocketry and only informed viewers that the ship’s rocket motors were powered by a Nutomic reactor and that XL5 could safely travel at speeds of up to Space Velocity 7, which enabled her to reach the outlying planets of charted space within a few months. Furthermore the crew never wore space suits; instead they took “oxygen pills” to survive in the vacuum of space, where they manoeuvred in zero gravity with the aid of thruster packs or jet mobiles. They used neutroni radio communication, which appear virtually instantaneous within the sectors of charted space.

Dr Venus had a pet alien which was a monkey like creature called a Lazoon from the planet Colevio, in a star system many light years from Earth. Venus loved the lazy creature at first sight and took him as her pet naming him Zoonie.  She soon convinced Steve Zodiac to allow the lazoon to accompany her aboard XL5 and Zoonie’s powers of mimicry and semi-telepathic abilities helped save the day on more than one occasion.

In the 1960s, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson made a series of commercials for Britain’s Lyons Maid ice cream treats featuring characters from their various puppetronic series including one for a three-stage ice lolly called Zoom and featured Steve Zodiac and Doctor Venus of Fireball XL5.

The programme had a natty little theme tune which sort of suggested a relationship between Steve Zodiac and Doctor Venus:

I wish I was a spaceman
The fastest guy alive
I’d fly you ’round the universe
In Fireball XL5
Way out in space together
Conquerors of the sky
My heart would be a fireball, a fireball
Every time I gazed into your starry eyes

We’d take the path to Jupiter
And maybe very soon
We’d cruise along the Milky Way
And land upon the Moon
To a wonderland of star dust
We’d zoom our way to Mars
My heart would be a fireball, a fireball
Cause you’d be my Venus of the stars

A Life in a Year – 10th February, Robots are officially cleverer than Humans

Deep Blue was a chess-playing computer developed by IBM and on February 10th 1996 it defeated Garry Kimovich Kasparov a Russian chess grandmaster and a player many consider to be the greatest World champion chess player of all time.  Here finally was proof that robots were cleverer than humans.

I had grown up with robots of course and throughout my childhood and adolescence it was in the certain knowledge that one day robots would take over and mankind would be declared redundant.  Every week from 1965 the BBC television programme ‘Tomorrow’s World’ with Raymond Baxter presented new technology and inventions and made extravagant predictions (usually wrong) about what life would be like in the future and this generally involved a robot or a computer or both.

So who were my favourite robots?  First of all it has to be Robert from Fireball XL5. Set between the years 2062 and 2063, the series featured the missions of a spaceship commanded by Colonel Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol. The crew included glamorous Doctor Venus, a doctor of space medicine; navigator, egg-head  and all-round clever-dick Professor Matthew Matic; and co-pilot Robert, a transparent anthropomorphic robot and Earth’s most advanced mechanical man.  Despite being completely see through Robert was really smart and made a full contribution to the space missions and every week he ended the show with his catchphrase ‘On our way home, on our way home’ in his irritating electronic buzzing voice.

Like most boys I was always fond of comics of course, Victor, Eagle, Wizard, Tiger and Lion, and a weekly feature in the Lion was Robot Archie who was built by Professor C.R. Ritchie to be the world’s most powerful mechanical man. Originally he was called The Jungle Robot (due to his early adventures taking place in the jungles of Africa and South America) and was remote controlled by Professor Ritchie and his nephew Ted and his best friend Ken Dale.

Not all robots were good though and my favourite villain is the android gunslinger played by Yul Brynner in the film West World. The story is set sometime in the future, in Delos, a high-tech, highly realistic fictional adult amusement park featuring androids that are almost indistinguishable from human beings. One of the main attractions is the Gunslinger – a robot programmed to pick fights. Thanks to its programming, humans can always outdraw the Gunslinger and kill it but naturally things go spectacularly wrong and the robot cannot be controlled and goes on a killing spree throughout the holiday resort.

yul-brynner-in-1973s-westworld

Now, Deep Blue might have been clever but it wasn’t the first know-it-all robot because that was the Magic Robot which was a children’s general knowledge game would magically give the correct answers when asked a set of questions.  As kids we were amazed at just how clever this thing was as it never failed to answer correctly. The robot figure went into a socket circled by questions and was turned it until the rod held by the robot pointed to the question that you wanted answering. The robot was then transferred to a circle of mirrored foil surrounded by the answers to the questions from around the socket and ‘by magic’ the robot spun until the rod pointed at the correct answer!

It wasn’t magic at all of course because It was done with a simple magnet.  The robot was fastened into a swivelling base and that, when fitted into the socket, was held fast so that when you turned the robot to your question it was turning it within its own base.  This meant that the polarity of the magnet in the robot was positioned so that when it aligned with the magnet beneath the mirror, the robot would swivel to the correct answer every time!

Clever but, let’s face it,  cheating and when Kasparov was beaten by the computer at chess he accused IBM of cheating as well and we will never know if he was right because shortly afterwards they dismantled the machine for good.