The other day I lopped off a sizeable chunk of my thumbprint while making a robot. The cut? It was one of those bright-red, swiftly-flowing ones, where you're pretty sure you're seeing bone or muscle or some other gross-thing-that-should-probably-stay-inside-your-body. The robot? It was made of cardboard and beer cans:
This little guy is one of many cardboard robots that I've made over the years. During summers, my sister and I would go to Vineland, New Jersey to stay with my aunt and cousins for a glorious week of catching frogs, playing Sega Genesis, eating spoonfuls of iced tea mix, and arts 'n' crafts.
For some reason, we'd always center on a unique theme each year for our arts 'n' crafts. One summer, it was Klutz Press friendship bracelets. Another was god's eyes - we made hundreds. Our proudest summer craft of them all? A "working" cardboard R2-D2. If not for a late '90s winter basement flood, Cardboard Artoo would still be with us today.
I decided to try my hand at making another cardboard robot because I've been thinking a lot about them. Mostly because I'm writing a children's novel about robots, but also cause it's summer and that's the sort of thing you do during summer.
There are all kinds of robots, cardboard and not. But there's a certain sort of robot that makes my gears turn. The rest of this post will review my favorite robots (and the kid who loves them).
It's a robot... for your original Nintendo. I'm embarassed to admit it, but I've never seen a R.O.B. in real-life, despite scouring every local garage sale in New Jersey for years.
These Nintendo ads are just perfection. I'm still more excited for the promise of this system than any game console out today.
R.O.B. only ever worked with two Nintendo games. From what I've read, neither is very fun. But I'm sure there are some great ROM-hacks out there with more robotic operating buddy interactions.
Johnny 5 looks a lot like R.O.B., except with more nuclear-weapons. He loves reading, loves input, loves New York City. A loyal friend, and perhaps a bit too gullible for his own good.
Major spoiler-alert for Short Circuit 2, but this action sequence gets me every time:
What do you get when you cross R.O.B., Johnny 5, and a Tonka truck? This lil' garbage-collecting cutie!
It's probably becoming quite clear that I'm drawn to a rectangular face on a telescopic neck with tread-like wheels. That's just my type.
I also just discovered this video of someone's real-life Wall-E, and it's frightenly real-looking. Maybe this means I'll get to meet a Wall-E one day, hopefully not on a post-apocalyptic wasteland Earth.
I don't remember much about this movie, other than that my sister and I watched the recorded-from-TV VHS tape all the time, and there were these super cute baby flying robots who lived with a bunch of old people in an apartment building in New York City.
Source: Google Play Store
I think these robots might actually be aliens, but I'm not sure, so let's keep 'em around.
I'm all about using robots for learning (see my post on Mindstorms, Seymour Papert, and his cute LOGO Turtle robots for teaching kids how to program computers), and 2-XL was my first introduction to robot-powered-learning.
We got our 2-XL at a garage sale (garage sales were things of wonder to me as a child). Yes, we had the original 2-XL, the eight-track one. In fact, 2-XL was my first and only interaction with an eight-track system. In the early `90s, Tiger Electronics must have bought 2-XL, and they came out with a cassette-version.
But I'll always prefer our smart-alecky 8-track 2-XL, and my fond memories of jamming catridges into his belly, wishing that he was a Nintendo Entertainment System instead.
When I was a kid, I was pretty sure that one day I was going to become Mega Man X. Buried alive in a weird time capsule, awokened years later to avenge my creator, upgrading my body with strange new powers.
I'm still waiting for that to happen, but the the mean time, I recently started playing Mega Max X2, and it's hard! I'm four bosses in, haven't found a single upgrade, and only snagged one heart container so far. Wish me luck.
Robot arms with quirky personalities, built by someone named Tony Stark.
PSA - check out Sourdough by Robin Sloan for a great little novel on robot arms, bread-making, and San Francisco.
Two of my favorite things in one terrifying package - turtles and robots:
Not to be confused with the always-evil Mechaturtles from the impossible original Nintendo TMNT game:
I had one of these (it's still in my parent's attic). This guy rolled around our kitchen, flashing its eyes and emitting weird smoke from its mouth.
And it's now memorialized in one of my favorite TV shows.
The best JRPG of all time? I think so. I loved Chrono and his gang. I used to draw them all the time. Frog and Robo were my favs.
Sometimes giant robots are gentle and curious. They just want to love and learn. The Iron Giant is one of those robots.
Kids and robots just go together, like kids and E.T.
A programmable robot!
Source: Digital Dream Labs
Cozmo's fatal flaw is how nearly impossible it is to connect your phone to the robot's local wifi service, which is how you are forced to control and interact with Cozmo. The connection process is random, non-deterministic, and saps up most of the time you've allocated to play with Cozmo. Also, Cozmo's parent company recently went out of business, which is a huge bummer for the robot-toy industry.
That said, I've had a lot fun with Cozmo, including teaching him how to find my toothpaste with a TensorFlow computer vision model.
Okay, the main event. Droids.
The Star Wars folks who put together the droids for A New Hope are complete geniuses. They're dirty, they're resilient, they're loyal, they're funny, they're everywhere. I could go through a whole list of them, cause I really do love them all (GNKs, Artoo, Threepio, IG-88, BB-8, those little mouse-like black boxes in the Death Star), but in a rare dose of restraint, here's my favorite Star Wars droid!
It's R.O.B. with a longer neck, a blue face, and way more creepy claw arms. You may remember this robot critter from its role in repairing the Millenium Falcon at Hoth Base in Empire Strikes Back. Or at least attempting to repair.
Source: Star Wars At a Glance
I treasuring my WED-15-1016 card from the Star Wars collectible card game, and I'd play it every single one of our daily games in latchkey, no matter what. (Side note: listen to this great Zachtronics podcast episode with one of the designers of the Star Wars and Star Trek collectible card games)
Source: Card Game DB
Here is one of WED-15-1016's cousins, a fully tricked-out WED Treadwell with all sorts of terrifying arms and claws:
I even found this questionably-real deleted scene from A New Hope showing an impatient Luke Skywalker interacting with a Treadwell on Tattoine:
So, who did I miss in my list? Data? He's an android, so not exactly a robot. But possibly Mega Man X is an android, so maybe I'm already mixing things up.
Speaking of lists, I also found this gigantic list of fictional robots and androids on Wikipedia.
I'm not-so-secretly hoping that, one day, the robots in my book will be added to this Wikipedia list. Yes, I could edit the Wikipedia page myself, but c'mon, that's not the goal here.
Also, it's high time to upgrade my hobby. I've begun looking into basic robotics kits, and I'll hopefully be constructing some new robotic best friends very soon. Maybe not Maker-Faire worthy, but ya gotta start somewhere.