The first robot to smoke cigarettes: Meet Elektro

If todays technology was in the past what changes would it make now? Maybe you could have seen a video film of constructing the pyramids or America could be found before Colomb. To our way to the digital world today, robots have always been interesting for the human nature.

From Terminator to Matrix, I’m sure we all had brainstorms about these digital creatures. So I want to meet you a robot invented in 1939. The first robot to walk, talk and smoke. Let me introduce you Elektro and see what he is capable of.

The first robot to smoke cigarettes : Meet Elektro

Talking Elektro have described himself as “smart fellow” with “fine brain” which consists 48 electrical relays that has worked like a telephone switchboard.

Elektro was a little smarty-pants. He was making lame jokes, smoking cigarettes, and blowing up balloons. Elektro could slowly walk, turn his head, and move his mouth. These were pretty advanced things for that day. The 7-foot-tall robot took voice commands via a telephone handset.

Green and red are the only colors he sees, and when they are flashed with a light before his eyes he speaks out “red” or “green” as the case may be.

The Technology Behind Elektro: Televox

In 1927, Roy Wensley built Herbert Televox which was the “first” humanoid robot.

Roy Wensley and Televox

Televox is a device. It has a box which has three buttons. Every button makes different frequencies. These are in order of 600, 900 and 1400 Hz. The box was also a telephone. After you call your house, Televox picks up the call. You press the first buttons to control the devices in your home. This can be your home lightings. In the picture below you can see the mechanism of Televox.
televox mechanism

How Elektro Works

Electro’s walking is succeeded by 4 rubber rollers under each foot. They are connected to a motor and driven by chains and shafts in the middle of the automaton. To operate the head, arms, fingers and turntables for talking, nine motors are required. Another small motor works for Elektro’s smoking.

Elektro does his talking by means of transcriptions. He uses 75 words and his speech lasts about 1 minute. He has 8 turntables installed. Each of them can give 10-minute talks. Except for his opening speech which takes of about a minute, his other speeches only takes a few seconds long. A solenoid (which is a tubular coil) activated by the electrical impulses, allows Electro’s aluminum lips to move in the rhythm of speaking, in proportion to the hardness or softness of the spoken words.

The “electric eye” and relays are operated for sorting, counting, and regulating and keeping human hands from dangerous and monotonous tasks. The reason making Elektro was to serialize the action of the sensitive electrical devices.

What’s Elektro Doing Today?

Elektro faded into obscurity after touring the country and spending time as a minor attraction at California amusement park. Elektro’s story may had ended there, but he is now in line for revival. Elektro’s head turned up in a basement and his body in a barn.

The robot was installed back together. He is on display at Mansfield Memorial Museum and he is billed as ” The world’s oldest surviving American robot.” Schaut said “I think people are interested in Elektro because they don’t think robots like Elektro can exist in 1939,” in an e-mail to Crave.

Well there was no person hidden inside Elektro. He worked through vacuum tubes, pulleys, and motors. It was an amazing engineering achievement, especially thinking about the available technology in the 1930s.

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