Amazing 60 year old robot dog is a mystery

The robot dog you see above is a mystery. [Daneil Dennet], a professor of philosophy at Tufts University found this in an antique shop in Paris.  Apparently it has no identification and no one has been able to tell him anything about it. It was made in the 50s, and that seems to be all he knows. He’s offering a reward to whomever can reveal its secrets. There’s a full gallery of pictures to browse through that reveal some of the construction, but not a whole lot of the function.

We are just blown away by the construction here. Look at all those switches! Can you imagine how easy to reverse engineer things would have been back then? Surely in the right hands, someone could get this thing working again. Then again [Daniel] might like it kept completely original. If you know something about this robot, you can find [Daniel]’s contact information here.

Oh, and yes, we realize it looks just like k-9.

106 thoughts on “Amazing 60 year old robot dog is a mystery

    1. It is already in a museum. It is in the museum of the web where everyone can see it instead of being brought out every 20 years at some gallery managers whim and then mislabeled.

    1. Yeah, I think I’ve seen a picture of it in an old book from the 70’s by something like Paulson or Powelson perhaps? IIRC there were blueprints too but for a different dog with a full cowling.

      The relays and tag boards look like pretty ordinary telephone exchange stuff to me. If so it shouldn’t be too hard to find spares for it.

      1. me too i feel like i know it from somewhere like Ive seen it but cant remember where the memory is like fading in my head……..

    1. Funnily enough I heard Daniel talking about this dog in abit more detail whilst flipping though the i,robot bonus dvd the other day

  1. It looks very reminiscent of Grey Walter’s tortoises, but clearly more complex. Perhaps built by him or a student who worked with him?

    1. While it does look reminiscent of Gery Walters’
      turtles it does not appear to contain any valves
      as his did. The use of relays suggests to me that
      it is a sort of discrete state automaton.

      Since the original pictures link doesn’t seem to be working here is another showing more detail:

      http://cyberneticzoo.com/?p=5358

      1. The early transistors might have become available in the mid 50’s, but that does not mean they were easy to get and cheap immediately, as you can tell by how long TV’s ran using tubes rather than transistors (although that was because of the higher voltages too of course).
        I’d also say this thing might be from the (mid) 60’s like a few others that commented suggested.

  2. Is there any indication that it does anything at all, apart from simply roll or do quarky movements.
    It all looks to pretty to be functional. I think its a movie prop with very very limited and non-automated movement if any.

    It mostly reminds me of steampunk constructions of nowadays.

    In 60 years, this story will be about a millennium falcon, having realized that Starwars is rubbish and having forgotten all about that horrid piece of spacepulp.

    1. Thats what I was thinking, mabye its just a mostly nonfunctional art piece just made to look like a robot dog, like a comment on the future, the mechanization of man, etc, etc, etc… real neat looking though.

    2. I suspect it was functional (or at least intended to be). Things like the transistors and wheel position encoders don’t add much to the look, but would be important if it was intended to actually do something.

  3. It reminds me of the battery-powered toy dog character in Maggie and the Ferocious Beast (I have kids, they happen to like the show)

  4. I remember reading an article several years ago about a guy in the 50s or 60s who claimed to have made a robotic dog that could find its charging station with blinking lights. I believe he was an animal behaviorist, and he was trying to show complex behavior erupting from simple rules before it was trendy. This looks like how I remember the picture from the article.

  5. Hmmm….since someone mentioned K-9, is there a chance that anyone might have or know where a set of drawings and schematics could be found. I’ve always wanted to try to build a replica.

    1. @Devon – Interesting article, but someone’s mentioned germanium transistors in it. Got to love the article a few pages further down in that issue: “Do Beavers Rule on Mars?” …fantastic stuff :)

      1. Very much agree. Theres so many little gems hidden in that particular one. Mentions of and early traffic light design to replace traffic cops caught my attention.

    2. Transistors are here to say it’s younger, certainly 50’s or 60’s.

      I heard of the dog you’re talking about and I saw a picture of it (unable to find it again, sorry). It was a four-legged machine attached to its kennel, raising on its rear legs and barking, but no wheels.

      Given the apparent complexity of wiring, I wouldn’t say it’s only a piece of art, but I definitely can’t say more for now…I’m going to ask on a french electronic forum. There are a few electronic veterans there that could have heard of it.

      1. Some variation of man would consider mister Dennet to be a troll, but that is mainly because of that individual erroneous believes and lacking moral fiber.

        Somehow I do not think the information he is requesting is “It’s the dog on the cover of your book”.

  6. The only mention of it’s age I can find is on HAD. Why do we assume it’s made in the 50’s? It’s pretty common for individuals to use materials or tech in construction before their ‘official’ invention date or try and intentionally antiquate something.

    So who came to the conclusion that it was made in the 50s and how?

  7. Interesting. Looking at some of the additional pictures, you can see that this thing is littered with a ton of switches, some even integrated on at least one wheel. That makes me think it’s at least crudely “programmable”.

  8. A story:

    Boy meets Girl. Boy graduates MIT. Boy gets job at IBM. Boy slowly goes insane with repetitive tasks for what seems an eternity. One night, while sleeping in the garage due to marital distress, Boy finds broken Hoover vacuum cleaner. Boy steals parts from job, Boy spends nights assembling “new best friend,” Boy shows pet project to Boss, Boy gets promotion in exchange for rights of ownership, Boy takes Girl out to dinner to celebrate, Boy meets Girl again.

  9. Yeah, a lot of these parts look like old telecoms components.

    You can get pretty elaborate behaviours with a simple array of electrochemical “memistors” and relays, even up to something that would take an FPGA nowadays to duplicate.

    Shame it doesen’t work, it would be interesting to see what it does when powered.

  10. It has no sensors or analog gates, the lights just light up and it has switches to control direction for motor polarity.

    Whoever made it was exceptionally talented in multiple fields though. Whoever made it is dead or retired by now.

    1. It’s purely lights, LV transformers, resistors, capacitors, junctions, and motors on the electric part. I looked too. Not a single sensor.

  11. That is one of the most buitiful things I have seen, I believe (mainly from the motor on the rear wheel and sensor on the front offside wheel) that this has basic functionality, looks like the mouth can be opened and closed also from the hook, though I would say 40 – 50% of the innards are for display purposes only or to “guild the lilly” as I would put it. It very much appeals to my desire to over-engineer everything I build :-)
    Stunning.

    1. Ultra Pedantic Dick Moment: It’s “Gild the lilly”, not “Guild the lilly”. A Guild is an association of (generally skilled) people, usually craftsmen. (Or, on the internet, an association of nerds.) To Gild is to very thinly overlay with something, usually gold. Thus, gilding a lilly would be covering it in fine gold leaf, which is–I believe–the effect you were going for.

      The more you know!

      1. It’s a misquote – the original Shakespeare quote is “to paint the lily”, not gild. Am I king of the pedants now?

      2. Extra Ultra Pedantry:
        The original phrase uses “Lily” (a flower) not “Lilly” (a person’s name)

        …unless “Guilding The Lilly” is a personal phrase of Alex, in which case we’re both wrong ;)

  12. I don’t understand why is everybody so excited about this. It’s just a vacuum cleaner with some wheels, a motor and lot of useless wires.
    I had some books from the 60’s that showed how to build something like this including light-following function with 2 photo-diodes (the large ones, like vacuum tubes). I did it when I was 12 or 13 years old (had to convert the schematics for modern components like tranzistors and stuff).

    1. Looks like you found Daniel Dennett, the owner of the robot, and actually the guy looking after information about this robot.

      You should try to read the articles….

  13. I disagree that this device is nonfunctional.
    Y’know how you can admire the steampunk aesthetic of ornate brass glued onto a watch face, but you get a completely different sensation when you look at an actual Victorian watch? That’s the impression I get when I look at this dog. I haven’t a clue what it’s supposed to do, but it’s very clear that it does something.

    Every wire in those pictures appears to go somewhere. At least one gear attachment appears to govern head positioning, and another gear is in a suitable place to turn the eyes. The presence of transitors and selenium cells and what appear to be nearby coils/solenoids, plus the positional encoder that someone mentioned up there, does not appear to be coincidental. Transistors weren’t exactly cheap, and certainly not readily-available, at the time this thing was built. Printed circuit boards didn’t exist – the freehand wiring style (using terminal junctions and tiny wiring harnesses in preference to solder joints) is consistent with the wiring I’ve seen in a 1930s tube-based radio, and/or a 1950s tube-based oscilloscope.

    If I owned this, I’d take a close look at it, figure out what sort of power source it wants, clean and lubricate the mechanical bits as best as I could, and with the utmost of care, power it up.

    If it looks like it wants AC, use a Variac and a light bulb in series. If it wants DC, make damn sure you get the polarity right, and then try it for a second or two at 1.5V, 3.0V, etc, until something clicks, hums, or moves. Power it down and probe around it with a fingertip to see if anything’s getting unduly warm. Clean, lubricate, repeat.

  14. Seems we have a number of good posts on this and that some of the previous posters have found the solution. So what about getting it confirmed by “History Detectives” on PBS? I’m sure they’d love to get their hands on this beauty, and they’d probably be able to provide an interesting story to boot.

    1. Whoops, no solution found, just references to the man looking for more info on it. I’d still like to see it on “History Detectives” or some other show that digs up history on old things like this.

  15. Some People who visit Bunnies Studios might have to say something about that dog too,
    but that is only a guess, because i#ve seen people identifying circuits and parts just from photographs.

    1. Wow, at first glance you’d immediately place the two from the same maker. After I looked at the color photo however, I’d say squee is newer or at least a cleaner build. They do have an almost identical frame though.

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