Atomic Powered Robots and Records Played With Optics

mike

If you were a child of the 80′s or early 90′s you probably remember Magic Mike. He went by many names, but he always said the same thing “I am the atomic powered robot. Please give my best wishes to everybody!” [Oona's] version of Mike had been malfunctioning for a few years. He’d stopped talking! She decided he needed more input, so she disassembled Mike to reveal the flesh colored plastic box in the center of his chest. This talkbox was used as a sound module in several toys. Before the days of cheap digital playback devices, sounds were recorded in a decidedly analog fashion. [Oona] found that Mike’s voice and sound effects were recorded on a tiny phonograph record in his chest. The phonograph was spun up by an electric motor, but the playback and amplification system was all mechanical, consisting of a needle coupled to a small plastic loudspeaker. The system was very similar to the early phonograph designs.

Mike’s record contained two interwoven spiral tracks. Interwoven tracks is a technique that has been used before, albeit rarely on commercial albums. One track contained Mike’s voice, the other the sound of his laser gun. The track to be played would be chosen at random depending upon where the needle and record stopped after the previous play. The record completely sidetracked [Oona's] repair work. She decided to try to read the record optically. She started with a high resolution image (image link) of the record, and wrote some Perl code to interpolate a spiral around the grooves. The result was rather noisy, and contained quite a bit of crosstalk. [Oona] tried again with laser illumination using a Lego train set. Unfortunately the Lego train / laser system wasn’t smooth enough to get a good image. In the end she used a bit of Gimp magic and was able to pull better audio from her original image. We never did find out if she put poor Mike back together though.

26 thoughts on “Atomic Powered Robots and Records Played With Optics

    1. Also had one of these when I was 4 year old… My mother had already put the batteries on, and I picked it out of the box by the head… got the scare of my life. Unfortunately it fell victim of my (then) tiny hands and was completely disassembled to satisfy my curiosity.

      1. Heh, I always put 3-in-1 oil in mine. The smell still takes me back… hopefully I didn’t kill any brain cells.

      2. :D i still have one (well my son does now): i am the atomic power ranger, please give my best wishes to everyone. whooooiiiiiiiioooooooiiiiiiii.. i’d like to see how to create a new optical disk…. great work

  1. A very clever hack. Nicely done.

    Too bad the Lego laser train didn’t work out, it might have resulted in a cleaner audio output.

  2. The laser illumination idea seems like it would be the way to go. But maybe a fixed laser source, a turn table, and the camera mounted to spin on with the record would have made the illumination easier.
    Or maybe keep the camera and light source fixed and see if multiple imaged can be captured and stitched together.

    1. That’s kind of what I thought was going to be happening here. Actually spinning the record while keeping the light and camera steady.

      1. A while ago, I had wanted to make an optical record player using an optical mouse. Then I learned just how low resolution the optical sensors are and that I would not be able to get enough resolution to make the idea work. With the new crop of cell phone cameras that can do high resolutions at high speeds, the idea might be worth revisiting. I don’t know if there are kits out there that will take care of getting the video stream to me so I could focus on the image processing of the stream.
        At the very least, building a huge image by stitching the frames together could be fun :)

  3. I remember disassembling one of these (think it was my brother’s) when a kid. I kept the record and “speaker” for quite some time. While cool post about the hardware and attempts to read the record, I’m surprised that there is no coverage of either what was broken nor the Perl code used to process the picture. To me at least, that latter seems more interesting and educational than the photo/lego train.

  4. Interesting: I’m not sure what an appraiser (or vintage appraisal guide) would say, but on ebay the Magic Mike robot – depending on a number of factors – is apparently valued quite a bit…

    Toy robots have always been collectible – hopefully she didn’t ruin hers…

  5. There is, at least, one project using laser for that purpose, developped 7 years ago by INA (french National Audiovisual Institute, in charge of the preservation of all french TV & radio archives). http://prestospace.org/training/images/Proto-Clareety.pdf (in french, sorry). This device is able to record even broken discs, or ones with the top layer peeling off (kind of recorded discs with a thin coat of vinyl/plastic on metal discs).

  6. Ooops, sorry, i clicked too fast!
    Another project was an american one, called Irene, and was used for discs and also for wax cylinders. It is used by the library of congress. http://irene.lbl.gov/ (there are some sound clips to listen to).

  7. Something that striked me as odd is that the provided highres image is a JPEG. can a higher-resolution image be made available somehow, and if that, in a format such as TIFF where the image would not be compressed? the issue with JPEGs is that it compresses the image, and by doing so in this case, you compress the audio you can get from it. I think.

    1. jpeg compression by default is usually around 15%, this compression level can be altered by most things of course- but I think she’s limited by the digital camera’s capabilities here. Ideally TIFF, PNG, Bitmap or some other lossless format would of course be preferred.

      In theory- a lazy susan bearing (which can be had for under $3) attached to a solid base (wood?) with a simple stand in the middle of the bearing and affixed to the base (to keep the record stationary) with another peice with a hole cutout of the middle (for the stand to poke through) could then be affixed to the top of the bearing, and the laser mounted on it. a very simple friction drive (electric motor + wheel + power source) which would then be affixed to the base in such a way that the spinning wheel contacts the upper wood while remaining clear of the base. This should allow the laser to spin at a fairly level angle and at a constant speed- making for a more even illumination of the surface through long exposure.

      1. would it also help to clean the record grooves too? I’m sure after being in a toy and now out in the open for who knows how long, the tiny record must have gotten dirty by now. so perhaps a deep-cleaning with some woodglue and peel a couple days later will help some for the quality of the sample, if minimally to get crud out of the grooves?

        this is just something I thought about while listening to someone playing a record today on a video show.

  8. Perhaps this is a vertical cut record and not a lateral cut. It would make more sense if the diaphragm of the speaker is parallel to the record surface. Needle mounted to diaphragm playing a vertically cut record would be cheapest/easiest to manufacture too.

  9. my sister had a doll using the same mechanism. long story short, the mechanism ended in my possession. Still have it somewhere in the basement.

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