Retrotechtacular: Robots, Robots Everywhere, with Kitschy Pronunciation

One of the great things about the human intellect is that we have the ability to build machines of varying complexity to do our bidding. As a major proponent of technology, the Chevrolet automobile corporation once dreamed of a future where the American housewife’s most mundane tasks are handled with the push of a button—one that sets a robot butler into action.

Chevy shows us what this future might look like in this short film, which they presented at the 1940 World’s Fair. A housewife’s faithful ‘robot’, pronounced throughout the picture as ‘robe-it’, has gone on the fritz. Naturally, she calls for a repairman. We see from the console controller that Roll-Oh the Robe-it can take care of all kinds of housewifely duties: he can answer the door and the phone, wash dishes, clean house, make beds, fetch hats, get dinner, and fix the furnace (and only the furnace). And that SCRAM! function? That’s never explained. We like to think it has to do with getting kids off the lawn, or could be used in conjunction with ‘get door’ to chase away would-be burglars. We get a glimpse of this when Roll-Oh answers the door and scares the daylights out of a young [Gary Sinise*] delivering flowers in a cop uniform.

Roll-Oh’s upper limbs have several Swiss Army knife-like implements in them. He uses a sharp one to cut the ribbon off of the flower box. Upon seeing the flowers, he gives them a gentle misting with his sprayer attachment. Dropped petals are no problem for Roll-Oh. He promptly vacuums them up from the thin industrial sound stage carpet with his big metal feet. Roll-Oh is then tasked with getting dinner. This amounts to him painstakingly opening a couple of cans and lighting candles with the torch hidden in his face.

While Roll-Oh the large ductwork butler is only a dream, Chevy wants you to know that smaller robe-its are all around us already. They’re regulating the heat in our stoves, browning our bread without burning it, and brewing our coffee in cool double-globe glass percolators. These tiny servants are capable of performing other tasks, like shutting off machinery when humans are too close, or sensing heat and engaging fire suppression systems. There is brief mention of something called the Petomat, an automatic dog feeding system which is essentially a bowl of food hidden in a latched box. The latch opens rather violently when the alarm clock connected to it goes off.

Robe-its are also performing more serious tasks, like keeping airplanes level and headed in the right direction. Of course, they’re also abundant in Chevrolet automobiles. A small one in the carburetor administers the proper mix of “gasoline calories and fresh air vitamins” to the engine. It’s rare to get to this level of technical detail, you know. Others watch over the spark, the intake manifold, and the voltage regulation. Up in the cab, friendly robe-its will happily traverse the AM dial at the push of a pre-set.

*Probably not actually [Gary Sinise].

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Retrotechtacular: The Magic of Making Cars in the ’30s

retrotechtacular-manufacturing-chevrolet

We usually shy away from calling things ‘magic’ in our features because, you know… science. But in the case of this Chevrolet manufacturing reel from 1936 the presentation is nothing short of an industrialized version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Well, not in the sense of mischief, but in that there is almost no explanation and the way the footage is laced together you get the strong feeling that, at the time, this type of industrialization was magic; a modern marvel. The techniques and skills of each worked passed down from a master to an apprentice but virtually unknown to the general public.

The clip, which is also embedded below, starts off in the machine shop where mold makers are getting ready to go into assembly line production. From there it’s off to the foundry for part casting and then into the stamping plant where white-hot (perhaps red-hot, but black and white film) metal is shaped by man-mangling presses. The image above follows the cast, stamped, and machined parts onto the assembly line. We like seeing a room full of pistons being QA checked by hand using a width gauge and micrometer.  The film continues through to the finished vehicle and we think you’ll agree there’s more than enough voyeuristic video here to overcome that lack of narration.

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Volt teardown shows more than just what’s under the hood

The Chevrolet Volt is one of the top contenders in mass-market electric vehicles. Now you can get a look at the components that make up the electrical system with this Chevy Volt teardown article.

The adventure starts with a look at the 288 cell battery. It forms a T shape and takes up the space that forms the hump down the center of the interior of a vehicle. Theses have a liquid cooling system build into the enclosure to make sure things don’t get too hot during use or charging. The sights are then set on the control and monitoring hardware, and there’s a lot of it. In fact, the image above is an overview of the eighteen modules that pull the new plug-in EV technology together. If you’re brave enough to void the warranty on one of these, this should be a helpful road map to get you started.

Has anyone seen a teardown of the home charging station for one of these?

Investigating parking assist sensors

While his wife was out-of-town [James] jumped at the opportunity to do some snooping around with her Chevy Tahoe’s parking assist sensors. We can understand how pulling parts out of someone’s car would make them none too happy. But we find it hilarious that it’s a leased company car he’s tinkering around with. But we’re glad he did, the ten-page write-up he published about the project is a fascinating read.

You can see the control board above which is housed beneath the passenger seat. It uses a Freescale microcontroller to read from the four bumper-mounted ultrasonic sensors. But just looking at what parts are used obviously isn’t enough to satisfy a hacker’s appetite for knowledge. [James] busted out a CAN bus tool to sniff the data packets. These sensors use a custom chip designed by GM, utilizing a single wire communications system. He figures out the communication scheme and builds an mbed based test rig to read them directly.

[via Dangerous Prototypes]