Take Robby Home

Ok, we’ll stipulate it right up front: this isn’t a hack. But you have to admit, it would make a fine starting point for a truly epic one. Robby the Robot — the robot from the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet is up for sale. Well, technically he isn’t so much a robot as he is a suit with some animatronics. The auction lot includes Robby, his (non-functioning) vehicle, a control panel, and some other accouterments. If you have deep pockets, you’ll need to bid before November 21.

MGM reportedly spent $125,000 on Robby which was a crazy amount of money in the 1950s. In today’s currency, that would be well over a million bucks. They got their money’s worth, though, as Robby appeared in movies and TV shows including Lost in Space and several episodes of the Twilight Zone. He even made a motionless cameo on The Big Bang Theory.

Robby’s construction included Royalite plastic (an early form of ABS), metal, rubber, wood, acetate, and Perspex. The plastic work is some of the earliest examples of vacuum-forming heated plastic over a wooden form. There wouldn’t be 3D printing yet for a number of years.

Five 12V motors picked up as war surplus drove all the motion. Well — all the motion except the human-powered ones. Since the 7-foot suit weighs about 120 pounds, the operator wore a harness that took some of the weight off. There was also a special rack for the robot/actor to rest between shots without having to get out of the gear. The auction listing says “resistors” blink to simulate speech, but that is incorrect, of course. It is actually neon bulbs that blink.

You might notice that Robby’s body looks a little like a washing machine drum. [Bob Kinoshita], one of the five designers, did work previously on washing machines. Despite the video below, [Dr. Edward Morbious] was not actually involved.

This would look great in a hackerspace and we’d love to see someone buy it and give Robby a brain. At what it will probably cost, though, it seems unlikely you could build anything with it and, besides, we suppose it is history.

There have been a few Robby replicas (we think the one that appeared in a previous Hackaday post was a replica, but we aren’t sure). If you want a TV replica robot that is a little easier to tackle, maybe try K9.

25 thoughts on “Take Robby Home

  1. My second favorite Robby movie was “The Invisible Boy”.

    I’d love to wear one those utility belts they had on “The Forbidden Planet” but my wife won’t let me. (Mattes on that movie were works of art!)

      1. because us old people are old…and memories of a cheesy robot tend to blur into the most memorable parts of many cheesy robots.

        I was one of those confused people (I kinda merged the two together, and added bits of old toy robots too..) and had to do a google search and double take when I read that…

  2. Only the greatest sci-fi ever made. The CIA monitored the public reaction to this film. Hmm…
    This was no B black and white second feature. MGM, was known for big musicals and extravaganza. The entire sound track was the first all electronic “score” in film, created by a hacker couple into trip. Vacuum tubes on breadboard! No orchestra.

    The bids are going up like the logarithmic meters peaking when the Krell machine amplified his bad trip!

  3. I bought an old Robbie toy on ebay, opened it up, and added an MP3 sound effects board, into which I loaded all the Robbie speech clips from Forbidden Planet. I also rigged a blue LED to flash with his speech behind the grille in his face. Now I have the only talking Robbie toy.

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