Some days you just get to see things that are truly mindblowing. I had the pleasure of meeting Darrell Toland’s masterpiece recreation of “Robot” from the old T.V. show Lost In Space. Lost In Space aired well before my time (1965-68), but it was long in reruns during Junior High and I’ve probably seen every episode. It came on about 10 in the morning, and during the summers I managed to extend pre-afternoon laziness one extra hour just to watch the misadventures of the Robinson family as they tried in vain to escape their marooned extra planetary prison. Robot (as far as I know this was it’s only name) was the preeminent concept of the snarky mechanical companion, that would be honed with R2-D2 and C3P0 in Starwars, and even expanded on with HAL 9000 from 2001 space Odyssey. In essence if you disassembled his personality and reestablished it’s core components into separate entities, you’d get these three characters. Helpful, loyal, arrogant, flawed, capable of both emotional and programmable manipulation, Robot was the perfect inversion of humanity.
Darrell has rebuilt Robot to it’s original specs and beyond. It would be enough if this were simply a static sculpture, awe inspiring in it’s attention to detail, but it goes way beyond that. Robot is alive. Fully articulate, mobile though both radio-control and autonomous action (thanks to some spliced parts borrowed from a Roomba). Movable and retractable arms, claws that open and close, whirring motors that spin it’s mechanical brain and ears, custom built neon chest plate, and display board. And yes Robot has voice and face recognition. He knows 300 lines, some of them from the original show and many of them new lines rerecorded by the original voice actor Bob May. Robot can tell jokes, sing Paul Newman’s famous banjo song from Cool Hand Luke, imitate Montgomery Burns from the Simpsons and in his all too fallible way let you know just how much his joints are aching today. He can even address Darrell’s kid’s by name and tell them to obey their father.
Darrell spent 6 years on this project, and the few parts he didn’t build were either from high detail recreations like the acrylic head piece, or were built to order like the corrugated rubber legs. Consumer robotics have come a long way and no doubt in the next few years we will find more and more of them in our lives and homes. I can attest to practical qualities of the Roomba and also to it’s creepy removed sense of being, a purposeful machine with no heart, soul, or ambition (but still fallible nonetheless). Honda and a myriad of other companies are producing functional walking robots, and human like nuances are edging ever closer to reality. All this said, I believe it will be a long time before we regain the youthful excitement for the future that was displayed in mid century fantasy machines like Robot. I think that is why Darrell’s Robot is so perfect. It is as close to any personal robot of the future as I’ve ever experienced, yet it maintains a presence from a different era. You can visit Darrell’s online web comic Stix and Bones here to see some of his other talents. Awesome work!