It was a dark and stormy night. It really was. Scout's honor! The rain came down in buckets, oil drums, tanker trucks, as we carried the head of our robot, a PC, and an emergency toolkit from the taxi. In the few steps to the door of OMNI magazine's publisher, Bob Guccioni's posh New York City brownstone, we got soaked. But more importantly, the robot's electonics also bore the brunt of the weather.
After an earlier rehersal, a very successful demo for the editorial staff of the influencial electronics trade magazine, EDN, we were now at the main event--a demonstration to the top level officers of OMNI magazine. Ben Bova, OMNI's editor at the time, led the questioning. It was he whom we had to impress if we wanted the contract to built the complete robot.
While my partner talked about how we could provide what OMNI wanted, I connected the robot head to the computer and fired up the system. Then I said 'hello' to the, as yet unnamed, robot. Nothing happened. I said 'hello' again, forcing my voice to the flat unemotional intonation that the voice recognition system required. Still, nothing. Then I smelled the smoke from the control-electronics circuit board.
Using one of my partner's hands as a clamp (he continued his presentation the entire time), I took out a soldering iron and bypassed the rain-shorted subsystem. At that point, the robot almost worked. It 'understood' maybe one word in three, and its voice synthesis (through a rain-fritzed amplifier) sounded more like gargling then speech.
We went back to Ithaca very discouraged.
The following day, we received a call from OMNI. We got the contract. As it happened, a week earlier, OMNI had a very slick demo from another robot builder. But that robot was phoney: a concealed, hand-held controller, etc. Ben Bova saw through it immediately. When we finished our demonstration, Ben is reported to have said. That was real engineering.
The following three pages describe:
|Omnivor (OMNI called him, OMNIVAC) , at home in Bob Guccioni's livingroom.|