george opperman

Androbot and Axlon

Androbot and Axlon were tech companies formed by Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell through his startup firm, Catalyst Technologies Venture Capital Group.

Bushnell helped form Androbot in 1982, a company that introduced personal robots for education and entertainment purposes. The company stopped production in 1984. After Androbot closed its doors, Bushnell launched Axlon and successfully sold a number of consumer electronic toys and products. Some Androbot designs were repurposed or simplified and sold as Axlon products. They operated into the late 80’s and even released some of the last games for the Atari 2600.

The following is not meant to serve as a complete company history; rather two robots of note have been selected from each company to give a sense of what robots in the early to mid 80’s were capable of. 

TOPO – Androbot (1983)

TOPO-I sold for $795 USD in April 1983 ($1860 approx. today) and stands 36 ½" tall. All of the TOPO robots had a vacuum-formed ABS plastic body and a steel base. TOPO-I had no processors and rather used a one-way RF control from an Apple II+ to provide the brains and memory. Despite the robots imposing form factor, it was essentially a giant remote controlled toy. TOPO-I sold for six months and sold around 1000 units.

The subsequent TOPO-II and TOPO-III models were released shortly thereafter complete with Bushnell Signature nameplate, bi-directional IF-transmitters, additional sensors, text to speech capabilities, and the ability to control several TOPO’s at once. The TOPO-II was released at a cost of $1590 ($3720 today).  These later robots could be guided throughout a home using BASIC commands or a modified version of LOGO. They could also memorize prerecorded paths for simple English command line playback. The main difference between the TOPO-II and TOPO-III models was the TOPO-III fold-out “arms” were removed from case design to reduce production costs. Very few TOPO-III’s a known to exist.

B.O.B. (Brains on Board) was going to include an on-board XT motherboard and sell for $2500.00 in April of 1984 ($5850 today) but Androbot closed its doors before this could be realized.

The last robot in the series, the TOPO-IV was meant to borrow heavily from B.O.B.’s features but due to Androbot’s sudden closure, never made it past the design stage.

TOPO-II Ad

“He teaches you about computers. He entertains. Socializes. He’s one of the family. Your friend and guide to the incredibly sophisticated Age of Androbotics™. He’s TOPO.

You’ll wonder how you ever got along without him.
You Command: TOPO performs.

Once you’ve acquainted TOPO to his new home, a simple computer command or joystick movement will start him off and running. For instance, while you’re in the kitchen, the keyboard command “TOPO TO PATIO” will send him over a previously-memorized route to serve drinks to guests from optional Androwagon™($95). A wireless infrared communication link relays information between TOPO and your computer throughout your house.”

ANDROMAN – Androbot (1984)

ANDROMAN stood 12.6” tall and had a January 1984 release date but was never sold. Only one prototype is know to exist and there are very few photos of the unit publicly available.

ANDROMAN was meant as a Robot game companion/augmented reality control accessory for the Atari line of home consoles, similar to Nintendo’s R.O.B. released the following year. The first ANDROMAN-related game involved controlling a virtual ANDROMAN from an on-screen play field and as well guide the actual robot on a 4-foot wide gaming mat using special “target cards” and “dimensional pieces” that mirrored the on-screen action. The robot also featured speech synthesis, meaning the robot could encourage the player to do well and “heckle” poor performance.

Additional game cartridges complete with new target cards and dimensional pieces were planned but no other screen shots have been made available.

ANDROMAN was to be sold to Atari for $1 million but due to bad blood between Atari and Androbot investors the deal fell apart. There is some speculation that this may have lead to the eventual downfall of Androbot. I suspect any commercial game concept that asks for an additional 4 square feet of living room space will have complications. Like most of Bushnell’s early robot designs, this may have simply been too ambitious for its time.

ANDROMAN Ad

From Androbot: Makers of B.O.B. and TOPO ­– the world’s first personal robots.

Introducing ANDROMAN. He’s a real-life gaming robot.

What could be more exciting that today’s most challenging video game? A video game robot that comes to life right on your living room floor!

ANDROMAN is a sophisticated mini robot. And he’s a real-life video game set designed specifically for your Atari VCS 2600 now (and other compatible VCS systems later).

The ANDROMAN game set include ANDROMAN  himself along with special accessories to create the kind of realistic game environments you’ve never seen on a video screen. A video game cartridge supplies action on your TV screen and an adapter lets you control ANDROMAN with a joystick using an advanced two-way infrared data link.

ANDY – Axlon (1985)

ANDY cost $119 US in 1985, ($258 approx. today) and stands 13.5” tall. The robot was named after the robot’s designer Andrew Filo. FRED ($295 US) was a robot designed at Androbot in 1983 and included an additional stylus and was marketed as a drawing robot but was never sold. All known ANDY’s were created from unused FRED components but no longer included the stylus to reduce production costs.

ANDY was sold for use with ATARI 800 (48K). Axlon provided wiring schematics making it possible to modify Andy’s interface to work with Apple II. At least 2300 ANDYs were produced but according to Antic Editor, Nat Freidland there may have been enough parts for 10,000 units.

“Meet ANDY, he won’t bring you breakfast in bed but he will give you food for thought.”

As his marketing would suggest, ANDY was probably not the most useful robot in the world. At its most simple, ANDY can be controlled with a joystick in port 1 and pushing the fire button will make him whistle, although the included software needs to be running. A joystick in port 2 allows operators access to interface with the computer allowing more ambitious hobby robotics enthusiasts to try their hand at creating simple “personality” routines in BASIC, or the included simple “English command” software known as the PERSONALITY EDITOR.

ANDY Ad
“Mercurial, Angry, Sad, Noisy, Friendly, Musical, Rakish, Flirtatious, Laid-Back, Whimsical, Unpredictable

  • ANDY is a unique electronics accessory that brings a new dimension of fun and learning to your Atari 800 (48K) or commodore 64.
  • Comes complete with the PERSONALITY EDITOR and a sample BASIC program on disk. Control Andy with the PERSONALITY EDITOR or from BASIC, LOGO, ACTION, FORTH, etc.
  • Comes complete with built-in Sound Generator and Light, Sound and Bump Sensors, Compose different moods and tasks for Andy.

ANDY’s PERSONALITY EDITOR allows you and your family to explore the robotics world using simple English words. Once you get used to piloting Andy around one command at a time, you can group words together for more sophistication.

ANDY can perform on virtually any surface – word, vinyl, even the living room carpet. His 4 “D” cell batteries will keep him alive in excess of 7 hours.

Meet ANDY, he won’t bring you breakfast in bed but he will give you food for thought.”

COMPUROBOT-I – Axlon (1985)

COMPUROBOT-I sold for $30 ($65 approx. today) and stands 6.5” tall. A 4-bit microprocessor on board runs programs that are entered by pressing a sequence of keys via a 25-key keypad located on top of COMPUROBOT’s head. The robots memory can hold up to 48 Commands.  COMPUROBOT can be programed to move forward, backward and in circles in any direction. Users can set sequences that are as short as 2 seconds up to an hour. A one-minute demo-mode is included, highlighting all of COMPUROBOT’s features.

COMPUROBOT-I is the first in a series of COMPUROBOTs though their form factor varies greatly from version to version. COMPUROBOT-I takes a number of styling cues from Disney’s “VINCENT” robot from the movie, The Black Hole. Also, this design was later produced by UK’s GCL, as GEORGE. Along with the same basic design, all of GEORGE’s features are identical to COMPUROBOT-1.

The COMPUROBOT line was very successful due to its low entry point and allowed children and those curious a first-hand experience in programming with this educational toy.

March of Robots Conclusion

Thank you to @ChocolateSoop for organizing this event, @NolanBushnell for making such a great series of robots, @astutegraphics for creating the best drawing tools in existence, and of course @wacom for their involvement in the contest. An extra special thanks goes out to my followers and supporters, you guys make it possible for me to continue creating cool new things!

As a final observation I present the following: George Opperman was responsible for designing the original Atari logo was quoted, “In six months I went through 150 designs. Anyway, I kept trying to stylize the ‘A,’” I suspect that stylized ‘A’ in both Androbot and Axlon logos may have been born from Opperman’s work on the Atari logo back in the day.

March of Robots was a lot of fun everyone and I hope to participate next year. Keep on roboting everyone!

I may continue working on new robots during March but I need to clear my plate for some exciting new projects. :D