(Click a picture to see the full-sized image.)
"Marvin" appeared on the scene somewhere around 1982 or 1983. He featured the new (at that time) 68000 processor, and was actually very sophisticated, both mechanically and electronically. The articulation and strength of the arms and hands were particularly impressive. At that time, I was working for a small engineering company (Helman Engineering) prior to their relocation to South Carolina, helping to design and built fiber-composite tensioning systems for sale to the Air Force and aerospace industries. At one time, we were asked to supply a bid on automated traffic control systems for highway construction sites. (Apparently, the accident rate is fairly high, and holding a sign for hours has to be the world's most boring job.) We kicked around some requirements, and decided that such a device should be self-contained, durable, capable of communicating with both the foreman and other robots on the job via radio, and equipped with visual warning devices for motorists as well as audible warnings for the road crew, should a car not slow down or otherwise pose a threat. "Marvin" had recently come to my attention, and he looked like he might be a good place to start, so my boss (coincidentally also named Marvin) and I hopped in his red-white-and-blue stunt plane (he used to be a stunt pilot in an aerial circus, but that's another story altogether) and hopped over to Iowa to visit "Marvin's" home. The pictures above were taken at the small factory. The image of a robot assembly line (ala "Short Circuit" or "The Terminator") sticks in my head to this day. I remember seeing tables holding row after row of arms, hands, heads, wheels, etc., ready to be assembled. I don't know what happened to "Marvin" and his brothers, because I don't think I've ever seen one, or even a picture of one, outside those I saw at the factory that day. The advertisement is one of a short series run in "Robotics Age" magazine. (In case you were wondering, the traffic-control robot fell through; it seems it's cheaper to pay a human being to lean on a shovel all day...)
Update 9/10/98: Being curious if there were actually any "Marvins" around that I might adopt, I did some research. The company is long gone, having gone bankrupt in 1990 due to the fickle fortunes of the robotics market. They apparently sold a number of robots of varying designs before they vanished, however. By speaking to the mayor of the town where the company once existed, I was able to make contact with two of the three people who designed and built "Marvin", who are still living in the area, but pursuing totally different occupations. The 3rd person apparently moved to Minneapolis and later passed away. I'd still like to give a "Marvin" a home, so if you know of any that are available, let me know!