5 robots that were actually just humans in suits

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The tech world has always been filled with fakes, as people looking to make a quick buck try to pass off their “inventions” as the real deal. The world of robotics, however, holds a special place in the pantheon of phonies. It is a type of product that thrives on the wow factor of a live demo, which leads desperate scammers to desperate measures.

The first robot butlers appeared in pop culture in the early 20th century — robots that help serve lunchtidy up the room while you were watching tvand even offer “company” to single women. Engineers have been trying to make robots real ever since, but a lot of people have tried to cut corners.

Some of the fakes, like 1960s Miss Honeywell, were an attempt to sell things. Other counterfeits were little more than cheap illusions. But there’s one thing all the “robots” on our list share: they’re just humans who moved around weirdly.

Rupert the Robot (1938)

Photo: Gamma-Keystone, Getty Images

Rupert the robot was supposed to be the creation of German inventor Albert Creuziger. The alleged automaton showed off his skills at the Savoy Hotel in London on January 12, 1938. Newspapers at the time were deeply convinced that Rupert was the real deal.

At protests, Rupert would smoke, pour a drink, put on his hat, and might even take you for a ride. One article even claimed that Rupert cost US$20,000 ($27,764) to build, more than US$400,000 ($555,280) after adjusting for inflation.

The problem, of course, was that Rupert was just a man in makeup walking around with a door on stilts. Look at this photo and remember that in 1938 television technology was still very at its beginnings. This “robot” was a complete fake.

Roberta the Robotics (1965)

Photo: Jacob Harris, APPhoto: Jacob Harris, AP

New Yorkers passing EJ Korvette’s department store on May 17, 1965 may have noticed a curious thing in the window: a robot showing off the latest gear for sale. Where was it?

Potential customers outside could pick up a phone and ask questions about the items inside, while “Roberta the robot” demonstrated the products. But Roberta was only a human disguised as a robot, a bit like Miss Honeywell, who will see the light of day a few years later.

Miss Honeywell (1968)

Hailed by British news company Pathé as the “world’s first robotic woman”, this blue robot could perform a number of human activities. It was because she was just a human in a robot costume.

The “robot”, known as Miss Honeywellemerges from a piece of furniture after an assistant mimics tying his head and setting up the correct electronics.

The operator turns a few buttons on his console, and Miss Honeywell comes to life, shaking and moving like a 5-year-old trying to pretend to be a robot. Unfortunately, we don’t have a poll to show how many people in 1968 were fooled by the cheap trick, but with such incredible technological advancements happening at such rapid speed in the late 1960s – the moon landing was only a year away – you can’t judge bystanders too harshly.

The Lead Man (1934)

Photo: Thematic News Agency, Getty ImagesPhoto: Thematic News Agency, Getty Images

If you happened to walk outside a dance hall in Streatham, south London, on January 31, 1934, you might have seen this bizarre mechanical man. And the puzzled looks say it all.

Not much is known about this photo or what the “inventor” of the Tin Man was promoting. But regardless, they clearly got the attention they wanted. Even though it’s obviously a man in a robot costume.

Elon Musk’s Vaporware

GIF: TeslaGIF: Tesla

Finally, we have Elon Musk’s idea for a robot that was unveiled in August 2021 at a Tesla event.

“Tesla robot will be be real,” Musk said, suggesting a prototype could be ready in 2022.

“Tesla is arguably the biggest robotics company in the world because our cars are like semi-sentient robots on wheels,” Musk insisted, a bit exaggeratedly.

Unfortunately, mainstream media like CNN and Fox Business wrote Musk’s promises as if they were real, even giving specs like the Tesla Bot’s height of 1.52m 8in and saying it will feature the same sensors as a Tesla car. But he’s a human in a robot suit. And here, in the middle of 2022, there is still no prototype of any kind.


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