We all knew robots were coming. We guessed what they might look like and imagined what they might do. They inhabited our stories. They were the future.
Robots could be like us, but not fallible. Shiny and not beholden to silly things such as grudges, misunderstandings, living wages, empathy or ethics, the future is here.
NOBO was the first tailored humanoid service robot for one eccentric multi-millionaire and his family. Created to do pretty much everything like an average human – but better, faster, smarter – more robot-like. NOBO, though he learned quickly, did not possess superior intelligence. There was a progress glitch, the machine was actually more human than humans.
The first humanoid service robot gets thrown out because of his humane weaknesses. He lives a prototype existence, discarded and searching for belonging between two worlds, no longer the future, stuck in the past.
Eventually barred from riding the Sky Rail all together, and no longer employed by Western Airlines, NOBO would still sit and watch the trains rattle by on the tracks above for hours.
Commuting turned out to be a favorite part of NOBO’s airline work. He loved riding the Sky Rail so much that he received more than a dozen warnings for refusing to exit the train.
After the customer service snafu, NOBO remained at the airline on probationary terms. Moved to the tarmac, he wandered among the winged machines often asked to be a prop in family vacation photos.
Could a robot be the future of customer service? NOBO was tested at the desk of Western Airlines…and the answer turned out to be a firm “no.” NOBO was let go after 352 passengers found themselves at the wrong destination in just 48 hours.
NOBO went with the Von Ottenblachs to the graduation party for their eldest niece. Hailing from unsung Loma Linda California, Jane, once an attendant for the speed slide at the largest waterpark in San Bernadino County, had studied her way to a job at NASA. Put to work transferring hostas before the party, NOBO couldn’t help but wonder where his own hard work might take him.
NOBO became bit of a family celebrity. The Von Ottenblachs fielded calls from distant family members to “borrow” him. Rick Kavinsky, cousin of a step-daughter of a cousin, and lead singer of the Sweat Drops, (famous for the song, “Baby, you’re my baby”) brought NOBO along as he tried to pick up women and listen to him rant about the term “one-hit wonder”
Not programmed to protest or complain, NOBO was often offered as a companion on all manner of excursion. Granny wanted company for her hiking trip to Tennessee. His expression remained steady and genial, but inside, NOBO felt a distinct urge to throw himself off the lift.
Mrs.Von Ottenblach’s sister, Pernilla, became quite enamored of NOBO, insisting he calls her Auntie and inviting him to keep her company in Palm Springs. There was some hubbub involving hot sun, a metal robot, a surprise hug, a screaming jump into the pool and a ruined set and style. NOBO’s visit was cut short.
The Von Ottenblachs often spent a week or two on holiday with other families. With the Cisneros family in Coral Gables, it was NOBO’s job to watch the 4 youngest kids. As he got his instructions his eyes glazed over – he was truly only interested in the motor. Imagine his surprise when he was suddenly in charge of fun and safety on the water.
Learning was a constant for NOBO. Each new experience adding to his programmed skill set. To learn about metal filing, Nobo learned to file the sharp edges of door hinges. In a class with several young men eager to learn the trade, NOBO is given lessons by master machinist and teacher, Brock Sidenstricker. Mutterings of “teacher’s pet” could be heard around the room.
NOBO’s life was not just work. He ventured on weekend trips Pismo State Beach with his friends Alberto, Miranda and Jaoquin. NOBO froze when the motorhome first pulled up however, taken aback at the uncanny resemblance. By his expression, it seemed as though Winnebago may have been thinking the same.
Putting in shifts at the Donnelly sheet metal factory, NOBO’s productivity lags as he watches – and admires – himself reflected in the shiny sheets. His coworkers are less than impressed with his preening.
Job no 37701. Gardening. Nobo was no scissorhands. Yet he was set up as an unwitting apprentice. NOBO teamed up with Nikola six days a week, 10-15 yards a day – sometimes even on Sundays. Learning to garden alongside the professionals in Yorba Linda was hard work – even when you cannot sweat.
NOBO spent hours at the Rutherford corporate cleaners. Pressing dress shirt after dress shirt, starched to perfection in less than five minutes. Striving for accuracy and speed with a too-hot iron. . . Mistakes were made. Shirts were burned.
Fredric Dillon always wanted to test NOBO in new industries. On duty at the Dillon scrap yard, strewn metal parts loomed like mountains and he wondered whose wrecked bodies surrounded him. Could NOBO himself be mistaken for waste and melted down??
NOBO was unable to establish common ground with the other machines around him. This one in particular was puzzling. NOBO could not compute why, but this particular machine seemed to be the subject of great affection by young Bertrand Van Ottenblach. There was nothing to learn from these simple mechanical machines, but NOBO did wonder why Bertrand and this wheeled machine disappeared happily for a few hours each day.
NOBO was programmed to carry out more than 38,707 useful tasks in the home, office or laboratory. None of these was standing still on the edges of a polo field for 211 minutes while the Van Ottenblach boys hosted an impromptu polo match with the Scardino boys and the Hughes twins. Standing beside Birgitta as they watched, he wondered if she too felt strange and unneeded.
When the eldest Van Ottenblach daughter, home for summer holiday from her studies in Zurich, pulled him into the shot, NOBO experienced a series of unexplained shorts – pangs – in his motherboard, and a phantom tightness as though he required oil near his left shoulder hinge where a heart might be.
Nobo was shipped to the Van Ottenblach family – giants in the food preservative and stabilization compound business and millionaires dozens of times over. NOBO would be put to immediate use in the company labs, at the 5 Van Ottenblach residences, and at the whim of the 8 Van Ottenblach children.
To create a robot to be almost human, but better, is no small task. And programming took longer than expected. All the transistors, diodes, resistors, sensors, memristors, magnetic, and antennas needed to work together to get NOBO acting and learning as they wanted.
Very little information and few photographs have been discovered from those secret developmental years.
The final touches, the last tests and it was time for Dillon and his team to let go of their creation and push NOBO out of secrecy and into the world. NOBO was no longer a project but a product, a prototype to be upheld and followed and lauded. With puffed chests, and no small amount of barely hidden trepidation, NOBO was delivered.
The biggest question for the team, what kept them working through the night – for how could they sleep? – was how to provide energy for the robot. The breakthrough came when they found a solution that involved mixing electromagnetic pulse with oil (the simplest explanation we can provide, for the engineering of it all is too complex for translation) this revolutionary formula would keep NOBO “alive.” This life giving potion required batteries inside NOBO’s legs to be changed every week, and NOBO needed to be programmed to take pulls of oil a few times a day. Like we drink 8 glasses of water. Or a dry Manhattan once we’ve set down the briefcase.
For obvious reasons, this project was top-secret. We have learned through intense research and no small amount of bribery, that it took almost 4 years to build NOBO as a working Robot. They were able to buy the loyalty and secrecy of their inner circle so that very little if any information was leaking out as to what they were doing. Location for the project was disguised as ordinary small metals plant.
His heir and protégé, son John F. Dillon, was also diving deep in to this passion project.
Finally it was time. In the mid 1960s, Frederic and John felt that they are ready move ahead with the NOBO project. Together they put together a team of 50 engineers and visionaries, the best and brightest. NOBO Humanoid Robot project was no longer just a dream.
Californian multi-millionaire, one Frederic Dillon, oil barren and owner of Dillon Electric Co. was the brains and the cash behind the NOBO robot project.
Frederic’s background was engineering. His company was on the cusp of emerging technologies, helping major car companies develop the latest features for new models. Dillon Electric also developed and built many automation machines for radio, furniture and dairy factories.
During those golden business years Mr. Dillon yet harbored a big idea – a dream – that he only shared with his closest family and most trusted business colleagues.
He wanted to build a service robot, a robot that could walk and act as a human, and could also learn from humans around him. A humanoid robot.