Your Spectrum
Issue 3, May 1984 - Circe

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Amongst the fear and loathing of the bright lights of London's West End, Phil Z Manchester gets hot on the trail of Prism's robot revolution optimist, Grahame Daubney.

The Hippodrome, Leicester Square: Strains of Richard Strauss and the Star Wars theme, scantily clad irrelevant go-go dancers, William Woolard (the tall one who used to be on Tommorrow's World now reincarnated as a computer salesman). The selling of microcomputers gets more and more like the recording business every day - the only thing missing is the stars. Programmers are usually too spotty to be sex symbols and the double-breast suited salesmen are just too sexless. The Prism group know this, so they import a few dancing girls and make their play in a trendy disco in the heart of London's West End night-life fantasy world.
A public relations person explains that it's the only place where they have enough room to show off the robots - so that's the reason why media hacks are to be found hanging around, drinking Prism's free booze under the laser lights! These proved to be a liability later on. The digital stars, the Androbots that Prism is importing from the good ol' US of 'merica, sit at the end of an invisible infra-red thread remote from their Apple brains. Lasers and infra-red communications do not mix. Result = confused robots. Or maybe it was the go-go dancers; after all, "Robots are people too" says the slogan.
Instead of a demonstration of robotic dexterity, like humans, the Androbots sulk, their 'thoughts' restricted to pre-programmed recitations of 'Forward', 'Left', 'Right', 'Stop' when a convenient button on their plastic heads is pushed. All in all - not very impressive for £1500.
The scene shifts to Prism headquarters near Old Street station in north London. Topo, the sulking robot is still wandering up and down saying 'Left', 'Right', but doing little else. Grahame Daubney, Prism's director of new developments deftly sidesteps thrusting questions about Androbots, Micronet and Prism's future.
"I want to get to the situation where robots are
usable by any member of the family?" he explains. "He's still first generation but he is pretty sophisticated," Daubney added, pointing at the errant Topo. Why 'he'?
"I call him 'he' because he has taken on a character. Atari has spent a lot on research trying to find out why Pacman was so popular. They discovered that it was because women liked it. The same goes for robots. Whenever we take Topo out somewhere the biggest reaction we get is from young women - they think he's cute.
"I think robots will bring more women into computers," Daubney goes on. Prior to joining new wave computer group, Prism, Daubney was at Atari. A remnant from those days still sits on his desktop - an ancient Atari computer. "I still use it for spreadsheet work - I'm used to it."
Daubney is convinced that robots are going to be the next big thing although the mass market is still some way in the future. The first assault is going to be on the education and development market. "I see it as being a way of bringing computers to more people, especially young kids. They get very bored with just screens."
"What we are trying to do is to find potentially useful applications rather than just playing around. We're not trying to advance technology - we want to advance the applications."
Down to nuts and bolts - when do we see robots for the Spectrum? Prism is the leading distributor for the 'handwarmer' so has a vested interest in selling add-ons. At the present stage robots are very much the computer peripheral (although Topo has a 'brother' with an on-board processor - Bob, which stands for 'brains on board').
"We're working on the Spectrum interface at the moment where it will act as a base station, through Interface 2. But we need to develop the software and a communications protocol. We could do the low level software in a few days but we want anyone to use it.
"We want to latch onto Logo as the model for controlling it." Logo is the language developed in the US by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for teaching children about programming. One of its features is the 'turtle' - a sort of on-screen robot that can be commanded through the keyboard. Daubney also suggested that Forth may be a good language for handling robots but was noncommittal about producing a Spectrum interface.
He was also cagey about putting a launch date on any products that might bring robots into the Spectrum world, and was equally non-committal about future developments of the robot itself. Topo has no arms - it's just a sort of mobile speech synthesiser at present.
What about an 'arm' so that it can pick things up?
"That's one of the things we are approaching," he parried. "If someone comes to us with a good idea we may be able to help them and this is reflected in our recruitment policy. We're looking for people who maybe got their first computer a few years ago and have made their own add-ons. Some US software houses are recruiting artists and poets now to stimulate ideas."
All in all, the Androbots (incidentally, designed by the man who started Atari in a garage and sold it to Warner Brothers for a fortune before the rot set in) do not overwhelm one. They don't do much - especially in the company of laser beams and go-go girls.
The real clue to the reason for Prism's interest may, in fact, lie in the publicity handout for the beasts. One of the small number of uses that they mention, after mowing the lawn (unlikely) and cleaning the carpet (unbelievable), is as a 'promotional' aid. But it's a sad fact that Prism would probably have attracted as much attention with just the go-go girls (who didn't appear to be unduly affected by laser beams). A shame their link with new technology is so tenuous.
Oh, and don't hold your breath waiting for a robot to plug into the Spectrum.
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