Atari's Founder Also Made Awesome Robots

In 1981, having left Atari three years previously, Bushnell founded Catalyst Technologies, a venture capital group designed to help invest in technology start-ups. Catalyst in turn went onto fund a company called Androbot, for which Bushnell served as chairman of the board.

Androbot was in the business of making robots for the home. Not pie-in-the-sky concepts or prototypes, actual robots that were designed to be bought and used right away. In the 1980s.

Among these were the Androman, a small robot designed to be used with and controlled via an Atari 2600. He came with a printed mat that mimicked the game's screen; moving Androman around in the real world also moved him in the game.

The company's main line of robots, though, were the TOPO and BOB series, large units standing over 90cm tall. Designed to serve as little robot assistants, and packing sophisticated (for the time) infared sensors, they could not only navigate a house and avoid stationary objects, but track human movement and, if you had a specially-designed fridge (the AndroFridge), even respond to vocal commands like asking for a beer. After which it would promptly trundle over and get you one.

At least, it would in theory. Androbot's units failed for the same reasons any other 80's robot (with one exception) did: they were expensive, and despite the manufacturer's claims, they didn't really work. Which is, you know, the same reason we don't have robots getting us beers now.


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