Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Newton the Household Robot (1989)


Ablestmage.com (via Waxy.org) points us to terrific video of a personal household robot named Newton. "He" was marketed by the company SynPet in 1989 with this VHS promotional video.

If you do nothing else, (in the short time we have here on Earth), at least skip ahead to minute 6:20 in the video. The Newton theme song just became the unofficial theme song of the Paleo-Future blog.


This is Newton. Technologically advanced, user-friendly, and practical. In future homes, personal robots will be commonplace. Newton, by SynPet, brings the future home to you.

[Cue awesome theme song]

You'll be amazed what he can do!
Meet Newton.
Where future and fun go together!
Meet Newton.
He'll be your friend forever! Whenever!
Meet Newton.
He'll be a part of your family!
Meet Newton.
He's a helping hand through technology!
He's a dream come true, bringing the future home to you! He's watching you!
Meet Newton.
Newton!



The still images above were stolen from Megadroid.com, which has more great photos of the Newton.

I've rambled about robot servants on more than a few occasions, but what do you think? Why haven't personal household robots such as these found a market?

See also:
Maid Without Tears (1978)
The Future of Personal Robots (1986)
Robo-Shop (1989)
Japanese Retail Robots (1986)
In a Cashless Future, Robots Will Cook (1996)

20 comments:

Bonnach said...

Wow! Mullets and rattails (on the guy in plaid and Newton respectively). It HAD to be the 80s.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm.. You'd think these days with the pc pretty much as ubiquitous in a household as a TV and orders of magnitude more powerful all the time that there would be more of an interest in anthropomorphizing it. After all, Newton seems to be just an XT that could roll around under its own power... (with a 20 Mb HD! Woo woo! *g*) If they could get one of those creepy really mobile robot dogs to act like that... you'd have something...

Matt Hunter Ross said...

Yeah, I agree - that's a great theme song. You should have it play automatically whenever anyone hits your site...

TimeFlies said...

To me, it is a complete mystery why Newton never made it, with a 1200 Baud modem AND a smoke detector...
Maybe it would have helped if it had the ability to NOD if you tapped it on the head?
Maybe the plastic housing wasn't up to the average firefighter's need, but hey, it wakes you up in the morning! (probably by bumping into the closed bedroomdoor or crashing down the stairs).

I would order it black, Darth Vader-style...

Dennis said...

TimeFlies, don't forget about the floppy drive! And! The expandable hard drive. Truly, the 80s were a magical time.

My absolute favorite thing about the video was how SymPet thought it was a good idea for the first 90 seconds to consist of nothing but people asking, "Who's Newton?"

Bonnach said...

I'm guessing the big red target on it's "chest" made it very attractive for 4-8 year old boys to try out their mad kung-fu skilz, among other things (soccer balls, darts, lawn darts!, spit balls, etc.).

"Bring me my baseball bat Newton! Time for batting practice."

Anonymous said...

I don't get how it could turn on the lights, control appliances, etc. prior to Bluetooth.

. said...

In my experience a big barrier to such robots is the irregularity of most home floors, i.e. clutter and stairs and whatnot. It has to be able to get around by itself without snagging loose clothes in the wheels or being unable to climb stairs.

With something like Dean Kamen's iBot mobility system as a movement platform, a household robot could crawl over any clutter and even get up or down stairs. The problem of course is that it'd be expensive all by itself, even before adding the additional necessary components to make it a useful robot.

Aaron T. said...

Anonymous@4:03 : see X10.

Matthew said...

Yeah, by that point Radio Shack had been hawking TRS-80-based home-automation kits with, I think, wireless lamp controllers for ages.

I'm amused by the apple in the logo (and, anachronistically, by the name).

Meredith said...

I wonder who thought "He's watching you" was a good line to put in that theme song. If there's one thing I don't want my future robot servant to do, it's watch me.

Will said...

Ah to be awakened every morning by an autonomous plastic carapace trying to roll repeatedly through my closed bedroom door...

Matthew said...

...There seem to have been a lot of 1980s attempts to market these armless personal robots with basically the same set of advertised capabilities; some of the Androbot models were almost the same thing in a different shell.

Parts of the ad seem to be implying that Newton would actually substitute for a home computer with a keyboard and screen. Can you imagine using a 1980s-grade voice interface to help with your homework or work reports?

Christopher Waldrop said...

Yeah, there's definitely something creepy about a robot that talks like Stephen Hawking watching over me in my sleep. And they're much more recent, but does anyone remember Apple's handheld piece of junk, the Newton?
I just wonder if George Lucas sued.

Ross said...

Te things which really stand out in this to me are:

* Newton has no sort of manipulators. Essentially, you are selling a computer in a wheelchair.

* Using home automation, the old woman can ask newton to turn on the lamp which is like 3 feet away from her. You are selling me a very expensive Clapper.

* 80s girl wears the same clothes every time she appears, including when she's asleep. Newton can wake your fully clothed teenage daughter.

* If this ad were made today, there would be a legal disclaimer over part of the final montage: Warning: Do not actually leave Netwon alone to babysit your toddler. For that matter, you probably shouldn't leave either one of them unattended, especially not with each other.

Anonymous said...

>>what do you think? Why haven't personal household robots such as these found a market?

Well, lemme see.

A) Planet earth is still blinking 12:00

B) High Price

C) Low Capability

D) Significant skills required to obtain what little capability it had.

E) Did I mention that planet earth is still blinking 12:00

Jim Farris said...

>>what do you think? Why haven't personal household robots such as these found a market?

Because, without exception, they have never lived up to the hype. Newton was an XT, making him about as smart as a cockroach. Sure, he looked great in the commercial. Get one in your house, however, and you discover he's basically a 1980's PC with wheels.

We've had the ability to build a robot body since the invention of electronics. The problem has always been the brains. How does it recognize it's environment? How does it understand what's being said?

Before household robots will ever be safe enough to be left with your kids, the robot is going to have to be smart enough to understand what a kid is and why they're important. Before a household robot will ever be trusted to guard your house, it has to be smart enough to understand what a house is, and why it needs to be guarded. In short, it's going to have to at least be as smart as a guard dog, preferrably at least as smart as a chimp. And right now, the smartest robots in the world, costing millions of bucks, are barely smarter than the average herring.

That's why robots like this have never found a market. They just don't live up to the hype.

JTNk said...

I think the most marvelous line in the song is "Meet Newton - He's watching you!"

that's not creepy at all

Ablestmage said...

Hey guys, really appreciate the comments. Funny stuff! I was checking the YT statistics and found your site purely by the click-thru amount! Much appreciated ^_^

Anonymous said...

I'm glad they used the TI "Hawking channels Droppy" chip for speech synthesis.

...Oh, dear, the house is burning down... Boo Hoo.