Another English Robot Pilot (Mar, 1931)

If I had a nickel for every English robot pilot I came across, I’d have… er… a nickel.

Another English Robot Pilot

PROFESSOR J. POPJIE, an English pilot and designer, has recently invented and tested an electrical robot pilot which has successfully piloted a plane on short flights. Although details of this invention have not been revealed, it is known to be operated by a current from an air-screw driven generator.

  1. Tim says: December 21, 201011:10 am

    Looks a bit like a prototype for Otto from Airplane, but much creepier, and appears to have been drawn in after the photo was taken.

  2. Andrew L. Ayers says: December 21, 201011:25 am

    That’s what I was going to say, Tim; I also wonder why it looks vaguely female in appearance. Is it his “Girl Robot”?

    Plus, what is that thing on “her” head? The “air-screw driven generator”? If so, what is the device in the foreground (maybe a airspeed device; though one would think such a thing would be away from the wash of the prop)?

    The thing I’ve always wondered about these little articles in these old “science” magazines (and I have a collection of my own, so I know such things always appeared) – is why were “robots” always shown in some human fashion; more of a manniquin fashion, or cardboard cutout, rather than “mechanical man” (plenty of those, though – easily understandable, though, since most early robots were built, such as Westinghouse’s Electro, and various ones over in Europe and elsewhere).

    Meanwhile, there were real “robots” and “computers” out there; most mechanical or analog devices, various industrial control processing, machines for bomb and artillery guidance, etc…

    I know that many of these were published in these magazines – but why show these seeming outlandish fakeries that we see so often? I tend to wonder if people really thought that an aircraft flying robot was going to look like that? I know that humanity has always had a narrative of inventing a robot that looks like a man (since ancient greek times, if not earlier!); this narrative is likely behind the narratives of religious mythologies (with us being the “robots”!) – hence various discussion of free-wills and such in such narratives…

    One would think though that by the 1930s, that the editors of these magazines would think their readers understood (and were intelligent enough to know) that function doesn’t have to follow form. Then again, we’re still trying to build androids and other humanoid robots…


  3. Jari says: December 21, 201012:07 pm

    That looks like Radiana, “The most sensational Electrical Novelty in the World”. Apparently it could conjure feats(?), read minds and shave a man from audience. I wouldn’t expose my throat to an automaton wielding razor blade which facial features resembles Egyptian sarcophagus and was described as brainless brainchild of prof. Popjie….

  4. RBayard says: December 21, 20107:57 pm

    I’m glad they pointed out which one was the robot.

  5. Toronto says: December 21, 20108:41 pm

    How did this manage to avoid the “Just Wierd” tag, Charlie?

    BTW, to me, she looks like one of those “Gypsy in a Box” fortune telling automatons. Or at least, she would if she lost the fan on her head.

  6. Firebrand38 says: December 21, 20109:32 pm

    Yup that’s Radiana alright

    “Professor” Popjie was a well known magician and showman at the time. In fact here you can find this reference:
    John Popjie was a colourful showman who became a naturalised
    British citizen and in the 1920s toured the halls with a pseudo
    automaton he called Radiana, based upon the Golem illusion. Later
    he presented an animal act as Prince Mercado with Lemo the
    lioness, in both cases being assisted by his Glaswegian wife

  7. Andrew L. Ayers says: December 21, 201010:26 pm

    I can always count on Firebrand38 to tell us what is what; now I am wondering what the “golem illusion” is (a quick google search didn’t yield up much – although I did find an auction for a playbill regarding Popjie and Radiana)…

  8. John Savard says: December 21, 201010:59 pm

    And here I thought the mechanical man was made to look like an ancient Egyptian, rather than a woman.

  9. Firebrand38 says: December 22, 20106:09 am

    Andrew L. Ayers: The principle and presentation to the classic Golem Illusion is similar to this updated version.…

  10. Andrew L. Ayers says: December 22, 201011:22 am

    Thanks, FB – I’m pretty sure I know how the illusion works, but I would have to see it live (or one take with no cuts like in the video) to know for certain, I think (I still have to watch the whole video; I watched it up to the walking the stairs part – overall, its a pretty neat illusion).

  11. Andrew L. Ayers says: December 22, 201011:30 am

    Ok – just watched the whole thing; great ending!

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