Phonograph Disks Run Crewless War Tank (Nov, 1934)

Phonograph Disks Run Crewless War Tank

Machines can execute complicated maneuvers and return after their mission has been performed WITH the discovery by a French scientist that phonograph disks can be used to record mechanical movement as well as sound, the dream of airplanes and tanks that operate by remote control is brought nearer to realization. The practicability of completely automatic control was demonstrated recently at Paris where an electric truck started, changed its course, backed up, reversed its direction, and finally stopped without the guidance of a human hand. Phonograph records, used in the experiment, could guide a torpedo into a fortified harbor to destroy an enemy battleship; or drive a tank against enemy machine gun nests, rake them with fire and return the tank to its own trenches. The movements of the torpedo or tank would be carefully calculated in advance. A master control arm on a recording device would then be manipulated to create electric impulses corresponding in timing to the desired evolutions of a complicated maneuver. An electric pick-up would convert these impulses into mechanical energy and the needle of the pick-up would impress them on the disk. A reproducing unit, consisting of an electric motor and turntables, each with a pick-up, would be concealed inside the tank. Spring guides would keep the pick-up needles in their proper grooves on the records. Four disks would be used. One would start and stop the tank and another would steer it. Another record would control the tank’s speed and a fourth would aim and fire the machine gun. Detecting the orders carried on the disks, the pick-ups would translate them into electric energy and pass them on to amplifier and relays. Greatly amplified, the current would be carried by cables to electromagnets which would operate the clutch, throttle, and steering gear of the tank and fire the machine gun. A pilotless airplane, similarly equipped, could fly mails across the Atlantic in a few hours. An automatic stabilizer would keep it on a straight course in full flight and a parachute would enable it to land. At a point previously determined, the engine would cut out and the parachute open, bearing the plane safely to earth at its destination.

7 comments
  1. Neil Russell says: March 19, 20084:52 am

    That could get embarrassing if one of the records got stuck.

    However it does look a lot like an old hard disk array!

  2. Baron Waste says: March 19, 20087:39 am

    You ever been in a running tank? Try playing a phonograph record in your car, while driving over a low-grade gravel road. See how well it works.

    There was a toy sold in the ’60s similar to this – I used to have one. It was clever: A card fed at constant speed past two little spring-loaded linkages, which pressed against and followed scallops and valleys pre-cut in the edges of the card. One linkage controlled the steering; one the gear. You could thus run the car through a preset course, steering and stopping and backing and turning as desired. Of course, there was no feedback whatsoever; if the car was placed wrong at the start or the card was even slightly in error, the whole thing failed utterly. Probably why the toy didn’t last very long…

  3. Neil Russell says: March 19, 200810:32 am

    The “Amaze A Matic”, I had two of them, the Ford GT40 and the yellow Chrysler show car. Always wanted the blue grey one, but now I can’t remember what it was.
    And Baron is right, didn’t work worth a toot.
    You had all the preprogrammed cards and then a bunch of blanks that you could “program” yourself.
    Those didn’t work too well either.
    A lot of toys in the 60s required a big expanse of hard floor to work, the irony is with home design like it is today, a lot of those cars, trucks, and trains would probably be popular.

  4. The Vagabond Astronomer says: March 20, 20089:36 am

    @Neil,
    Thanks for reminding me of the name of that toy! Always wanted one!
    Looks like the tank used in the illustration is an FT-17; its track system was very rigid… the records would be destroyed by the jarring ride that tank had to offer!

  5. Oliver says: March 30, 20084:25 pm

    Nice idea… in theory… Given the brittle nature of records then, I guess they’d last about three seconds. Of course, the big temptation would be to fill the driver with old 78rpm Spike Jones records, and see what happened…

  6. Absolute says: April 8, 20085:19 am

    Despite years of progress in AI, we still haven’t got something that could navigate around a battle field unless you pre-programmed the route first. Look at the Mars rovers, yes they can pick their way over a few rocks but they are sooooo slow. The DARPA challenge is getting there but the systems still need a lot of testing and re-finement.

  7. pureweevil says: March 31, 20098:04 pm

    ‘damn it! the enemy soldiers have moved 3 feet to the left again. it’s almost as if they can predict our every move.’

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