An entire generation of kids was brainwashed by the creative folks at Hanna-Barbera into thinking that the future would consist of treadmill sidewalks, levitating high schools in the clouds, and family-sized flying saucers for the commute. It’s hard to watch The Jetsons today and not think, “Boy, they really thought about resources differently in the 1960s.” (Actually, this radio program from the Canadian Broadcast Company argues that The Jetsons got more right than you’d suspect…. can you say Roomba?)
One of the prime objects of techno-fetishization was the Jetsons’ maid, called Rosie, who (per Wikipedia) was an outdated model but so beloved by the family that they would never think to replace her. I also didn’t realize until researching it today that most of the Jetsons episodes were made in the 1980s—in fact, Rosie appeared in only two episodes in the original 1962-1963 run and was a more frequent premise in the 1980s episodes.
Anyway, we think of that kind of robot as existing purely in the future, but a man named Dennis Weston who lived in Leeds, England, created a reasonable—and working—facsimile of Rosie almost at the same time as those original Jetsons episodes. As early as 1966, Weston created “Tinker,” a remote-controlled robot that could wash the car, weed the garden, take the baby for a stroll down the road, and go shopping. The catch was that Tinker couldn’t travel more than 200 yards of David’s garage, where he controlled Tinker through a control panel. Due to lack of space at David’s home the robot was eventually passed on to a family friend in 1974. Tinker was activated by 430 motors, and a TV camera in the robot’s head transmitted an image to the operator.
Weston died in 1995 at the age of 71. The Cybernetic Zoo blog received a message from Weston’s son Martin in 2012, according to which “Tinker was given to his Dad’s friend, Brian, in 1974 as Dennis no longer had the space available to keep it. Brian owned a shop called Leeds Radio during the 60s and 70s; he sold army surplus radio equipment. Most of the gear that went through Brian’s shop was eventually stripped down and sold off as spare parts. Unfortunately, the same thing probably happened to Tinker. ... Percy was just another one of Martin’s Dad’s 10,000 unfinished projects. It never got completed and the hand just accumulated dust under a pile of junk in Dennis’ cellar/workshop. It probably ended up being melted down for scrap.”
One of the images below states that Tinker “can be programmed to perform ‘any reasonable task.’” Given the apparent importance of user control during those tasks, it’s a little unclear what “programmed” could really mean here…...
Here’s Weston working on his follow-up to Tinker, named Percy:
Here’s an early Jetsons sampler from 1963: