Verbot Goes To The Dark Side

What happens to old, neglected 1980s toy robots? According to the [Randi Rain], they turn to the dark side! Way back in the ’80s, Tommy had an entire line of robots — from keychain wind-up toys to rolling, talking machines almost 2 feet tall. Tucked into the middle of this line was Verbot. Verbot’s claim to fame is that it is a voice-controlled robot. More than that, it was speaker-dependent. Train the robot with commands like “go forward” and then watch as it responds to your every command.

As you might guess, the speech recognition wasn’t great by today’s standards. Recognition was handled by a Microcontroller — a Mitsubishi product that was possibly a mask programmed 8051 variant. Pretty novel for an 80s toy — in fact, there’s a patent for it.

Verbot Mechanical Interrogator in green
Verbot Mechanical Interrogator in green

The real magic in Verbot is in the mechanical design. Verbot could move forward, backward, turn, “talk”, lift, and lower its arms. It did all of that with just one electric motor. [Randi] explains this mechanical magic during her teardown. Verbot used a “Mechanical Interrogator”, which really is a column of planetary gears, cogs, and levers. The device looks like it belongs in a Curta mechanical calculator more than a plastic toy. The whole system works through a clever operation of switches, which inform the microcontroller when a mechanical function is selected. The micro then reverses the motor to perform the operation.

The particular Verbots [Randi] is working on in this video are definitely showing their age. Yellowing, cracked plastic, and other problems had turned them both into basket cases. Rather than go the retrobright route, [Randi] decision to make one evil robot from the two. A coat of black paint, some orange highlights later, she had one working robot that looked more like Darth Vader than a yellowed toy.

[Randi’s] background as a professional propmaker and magician has given her some excellent casting skills. She easily creates resin replacements Verbot’s translucent red eyes and buttons using a silicone mold of the old parts.

The end result of this project is a working, rolling dark side Verbot. This little ‘bot would make an excellent companion for any Dark Trooper!

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