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B9 robot, no 'bubble-headed booby,' wows Westport crowd

Published 12:13 pm, Thursday, August 2, 2012

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  • Mike Ogrinz listens to the replica of the B9 robot from the television show "Lost in Space" that he made as it speaks to an audience Wednesday at the Westport Public Library. Photo: Meg Barone / Westport News freelance
    Mike Ogrinz listens to the replica of the B9 robot from the television show "Lost in Space" that he made as it speaks to an audience Wednesday at the Westport Public Library. Photo: Meg Barone

 

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The intergalactic odyssey, "Lost in Space," a 1960s TV icon, featured the Robinson family, a man people loved to hate named Dr. Zachary Smith and a talking robot.

Smith often hurled derogatory names at the B9 robot: "You bubble-headed booby ... You ludicrous lump."

An audience at the Westport Public Library on Wednesday night would have told Smith what the robot often did: "That does not compute." The crowd of about 40 people turned out to see a life-size model of that "Lost in Space" robot, which was built by Mike Ogrinz of Easton, the author of "Mashup Patterns: Designs and Examples for the Modern Enterprise."

Ogrinz is a member of the B9 Robot Builders' Club, an online group of more than 400 members who build replicas of the Robinson's robot. The club provides building tips, links to suppliers, technical support and replica parts.

The original "Lost in Space" robot was created by Robert Kinoshita, the same man who designed Robby the Robot for the movie, "Forbidden Planet," Ogrinz said.

Ogrinz's replica robot was a major draw at the Westport Mini Maker Faire at Westport Library last April, according to Bill Derry, the library's assistant director for innovation and user experience. Wednesday's program marked Ogrinz's third appearance there with his home-made robot.

Children and adults, male and female, were riveted by Ogrinz's presentation, which provided information on how he made the robot and what materials he used. The robot features flashing lights and a mechanical voice supplied by Dick Tufeld, an actor who supplied the voice of the robot on the science-fiction series broadcast weekly by CBS in the mid- to late-1960s.

Ogrinz said some fellow club members motorize their robots, and the cost of building one can run between $3,000 and $20,000 "depending on how many parts you make yourself and how many you buy." Some features, like the collar, can be improvised with hard plastic stripes that are heated to a particular temperature to bend into the required shape. Other things, like the bubble head are too complex to make. "It needs a professional shop," he said.

"You can build it from scratch but some things you should buy," Orgrinz said.

The robot Ogrinz built is not motorized, but it does have moving parts. He used a lazy Susan to swivel the fiberglass torso.

Although the process is labor-intensive, and not everything works the first time, Ogrinz encouraged people to try to build their own robots. "No matter how bad you break something you should be able to fix it," he said, adding that the fear of breaking something should not deter them from making the attempt.

Several children were particularly mesmerized by Ogrinz's robot. They peered into the torso as Ogrinz dismantled the robot at the end of his presentation, and Martin Cabanillas, 8, of Fairfield, was nearly giddy with delight when Ogrinz invited his to step inside the torso to briefly become the robot.

"My best part was when he took it apart. It gave me a lot of questions in my mind about what he did and how he did it," said Martin, whose mom Lili Vasquez said the boy enjoys making things around the house.

"He builds robots, planes, trains, dinosaurs, out of Legos and anything he finds in the recycling," she said.

Amy Cabanillas, 11, Martin's sister, said she has already built a robot as part of a summer program at the Discovery Museum and Planetarium in Bridgeport. "We built a wire-controlled robot. We learned how they work and the use of them in the future," she said.

Amy said she watched one episode of "Lost in Space," but wasn't convinced she would appreciate Ogrinz's presentation, even with her own robot experience. "I didn't think I would like it (but) the minute he started talking I knew this was going to get interesting," she said.

And that went for the robot, too. Ogrinz had the robot say some key phrases from the TV show like "Negative" and "Warning." He also had it recite some well-known quotes made famous by other show-biz robots like, "I'm sorry, Dave. I can't do that," from "2001: A Space Odyssey," and R2D2 noises from "Star Wars."

Dawson Byrd, 10, of Westport said he came to the event because he wanted to see what it was like. "I thought it was creative," said Dawson, a technology buff.

Frank Cronson of Westport thought so too. Cronson, a science teacher at Learning Community Day School in Westport, called Ogrinz's robot "fascinating" and said robot technology can have real-life application and can push the bounds of creativity.

"When you try to recreate something that you've seen in science fiction you can sometimes see how it can be done in reality," Cronson said, pointing out that the Robinson's robot and one of their hand-held communication devices, which were unheard of in the 1960s, are now in wide use. Robots are employed in many fields and the TV Robinsons' communication devices resemble modern day cellphones.

A lot of today's technologies come from imitating nature or from what people imagine, Cronson said.