Yesterday I offered extra credit if a reader could name the first floor sweeping robot in a film in the Make It So survery. Pixel I/O smartly noted that The Jetsons (debut 1962) had one—its autovac. (Thanks to Matt Houghton of TechVert.com for posting the image.)
This is a great catch, but Pixel I/O rightly acknowledged that The Jetsons was not a film, so off by a technicality. Shouts out anyway, as this example was a full three or four years before the film I did have in mind, which was the only-nominally sci-fi comedy The Glass Bottom Boat (1966). Still, I happened to come across it in research and captured it.
In the film, the inventor Rod (Bruce Templeton) tries to impress Jennifer (Doris Day) with this floor-cleaning robot. It only manages to pop out of its door to arc towards a dropped banana peel and through reversed footage, arc right back into its home under the kitchen island.
What’s interesting about these two examples are their similarity. They’re each the size of a small dog. Each has an antenna and two eyes. The antennae speak of the radio-controlled paradigm of the era. Audiences needed to know how they are being controlled, and this shortcut answered the question at a glance. The eyes hint at a need for anthropomorphism, or possibly zoomorphism, for users to understand the thing’s capabilities. We know it can see us and the things around it because of this simple visual affordance.
Much of the control of Morbius’ highly technological house is given to wave-over switches. These devices sit on the tops of tables, and illuminate briefly when they detect a hand moving above them. Each is keyed to a different job.
Alta must beam Robbie several times before he arrives.
One of these devices summons Robbie. After waving her hand several times over it, Alta expresses her frustration when Robbie finally arrives. “Where have you been?” she asks, “I’ve beamed and beamed.” It hints at the need for some feedback from Robbie that he has heard the summons and is coming.
With a wave of his hand Morbius activates the security shutters around his house.
Another hand wave device closes or opens the protective metal shutters that seal Morbius’ house.
To see the outdoors better, Morbius waves off the indoor lights.
Another one allows him to turn off interior lights, which he uses in the film to see what is approaching so noisily.
One interesting fact of these interfaces is that they lack any affordance for their cause and effect. How is a new user meant to know to wave? How would she know what would happen as a result? Though this is generally inadvisable, we can imagine that Morbius only ever planned for he and Alta to use it.