the B9 Builders Club met at FrightVision
in April 2004, I had the opportunity to climb inside and operate
Reinbrecht’s museum-quality robot, which he has built
as a costume, just like the original. When he mentioned to me on
the evening before the show that he might have someone get into
his robot to entertain everyone, I quickly piped up with “I’m
your man.” As luck would have it, Craig agreed, and I got
my chance the next afternoon. Because not many people will have
the opportunity to to get inside a B9 and be a Bob May impersonator,
I thought I'd share the experience with you here.
As you can see by the photo here, at 5' 9"
I'm almost too tall to fit inside the robot. Craig can't even fit
inside, poor guy. Bob May is quite a bit shorter than I am, so he
had a much easier time playing the role.
decided to take off my shoes to give me an extra inch of space inside
the robot. As it turned out, I needed it. In the photo at left,
Craig gives me a few tips on how to operate the claws and arms once
the robot is assembled around me. By standing on a chair, I was
able to lift myself and get my feet inside the lower half of the
Craig’s B9 has rubber legs with a metal
frame to support them (click here for a photo).
It was pretty much a matter of stepping down into the treads, which
are metal and open on the bottom. My feet fit comfortably in the
two tread boxes, and my right foot easily cleared the soil sampler
mechanism. So far, so good. My belt
was just above the waist plate, which told me I should fit inside
OK. Craig then reached inside the legs and released a latch that
keeps the waist from tipping front to back. He had asked if I wanted
to keep it locked, but I told him I was up for the full experience.
Craig and Mike Joyce lifted the robot’s torso over my head
and lowered it onto the waist, no easy task, as the torso is fairly
heavy. Having to raise it six feet in the air isn’t necessary
when the robot is assembled without a person inside.
I raised my arms and pulled my shoulders in
to clear the torso’s lower opening, and I had no trouble fitting
inside (which was good for the guys holding the torso up in the
air). I had been prepared for a tight squeeze because the one time
I tried on my own robot’s torso, it was very snug. Note that
in the photos, a protective cover, autographed by Bob May, covers
it was time to install the final assembly, the collar, radar
and bubble. Mike reached inside the torso and found the cord which
plugs into its mate on the collar. Craig’s robot is authentic
in every way, so the collar has a black fabric shroud that hangs
nicely inside the collar to keep outsiders from seeing the operator
inside. The radar has a headpiece that allows anyone inside to rotate
the radar as well as lift the bubble (click
here for a closer look). Again, Craig asked if I wanted him
to unlock the bubble lifter, but at this point I wasn’t about
to say no to anything, so he did. With the collar in place, Craig
flipped the power switch, and it was show time.
it like inside the robot? Well, in a word, dark. Lots of
people asked me if it was crowded and cramped inside the robot’s
torso, but it was not at all. Craig has his B9 well designed, and
although it’s hard to take pictures that do it justice, the
photo at left gives some idea of the setup. (Note: the robot’s
arms are not installed in this photo. The small hole on the left
side is where the microphone slips in.) The center speaker sits
just behind the neon and provides the robot’s voice. Also
visible are the chest lights and programming bay, as well as additional
electronics mounted to the right. The torso is much larger in diameter
than most people, so there’s lots of extra room even with
the wires, amplifiers and speakers mounted all around. It’s
a good thing I took a look around before the collar was installed,
because after that I couldn't see much at all.
had imagined that it would be easy to rotate the robot’s torso,
flail the arms, and pose for pictures with people. In
reality, it was a lot of work. Even though I had always admired
Bob May’s work as the robot, I have new appreciation for what
he did to bring the robot character to life.
For starters, the fabric inside the collar made
it almost impossible to see all the people crowded around to see
my big performance. Also, the torso is front-heavy, so I had to
constantly hold up its weight with my arms. I was afraid of doing
any damage to Craig’s incredible creation, so I was careful
not to be rough with the costume or knock the claws or wrists against
each other or the torso. It was, however, quite easy to rotate the
radar back and forth by turning my head, raise and lower the bubble
by bending my knees, and hear the other people in the room as they
urged me to wave my arms, turn 360 degrees, and walk around the
has even duplicated the switch on the left claw grip to flash the
neon. I tried to use this to flash the neon and talk at the same
time, but I was no good at it. My death grip on the claws kept the
neon lit constantly.
At one point Craig pulled the power pack out,
and I dutifully groaned, slumped forward, and let the arms go limp.
My fears of toppling over onto the floor were assuaged when the
limiters in the legs stopped me at just the right angle.
We took some fun photos.
For those people who wonder if the B9 will do housework, the proof
now exists that he vacuums. (In truth, it was hard to grip the handle
on the vacuum, and there was no way I could push it back and forth.
How Bob May shoveled dirt in one Lost in
Space episode is beyond me.)
was able to hear the recorded voice track clearly (you can imagine!)
so I tried to match the movements and mannerisms to what the robot
was saying. But I was also consciously trying not to clown around
and make a mockery of the character. In hindsight, I think this
was the right choice, although I needed to exaggerate my movements
inside that cumbersome costume.
Before I knew it, the guys were taking off the
collar and torso and helping me out of the robot. What a great,
once-in-a-lifetime experience. My big regret was that I
was the only one who hadn’t seen it! Luckily, many
people took photos, and Phil
Hamilton shot some great video, which he later incorporated
into a terrific souvenir DVD. (If you contact him, I’m sure
he can make a copy for you.)
Overall, I’m thrilled to have had the
chance to operate the robot and entertain everyone. Thank you, Craig,
for putting me inside. P.S. I’m still available!
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