Mark’s B9 Robot Resources

 My Trip Through The Robot


Craig's robot & meWhen the B9 Builders Club met at FrightVision in April 2004, I had the opportunity to climb inside and operate Craig 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.

Inside the torsoInside the torsoI 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 robot.

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.

Installing the torsoInstalling the torsoNext, 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 the neon.

Installing the collarInstalling the collarThen 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.

Inside the torsoWhat’s 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.

I am the robotI am the robotI 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 room.

The robot vacuumsWho turned out the lights?Craig 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.)

Warning, Warning!Phil Hamilton's videoI 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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