Elektro the Moto-Man Had the Biggest Brain at the 1939 World’s Fair

This voice-controlled robot could walk, talk, and smoke, and it captivated crowds

6 min read
Photo of Elektro robot.
Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be very glad to tell my story. I am a smart fellow as I have a very fine brain of 48 electrical relays.” This is how Elektro the robot introduced itself to crowds at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Standing 2.1 meters tall and weighing 118 kilograms, Elektro performed 26 different tricks, including walking, talking, counting, and singing. It had a vocabulary of approximately 700 words, although its responses were all prerecorded and played back from 33⅓-rpm records. One of Elektro’s pet lines was, “My brain is bigger than yours.” At 25 kg, it certainly was.

Elektro was one of a family of robots that evolved out of Westinghouse’s switchgear business. By the early 1920s, the company had succeeded in developing fully automatic electrical substations, and its engineers were looking for ways to improve them. One operator requested a way to call the substation system remotely and initiate a change in the normal operating routine. Thus was born Televox, a set of control units that started Westinghouse down the path to developing robots.

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Who Really Invented the Thumb Drive?

Thumb drive, USB drive, memory stick: Whatever you call it, it’s the brainchild of an unsung Singapore inventor

11 min read
Three monolithic thumb drives stand in a white landscape with blue sky and clouds behind them.
Maurizio Di Iorio
Blue

In 2000, at a trade fair in Germany, an obscure Singapore company called Trek 2000 unveiled a solid-state memory chip encased in plastic and attached to a Universal Serial Bus (USB) connector. The gadget, roughly the size of a pack of chewing gum, held 8 megabytes of data and required no external power source, drawing power directly from a computer when connected. It was called the ThumbDrive.

That device, now known by a variety of names—including memory stick, USB stick, flash drive, as well as thumb drive—changed the way computer files are stored and transferred. Today it is familiar worldwide.

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