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The Truth About Bender’s Brain

David X. Cohen, executive producer and head writer of “Futurama,” reveals how MOS Technology’s 6502 processor ended up in the robot’s head

4 min read
“Futurama” tm and © 2009 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.
“Futurama” tm and © 2009 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

This is part of IEEE Spectrum’s Special Report: 25 Microchips That Shook the World.

On 14 November 1999, an episode of “Futurama,” the animated sci-fi comedy series conceived by “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening, jolted computer geeks with a display of technological acumen absolutely unprecedented in prime-time entertainment. In the episode, “Fry and the Slurm Factory,” a character named Professor Farnsworth points his F-ray at the head of the show’s famously ill-tempered robot, Bender. It reveals a little rectangle, apparently a chip, labeled “6502.”

The 6502 was a beloved—at least by geeks—8-bit microprocessor created by MOS Technology in 1975. It was the chip that the scruffy-bearded, sandal-wearing Steve Wozniak used to build the Apple II in 1977—“The Machine That Changed Everything,” as PC World once put it. It was also used in the Commodore PET, the BBC Micro, and a host of other systems that fomented the personal computer revolution.

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polaroid sx-70 camera, silver with brown leather, open on white surface
Thomas Backa

In one corner stood the defending champion, Texas Instruments. In the other stood the challenger, Fairchild Semiconductor. The referee, judge, promoter, and only spectator was Polaroid. In contention was the contract for the electronics of Polaroid’s secret project—a pioneering product introduced in 1972 as the SX-70, a camera eventually purchased by millions of people.

As the embodiment of truly automated instant photography, the SX-70 fulfilled a long-held dream of Edwin Land, founder of Polaroid Corp., Cambridge, Mass. Vital to this “point and shoot” capability was a new film—one that would develop while exposed to light and so eliminate the tear-away covers of previous Polaroid films. Also vital were sophisticated electronics to control all single lens reflex (SLR) camera functions, including flashbulb selection, exposure control, mirror positioning, start of print development, and ejection of print. These circuits were divided into three modules, one each for motor, exposure and logic, and flash control. At the final count, some 400 transistors were used.

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