During the early 2000’s, when the original Robot Wars TV series was still airing, alongside it’s spin off show Techno Games; a new magazine was launched called Real Robots! Real Robots was launched in may 2001 by Eaglemoss Publications; and it was a Partwork magazine. It was the first time I had ever seen a magazine like that, a type of magazine which is very common these days. Basically, Partwork Magazines are a series of magazines, with each one providing you with part of a puzzle, and as the series continues, you will get more and more pieces, and together will eventually create something. Magazines of this kind usually involve the creation of a scale model of a ship or car, or something like that. Well, Real Robots provided you issue by issue, the parts to make your own functioning robot.
I can sort of still remember the original advert from the TV, it featured the voice of Robot Wars (at the time); Craig Charles, who narrated the advert, and told you what you would build, and what functions the robot would eventually be able to do. The magazine was made in partnership with the Cybernetics team at the University of Reading under the tutelage of Professor Kevin Warwick. Originally the robot was called a Dwarf, as it was part of a group of seven robots. Eventually, the Dwarf robots would go from the prototype stage, and become the robot of the magazine; which was named Cybot.
The robot started off relatively simple, with the first issue containing the chassis. The robot would be able to move around by the time issue 4 was added to the machine. As more and more issues went by, the things Cybot could do increased, from following and avoiding light, to following a line on the floor. Later functions included the use of a remote control to control Cybot, a headset feature, and even the ability to program Cybot from your PC. You could even set Cybot up to play football, and even customize it’s body.
From the outset it looked all rather fun and promising. My experience though with it, was rather more tricky. At first, it was like the above; my Mam got me a subscription to the magazine, and as the issues piled up, I received a binder for the issues, and some VHS tapes revealing the history and information about the project leading up to the Magazine, and some hints at future abilities. I also received the Real Robots toolkit (which I think I still have somewhere), and I did enjoy some of the cool little parts of the magazine, from pieces about Robots in real life, to stars of movies, and competitors in Robot Wars.
I used the magazine as a hobby/project I could do with my Dad. A friend came round at the school holidays to help me put the first three issue parts together, and by the fourth issue, Cybot was moving under it’s own power. I also learned some neat pieces of information, including why Cybot has only three wheels instead of four. But then, things began to turn!
The front body panels, where several of the sensors were fitted, was a struggle to fit in, even for my parents, and some of the screws were lost. So we sent away to order some more, which took time to arrive. But we did get to put his face in position. From that point on things were going swimmingly, and eventually Cybot was finished in his first phase. My favourite function was Cybot’s ability to walk the line, which was pretty cool.
Then, a time wet past where you could fit on another body, which I didn’t really fancy, so I left it. Then there was the time when you made a remote control for Cybot. Which went ok, but then a delicate piece of equipment which could not be touched by human hand, got infected, so we had to get that bit sorted with a piece of cloth from a computer shop. Then it worked, albeit very briefly. We built the docking station (which I still have), and the headset; but then Cybot just stopped working. My Mam suggested that it must be something to do with the internals, but as we didn’t know what, Cybot just gathered dust.
Then the issues, and components just piled up, with nothing we could do with them. I even spoke to a local man who ran a remote control hobby shop, but he told me the issue was something only the magazine could fix. It was all rather sad and disappointing!
Eventually, Real Robots started providing parts to build a second robot called Tom. I was excited by this possibility, because maybe then I would be able to build a new working robot to play with. But, the first issue of parts never arrived. So I sent off for those parts to arrive, plus other bits I needed. But they never arrived. So, that’s where Real Robots ended for me; with a pile of parts I could not put together, or attach to a robot that just gave up the ghost. I think the magazine ended soon after anyway.
I still have a fondness for Robots, especially Combat Robots (recently I have been watching the second season of Battlebots on Netflix).The somewhat poor experience hasn’t deterred me from wanting to give it another go: either to build something I can run around the house, or play football with friends, or perhaps even build something to enter into Robot Combat (which is till a dream of mine). It’s really only how the thing turned out in the end which is the sour note in this story. I still have Cybot and his docking station, because even though it has not worked since perhaps 2003, it still feels like some kind of achievement, being able to make something like that!