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The Robots Are Coming! (But Where Did All The Robots Of Yesteryear Go?)
Robots have been back in the news for several years, with many weighty discourses about the future of the economy after the robots have taken over. This always reminds me that back around 1984, the Proctor & Gamble headquarters in Cincinnati had robots delivering the mail. I practically had a heart attack the first time I saw one, when the elevator opened and the robot mail cart inside beeped at me to get out of the way, robot coming through!
But the existence of 1980s robot mail carts seems to have been almost forgotten, and remarkably difficult to prove they'd ever really even existed. I finally found online confirmation that I wasn't just hallucinating. The Nobel prize winner in literature, travel writer V.S. Naipaul, wrote in his 1989 nonfiction book A Turn in the South about visiting the Nissan factory in Smyrna, TN:
In an open office area we saw a robot mail cart. It ran on a chemical strip laid into the gray carpet. The mail cart made the rounds of offices and halted at certain spots, not moving on again until someone pressed a strip at the top. If a person got in its way the cart beeped.
You can see the problem: the robot cart didn't have hands to lay the mail in the secretary's inbox, so if nobody was there to take the mail off its nonhands, it would eventually have to roll onward. Better to develop email.