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Electronic Magic at the World's Fair
July 1965 Popular Electronics

July 1965 Popular Electronics

July 1965 Popular Electronics Cover - RF CafeTable of Contents

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Popular Electronics, published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.

Boston Dynamics' "Atlas" humanoid 

Elon Musk on Boston Dynamics' "Atlas" hunamoid - RF Cafe

Maybe it's just because black and white photos don't offer the visual stimulus of vivid color that we're used to seeing nowadays, but these images used to evoke a sense of awe and wonder at displays featured at the 1964 New York World's Fair don't quite hit the mark. Disney played a large role in the building of the displays. Audiovisual and robotic technology were the main themes of the event, and no doubt they were impressive at the time, although the recently posted video of Boston Dynamics' "Atlas" robot / humanoid running through a field puts General Electric's Progressland's "Grandpa" to shame. Each will give you a different kind of nightmare. Note Elon Musk's comment on "Atlas."

"The American Adventure" at Epcot Center, 1983 - RF Cafe

"The American Adventure" at Epcot Center 

(Kirt Blattenberger photo)

Melanie and I went to Disney World / Epcot Center on our honeymoon in May of 1983 (it first opened in Fall of 1982), and saw what was billed as first walking, talking humanoids where Mark Twain 1964 New York World's Fair (wikipedia) - RF Cafe(Samuel Clemens) and contemporaries paced onstage and recounted his experiences ("The American Adventure"). Men in Black (MIB) fans will recall the alien shoot-down scene at the abandoned 1964 New York World's Fair site.

Here is an interesting, though sad, series of during and after shots of the 1964 New York World's Fair, on the Disney Imagineering website.

Electronic Magic at the World's Fair

By Art Zuckerman

Electronic Magic at the World's Fair, July 1965 Popular Electronics - RF Cafe

Bell System exhib tape deck which provides sound for the displays - RF Cafe

Behind the scenes at the Bell System exhibit is the tape deck which provides sound for the displays. The 30 tapes give visitors stories ranging from how the laser works to a history of communications.

Tape decks control mechanical figures at the IBM Pavilion - RF Cafe

Tape decks control mechanical figures at the IBM Pavilion. Pneumatically-operated puppets, like the one shown below, act out playlets on computer logic complete with sound effects, music, and dialogue.

Created by Walt Disney for GE's Progressland - RF Cafe

Created by Walt Disney for GE's Progressland, "Grandpa" is but one of the audioanimatronic figures at the fair. The Disney cast performs over 450 integrated motions, and talks like real people.

full animation at the Ford Rotunda - RF Cafe

Sights unseen for millions of years on earth are recreated in full animation at the Ford Rotunda. Here, "living" creatures with nerves and muscles of pneumatic and hydraulic components romp about.

Public and emergency services, such as locating a "lost" parent - RF Cafe

Public and emergency services, such as locating a "lost" parent, are important to the well-being of fair-goers. At the fair these services are linked together in an ingenious communications network.

Tape systems and other electronic devices run everything from puppet shows to safety programs

The vast medley of imaginative pavilions, exhibits, and amusements at the New York World's Fair should enchant even the most indifferent of fair-goers. For here you have man at his technological best, showing his promise of things to come. And this promise, to a large extent, hinges on many recent developments and applications of electronics.

For instance, complex stereophonic tape and electromechanical systems are used at many pavilions to create mood-setting atmospheres. At other pavilions, tapes run life-like mechanical figures that not only talk but mimic the most subtle of human expressions and movements. Other facets of electronics, such as computers, color television, and the like, are featured attractions at many pavilions.

Even more important, electronics supplies the nervous system that links the fair's medical, fire, and police units, knitting them into an efficient, quick-acting group. It also finds use in administrative and public service departments.

Rides Into The Future. One of the more exciting rides can be had at General Motor's Futurama, where your personal magic carpet awaits to whisk you into the future. Here visitors sit in individual contour seats with built-in stereophonic speakers. These seats move along a track that alternately dips and climbs through the two floors of the exhibition to the accompaniment of narration and music that sets the scene for the futuristic tour.

The Futurama's sound system uses what looks like an offbeat tape recorder. But instead of tape, its reels are loaded with 16-mm. film. The audio is recorded on four parallel optical tracks. Divided into stereo pairs, these optical tracks have identical program material but run in opposite directions to save rewinding. During one ride circuit, the sound film runs left to right; on the next go-around, it reverses.

Cueing bars positioned along the track trip switches on the car to start the tape playing. Microswitches built into the deck stop and reverse the mechanism upon completion of the ride. These switches are tripped by little buttons set into each end of the sound film.

An almost identical system, except for the stereo feature, tells riders of advances made in communications as they take an armchair ride on the upper floor of the Bell Telephone Pavilion. Movies and stage sets tell the story with a three-dimensional effect, accompanied by music and a talk.

Over at the United States Pavilion a different type of ride weaves its own stereo-visual magic. Here visitors are wafted around the huge pavilion in mobile grandstands to a scene-setting flow of stereo music and narrative. Adjustable speaker wings mounted on the seats are fed by a cartridge-type tape deck built into the rear of each car.

The three cartridges in each deck, two for program material and one for special sound effects, are keyed to projector clusters along the tracks. The tape operates at 7 1/2 ips. A clear "window" in the tape permits a photocell takeoff to stop the transport at the end of each segment. A tape is restarted when a switch under the car hits a movable cueing block along the track.

Tapes Run Shows. Supplying a sound track is only a small part of the job done by tape at the World's Fair. It is also used to run a good many shows, making it the biggest demonstration of automated entertainment this side of Disneyland.

For example, Bell Telephone's subterranean showrooms are packed with mechanical exhibits equipped with telephones where a visitor may get a story ranging from how the laser works to a history of communications. When a visitor picks up a phone, one of the 30 tape reels located in a back room starts rolling. One track of the tape supplies the recitation; the other is used in controlling display mechanisms. The display is tape-controlled like a slide projector, but instead of making a slide change, the tape signal rotates a camshaft which closes a series of switches. The tape recorders used are four-track machines modified to play in both directions. Identical material is recorded on each pair of tracks.

Another sophisticated use of tape is made at the IBM Pavilion where small mechanical figures act out playlets on computer logic with comment, dialogue, and music. And, as you have probably already guessed, sound and control for these pneumatically-operated puppets are provided by tape decks. One track of the tape carries the audio; one to three other tracks are used to regulate the air compressor and the many intricate valves found in the pneumatic system of each puppet. The tape is automatically re-wound at the end of each performance by means of a photocell takeoff.

"Audioanimatronics." This is the jaw-breaking name given to Walt Disney's fantastic creations that perform at various pavilions throughout the fair. Disney's designers and technicians have created life-size "living" figures with nerves and muscles of pneumatic and hydraulic tubes.

At the Pepsi-Cola-UNICEF Pavilion, visitors glide through canals serenaded by life-like animated children singing in many languages. Sights unseen for millions of years are recreated in full life-size animation as dinosaurs and cavemen fight for survival at the Ford Pavilion. At General Electric's Progressland, Disney creations capable of over 450 integrated movements act out the story of changes brought about by electrical appliances. But it is at the Illinois Pavilion that the awesome possibilities of Disney's creations are more fully realized. Here the visitor watches as a life-like President Lincoln slowly rises from his chair to deliver a speech. His expressions and movements seem quite human.

All these Disney creations draw their life from tape machines - instrumentation-type decks worthy of a Cape Kennedy blockhouse. They race 1" tape along at 30 i.p.s., producing both sound and control signals from 16 separate tracks. Each of these tracks is split into four channels by a system very much like the multiplexing technique of FM stereo broadcasting, producing two audio and two control channels. The frequency range of the audio is limited to 8 kc., leaving plenty of room for the control signals.

The animated children at the Pepsi-Cola-UNICEF Pavilion move in rather simple patterns; thus, they can be handled by simple on-off signals which control the opening and closing of solenoid valves. But for the more complex creations such as those at the General Electric and Illinois Pavilions, the intensity as well as the sequence of motion must be regulated. Here, d.c. voltages are used, since they can minutely control the degree of opening in servo valves, thus regulating the volume of air in the pneumatic circuits.

Emergency Communications. Like the small city that it is, the Flushing Meadow extravaganza has its own police, fire, and medical departments. But unlike those in most American cities, these services are linked together in an ingenious communications network.

Dotting the fairgrounds are public, push-button emergency telephones. The moment you lift off the handset, a series of numbers lights up on an emergency switchboard. These numbers automatically tell a dispatcher the location of your emergency phone, and the nearest fire, medical, or police team. All you do to set the needed team in action is tell the dispatcher what's wrong. His message is simultaneously carried to every mobile unit and emergency service officer. If needed, the entire emergency force can be marshaled for instant duty.

Officers in charge of special foot details carry walkie-talkies. If a fair official must be reached away from his desk, the dispatcher merely throws a switch to activate a tiny paging receiver carried in the man's pocket.

As part of this emergency service, the fair has an Atomedic Hospital ready for all emergencies. In addition to being constantly watched by closed-circuit television, patients are "plugged" into a computer so that any significant change in heartbeat, respiration, or temperature automatically signals the nurse on duty. Part of the medical equipment on hand is the "Pacemaker," an electronic cardiac stimulator and regulator which has already saved several lives.



Posted May 17, 2018

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