“Impress your teacher! Impress your girlfriend!” bellowed the 1980s ad-man, announcing Tomy’s Omnibot (see the promo video later on). Well, I had one too late to impress my teacher, and my girlfriend at the time said it was stupid. I remember that I sold my Smith-Corona electronic typewriter in order to buy a ghetto blaster, but the local store had run out of them, and I bought an Omnibot instead! I honestly don’t know why. ‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Black Hole’ were still foremost in my mind, probably.
Omnibot was a white plastic ‘dustbin’ of a robot made by Tomy. The later Omnibot 2000 ditched the plastic bubble on its head in favour for a sort-of naff ‘Johnny-Five’ pastiche. Omnibot was finished in a range of colours, depending on where in the world you purchased yours. In the UK, it was finished in white plastic with a clear dome and white ‘hands’. Elsewhere, you could have had a smoked dome, red body, black hands – there was even one finished in gold plastic, looking not too unlike some chavvy Ford Escort you can find on almost any northern council estate.
Omnibot had its own remote control unit. This sent direction and function signals to an eye-pokingly long metal antennae sticking up from the rear of the unit. Of the Omnibots I’ve sent at markets and boot fairs, most have the antennae either bent or missing completely – and one even replaced with what looked disturbingly like coat hanger wire. The remote allowed the robot to move in all directions. You could also push a couple of buttons to remotely send preset sounds to the unit, and there was a tape start/stop button (more of this to come). On the side of the remote was an orange button which you pushed and held in, and then you could speak into a mic on the front of the remote and your voice emitted from the muffled mono speaker inside the robot, allowing you to sit in the comfort of your living room, send the robot mincing into the kitchen and then, from afar, issue instructions like “beer now!” or “where’s my tea?” A handy tray accessory was included which fitted into the robots’ hands/claws’ and this could hold a couple of cans of Tizer and some crisps. The arms weren’t controllable, so you had to bend and move them to how you wanted them. This was hugely disappointing to me as a 16-year old!
In its central control unit, Omnibot had a cassette tape recorder, that could not only play your new Nik Kershaw album, but was also able to record the robots’ movements, sounds and functions. Whack in a blank tape, press Play/Record and then send the robot off to do something – go into the kitchen, spin round a few times, make some noises, say something, and then return from whence it came. You then stopped the tape, rewound it, and played it back. The Omnibot would then recreate all the moves and functions you’d just recorded onto the tape. The control unit also had a large LCD clock with alarm, onboard speaker, full cassette controls, memory button and programme selector. The eyes had purple coloured lenses in front of them, and they would glow and flash to sounds made either from the presets or when you spoke into the mic on the remote unit, or indeed if you played music through the mono tape recorder.
So that it didn’t go astray slightly and bump into things, a large cardboard mat (called the ‘Home Base’) was included, so you could start and return it to the same position. You also got a blank cassette tape and spindle turner, rather large rechargeable battery, dinner tray and mains charger, as well as a printed manual. The battery fitted into a slot in the back of the unit.
The robot was moved along by four powered wheels on the underside, plus two non-powered fixed-direction wheels and a front-centre pivoted wheel to assist in varied directional movement. The powered wheels had grey rubber-gripped ‘tyres’ which soon got grubby and picked up all manner of crap from the floor (‘not for use on carpet or shag pile’ screamed the manual). The plastic casing of the robot wasn’t prone to scratching and marks thanks to a rubber ‘bumper’ on the perimeter of the base. You also needed two AA batteries to fit in the back on the unit to power the LCD clock. There was also a glass fuse in this compartment, which presumably blew at some stage. Mine never did, so I never replaced it. The PSU that came with Omnibot allowed you to recharge the giant grey battery that came with it. 12-16 hours for a full charge was common.
There were other Tomy robots available at the time, namely the Verbot, Dingbot and Chatbot, as well as the aforementioned Omnibot 2000.