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Robotic Technology

Fulfilling their knightly duties

By Andy Barks

When the original "Knight Rider" series was at its peak in the mid-1980s, the car became nearly as big a star as the lead actor. KITT, the artificially intelligent automobile driven by David Hasselhoff's character Michael Knight and voiced by William Daniels, was a 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am with a penchant for wisecracks.

Fast-forward 20 years, and NBC's contemporary remake of 'Knight Rider' features an updated and upgraded car--a Ford Mustang Shelby, still called KITT--and a couple of Fanuc ArcMate 100i RJ2 robots, provided by robot integrator RobotWorx, Marion, Ohio, to serve as assistants in KITT's cave.

Seizing a rare opportunity
For RobotWorx, the partnership with NBC arose rather suddenly. A sales lead evolved from a conversation with a "Knight Rider" set decorator who was looking for "right-hand-man" robot models. NBC chose a pair of products from the Fanuc line, had them painted yellow and asked that RobotWorx ship them to the southern California studios just a month after the initial conversation.

"From the beginning, we were excited about the opportunity to have our reconditioned robots showcased on prime-time television," explains Amy McKinzie, RobotWorx publicist. "Furthermore, NBC's willingness to display the RobotWorx logo made the proposal even more appealing."

Although the Fanuc robots' on-screen role is small, there was still a minor adjustment period for members of the NBC crew unaccustomed to handling robots on a daily basis.

Controller fans, for example, are part of the package if you want to have robots on set, but they create a whirring sound while in operation, which isn't ideal for a studio set. Technicians got resourceful and used excess cabling to move the cabinets farther away, but guidance from the RobotWorx people was still necessary with the short time frame.

"We provided NBC's technician with a crash course in robot programming," says McKinzie. "After one day of hands-on training at our facility, he was prepared to program on the 'Knight Rider' set. Since then, robot technicians have provided additional support over the phone."

Stars in the making
Tested, cleaned, painted and generally primped for their TV debut, the robots broke onto the scene in the first episode when they were seen scanning KITT for damages.

McKinzie doesn't overestimate the RobotWorx products' relevance to the show's plot but acknowledges that their presence has been beneficial. The company had been in the bright lights briefly--appearing in an episode of The History Channel's "Modern Marvels"--but nothing compared with the exposure that stems from a network series.

"'Knight Rider' has definitely generated more interest in our company," says McKinzie. "RobotWorx has appreciated the extra publicity and increased name recognition. Our company is passionate about robot education, and 'Knight Rider' gives viewers a chance to see industrial robots."

Fanuc products have always sold well according to McKinzie, and most buyers will find that the robots serve a need whether they're budding Hollywood stars or not. And if the show's second go-round has even half the longevity of its predecessor, the RobotWorx name might be as recognizable as that of "The Hoff." FFJ

Sources

  • RobotWorx
    Marion, Ohio
    phone: 740/383-8383
    fax: 740/383-3939
    www.robots.com
    e-mail: sales@robots.com

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