Defunct, aging robot Odex-1 awaits fate in CSUF mechanical engineering lab

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ODEX 1, the six-legged robot, stands among other pieces and parts in CSUF's mechanical engineering lab

Covered with dust and gadgets, Cal State Fullerton’s 35-year-old robot, ODEX 1, needs repair.

ODEX 1, a functionoid walking robot, was displayed in 1983 after 15 months of development under Stephen J. Bartholet, senior staff engineer at Odetics Inc. The six-legged mechanism weighing 370 pounds and can to lift 450 pounds per leg.

The functionoid was showcased at the National Museum of American History in 1986, and then loaned to Boston’s Museum of Science the following year.

ODEX 1 was built to “demonstrate that you could coordinate movement and move objects,” said technician Jon Woodland. “It’s one of the first functional robots from the ‘80s.”

Remote-controlled, ODEX 1 walks like an insect using a method called the alternating tripod. It can manipulate its size and stature with its legs depending on the situation, varying in height between 36 to 78 inches, and in width 21 to 105 inches.

“ODEX hasn’t left the room since the university acquired it,” Woodland said. “We have so many new people in management, and at this college, that there’s very few people that even know it’s here.”

The robot had state-of-the-art features for its time including the ability to climb stairs.

“We got (ODEX 1) because we were the closest school next to (Odetics Inc.). We asked them for a lot of stuff from their production lines to help our labs,” Woodland said.

The hope for ODEX was that it would be used in situations where humans could be harmed, like nuclear spills; the U.S. Army had plans to use it in battle according to the Los Angeles Times.

“I think it’s important (to preserve ODEX 1) because the campus has a history and that history connects it to the local community … It’s important that there’s some memory of the interest in robotics in the past,” said Kevin Lambert, CSUF associate liberal studies professor who has an emphasis on the history and philosophy of science.

Lambert said robotics and the use of robots are especially common in the modern world.

“We’re surrounded by these objects all the time and we take them for granted,” Lambert said.

Repairing ODEX could be a way for the university to gain some attention, Woodland said.

“I think the school would benefit from seeing a tangible item that the students have worked on,” he said. “To see something actually work is always fun.”

The robot may also spark an interest in CSUF’s history of science and technology, Lambert said. While ODEX 1 might not be the most appealing sight to some, for engineers it could be an eye-opening experience.

He said fixing this robot would allow engineering students a chance to learn the methods used to build robots in the past, which could help modern robotics research.

However, due to space, CSUF cannot hold onto this robot forever, Woodland said. He suggested there should be a place on campus where ODEX and other historical items can be stored.

“My biggest fear is that it will be destroyed, and with it, a significant part of the history of the campus,” Lambert said. “It would be fun to see the robot walking around the campus and I think it would be a good way of promoting the university, as well as the engineering department.”

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