Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Acme Settler Servant

The economy version and long discontinued counterpart to the better known M.U.L.E., Acme’s Settler Servant (or the A.S.S. for short) was a more primitive robot with a smaller power cell and carrying capacity. It was a favorite among early terra-formers and planet pioneers for its cost-effectiveness, hardiness, and near total lack of maintenance requirements.

There are five movement modes which can be manually set by a simple dial on the side of the robot. All models originally came equipped with remote control and programming devices but unlike the A.S.S.es themselves these were fragile - discovering them in a functioning condition on abandoned settlement planets is even less likely than encountering a still functional A.S.S. The manual movement modes are:

Down: The unit will lower itself until its main body is six inches above the ground.
Stay: The unit’s legs lock and it can only be moved by being picked up or pushed over.
Neutral: The unit will move if pushed or pulled, up to its maximum speed.
Walk: The unit will move in a straight line at walking speed.
Run: The unit will move in a straight line at running speed.

There is also an easily accessed and simple flip panel with a palm sized red button marked “STOP!” at the rear of the robot. This functions as a kill switch (it reverts to neutral mode when depressed.)

The lack of quick turning ability in the unit’s design was intentional and intended as an incentive to upgrade. Because of the unreliable (or often missing) remote controls, the robot was generally harnessed at the front, and by pulling strongly to the left or the right its forward direction could be changed. Similarly, the robot’s orientation and stabilization software was crippled - loads needed to be placed no higher than a foot or so above the main body or the A.S.S. could not move properly. A number of hooks were regularly spaced along the length of it where storage containers or tools were intended to be attached for carrying.

The small but highly efficient B-1 power cell found in the A.S.S.’s abdomen was intended to be quickly recharged or swapped out at spaceports and even with heavy use a charge might last years. The A.S.S. lacks a true power switch, and when not in motion it quickly enters an energy efficient sleep mode. A much valued innovation at the time was its implementation of nano-solar cell technology embedded throughout its metal skin. Incredible as it may seem, battered but still functioning A.S.S.es have been discovered on planets that were abandoned centuries ago by their original settlers, provoking more than one historian of robotics to say of the A.S.S. “They just don’t make them like they used to!”

It should be noted that this is also a good thing: More than once settlers were accidentally dragged for miles and to their deaths, spurring some of the early and strict regulations now in place for mechanical beasts of burden. In later models the manual control dial must be pushed in and turned simultaneously to change a setting in order to lessen the chance of accidentally triggering a mode change. The A.S.S. fell in popularity when other manufacturers developed more sophisticated models with proper voice recognition and more reliable remote controls.
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Acme Settler Servant (Robot): AC 4[16], HP (up to 100), movement and carrying/pulling ability as warhorses x 2 (see additional carrying restrictions above)
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Students of robotics history may find of interest the archival footage (below) of what’s thought to be an early prototype of the A.S.S.

5 comments:

Higgipedia said...

DUDE.

M.U.L.E. was TOTALLY one of my favorite Commodore 64 games.

Now I want to play it.

Bastard.

ze bulette said...

Go here: www.planetmule.com (Win/Mac/Linux)
There's also the Atari version for Windows:
www.atarimule.com/

Telecanter said...

A.S.S., love it. When you post stuff like this I wish I could play some Traveller. I've seen that video, and think the way that robomule moves is kind of creepy looking.

Also, let me just say publicly, every time I visit I look down and to the left and say "Aaaaaah, I still have a car," then I run to the window to check like a paranoid, hahaha :)

Risus Monkey said...

I love Big Dog!

Chris Lowrance said...

I love the idea of an ancient A.S.S. dragging a pressure-suit full of bones across a low-atmosphere desert for centuries.

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