Robby the Robot has become one of the most popular robot icons in the history of movies and media. It was designed by Robert Kinoshita.
Robby has become a popular subject of collector tin toy and plastic robot reproductions and model kits.
Oringally built in mid-1955 by the MGM prop department, at a reported cost of $125,000.00 from blueprint plans provided by industrial designer, Japanese-American engineer Robert Kinoshita, to 'star' in the epic science fiction classic Forbidden Planet (1956) and its B-movie followup The Invisible Boy (1957) a year later.
Lonergan and Arnold “Buddy” Gillespie first directed their attention to the design of Robby the Robot because if was the most complex of the mechanical props required by the script, to be used extensively throughout the picture in scenes with the main actors. If Robby was not ready and working smoothly by the start of principal photography, the result would be costly production delays.
In spite of his disproportioned arms and legs, he only very roughly suggests the human shape. His hands are tools, and various spare parts (one of these actually a metal hand) are neatly clipped to his body, back and front. He is able to rotate the upper part of his dome, and so seems to ‘face’ the person addressing him. A small radar antenna comes up out of Robby’s dome, and slowly rotates.” From this description, “Buddy “ Gillespie came up with the design that everyone liked, according to Arthur Lonergan, after he and Lonergan had sketched and discarded numerous ideas. Gillespie based his design on the shape of the old-fashioned pot-bellied stove, “like the ones they used to have in grocery stores. Up to that time,” Gillespie told researcher Paul Mandell, “robots in science fiction films looked like men in starched aluminum suits.” Lonergan turned over Gillespie’s rough design sketches to production illustrator Mentor Huebner, who refined the aesthetic look of the robot (Huebner claims that Robby was his design. “I designed about fifteen of them, and they finally lit on one that was used,” he said.
With his miniature scale model of Robby approved, Kinoshita began drafting the plans from which the robot would be constructed. He completed a 1½ scale plan and elevation drawing of Robby on January 6, 1955, and with the help of other draftsmen in the department spent the next eight weeks on the design and drawing of full scale plans for the construction and assembly of the robot’s component parts. Kinoshita’s working drawings were turned over to Jack Gaylord, head of MGM’s Prop Shop, who was in charge of the molding and assembly of Robby’s plastic parts. Robby’s electrical apparatus was powered and activated from a remote control panel, attached to the robot by a cable which could be plugged into either heel.
Robby proved to be one of the film’s most powerful science fiction concepts. Story writers Adler and Block exhibited their knowledge of the field by including in Robby’s programming the three laws of robotics as proposed by Isaac Asimov, which have as their overriding directive the command to preserve and protect human life. Thus Robby symbolizes the harmonious synthesis of scientific advance and social good, at last the powerful tool which man is unable to turn upon himself.