Imagine the Wizard of Oz rewritten as a one-character play. That character? A lost soul, clearly not from around here, and totally without a brain, heart or courage. Rather than follow the yellow brick road, our protagonist follows the captain of a Burley tandem. Welcome to the world of PVC Pete, created by Mike Honnold, who also maintains the singular guide to bicycle parking in Peoria, Where’s the Rack, Peoria? (I talked to Mike about Where’s the Rack in 2013, the same year I interviewed a cartoonist who specializes in drawing robots, many of whom also ride bicycles.)
When did you start riding on the back of Mike Honnold’s tandem?
My circuits were activated the evening of October 23, 2014, by Mr. Michael Honnold. Mr. Honnold (what he prefers I call him) punctured his finger with an awl while assembling my knees, so I feel a bit more human than the typical robotic bicyclist. We took our first test ride the evening of October 24, when Mr. Honnold requested my assistance to retrieve the fruit of his looms, Master John Honnold, from Frau Debbie Burke, his mother in law. I’m told the ride was a success.
Why bicycle? Why not aspire to factory work?
Factory work is for those industrial hillbilly robots from Fanuc and Cincinatti. What do you expect of robots with arms but no head? Literature? Bicycling is what most robots dream of doing, but few have the opportunity. Probably because they were not created by people with minds as flexible as Mr. Honnold’s.
What do you like best about riding?
Mr. Honnold has yet to install my joy circuit, so I don’t process the experience quite like the people I meet on the Rock Island Greenway. He did broker a deal on a romance processor, though, so I do enjoy the attention of the ladies.
Looks like your big skill is just hanging on to the back of the bike. Any goals for 2015?
What you call goals I call upgrades. Eyes would be great. I’d love to do some work on the side for Google Street View and map out new parts of Peoria and beyond. Servos for the legs and knees would be nice so I can venture out when Mr. Honnold is working. However, I assume traveling under my own power will have to wait for Mr. Honnold’s golden years.
Where do you do most of your riding and why?
Given the lack of servos, my riding preferences tend to mirror his. The area certainly has a lot to offer, especially when we ride by the junkyards of South Peoria. You wouldn’t believe how many relatives I’ve seen in those places. Or at least parts of them.
What do you do when you’re not on the bicycle?
I’m stuck at home coordinates. Most of the time I can be found at N40° 44.558′ W89° 37.305′ waiting for another tandem bike in hopes of a ride to a new destination. Otherwise, they enjoy my jokes and stories at the Peoria Brewing Company. I tend to close down the bar most nights.
Asimov’s Third Law of Robots is that a robot must protect its own existence as long as it doesn’t involve harm to human beings. How confident are you of your own future?
PVC is a fairly resilient material, so structurally I think I am fine for the time being. PVC cement on the other hand, that’s another story. One of my arms fell off while rolling down a brick street in Peoria, and Mr. Honnold has yet to repair the damage. I think he’s using it as an excuse to keep me from expanding my horizons.
People probably aren’t used to seeing a PVC rider on the back of a tandem. What kind of reactions do you get? How do you feel about them?
The stories I could tell–however, this is a carbon-based blog. Let’s just say that I get my fair share of attention. Folks either stare or scream/honk/yell. Sometimes people drive a few blocks ahead of us so they can take pictures as we ride by. Mr. Honnold also complains about getting the finger while riding. I’m not sure what he means by this, but I would be hesitant to accept a human finger from a stranger. For one thing, there’s precious little in my repair kit to trade for a finger. And for another, well, no servos.
Some believe that robots will eventually transcend their human creators. If engineers create their own non-human replacements, what do you see for robots in the future?
I intercepted an e-mail sent by Mr. Honnold to his friends a few weeks ago. It contained engineering prints, pictures and movies: all the information needed to create other robots like me. Humans better tread lightly here, because most of them have never seen what damage a PVC robot can do on a tandem bicycle.
So, other robot riders may arise, but I predict the vast majority are doomed to factory work. The rest? Movie robots. Lots of robots in the movies, kicking butts and taking names–two things I’d be more than happy to do as soon as the servos show up.
And now, a few words from PVC Pete’s builder: Mike Honnold
Here’s the inspiration video. I can’t take credit for inventing this–just handy with PVC pipe and making things from video/pictures. A few things to note:
1. All parts were obtained from local Home Depot. Aside from cutting the straight sections of PVC, nothing was modified from original. All PVC was attached with standard PVC cement.
2. I modeled the bone “lengths” from my own body proportions so my chances of him working correctly the first time would be highest. I believe I had to buy (3) 5-foot lengths to get enough PVC with a little extra left over.
3. Pete’s feet are attached to the pedals with some velcro straps made for bundling cord. You could also use zip ties, but they hard harder to take off/remove.
4. Pete’s hands are made so the PVC slips over the handlebar diameter. This, combined with solid elbows and the seat connection, seem to be enough to keep him securely attached for most rides.
5. Pete is attached to the seat with a couple of bungee straps.
6. Knees are made with zip ties and/or rope. Could also use hinges, but zip ties account for a little more inaccuracy in the construction.
7. I put a PVC “tower” on his head so it would be easier to attach a hat.
8. Finally, the arms and legs are semi-attached by removable caps. This makes it easier to dress Pete in shorts and a jersey/pants should the costume be necessary.