Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Machines From Elsewhere: Robots and UFOs

Machines From Elsewhere: Robots and UFOs
By Scott Corrales
(c) 2012

In 1920, when Karel Capek wrote the three-act play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) he probably didn’t realize he would be changing humanity’s conception of what it is to be alive for generations to come, much less had the word “robot” to the world’s collective glossary. Derived from the Slavic term “robota”, meaning the work done by an indentured servant, robots have gone on to become a staple of science-fiction. We take their functions and existence for granted, with our own efforts at robotics ranging from industrial mechanical arms to the new wave of lovely Japanese automata. According to our age group, we look back fondly at either Robbie the Robot or Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio. Perhaps some even remember seeing the graceful “María” making her appearance for the first time in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis

Only a year after “R.U.R.” appeared on the stage, French director André Deed created one of the first science-fiction movies involving robots: L’uomo Meccanico (The Mechanical Man), depicting a giant humanoid robot created for criminal purposes, but who is checked by another equally sizeable machine, settling their differences inside an Italian opera house. These original “rock’em-sock’em robots” showed audiences that the mechanical men, while emotionless, could serve the cause of good as well as evil.

Rampaging Robots

In an article for SAGA UFO Report (UFO Annual, 1975), Otto Binder wrote: “[Robots represent] a rather rare category of UFOnauts, but one that cannot be ignored. Witnesses often describe these creatures as having stiff movements and also having angular lines quite unlike living human beings. These strange entities range from the uncanny to the eerie.” He goes on to add: “We can logically assume that some worlds do not send their living explorers to Earth, but use robots somewhat like the Russian mobile vehicle on the Moon. But apparently the aliens have perfected observation vehicles in the form of living creatures.” Binder refers to the automated Lunakhod probe, but a more updated example would be our own Curiosity rover on Mars, about to engage on a study of the red planet in 2012.

UFO encounter reports from the late 1960's and the early to mid-1970's often described encounters with robotic entities emerging from UFOs or conducting their activities in areas where UFO activity was common. Researchers at the time conceded that organic ufonauts could, on occasion, entrust certain missions to mechanical creations much in the same way that our planet's space programs launch unmanned probes to destinations within the solar system. The robotic alien, for want of a better term, became one of the four or five "recognized and accepted" types of possible UFO occupant.

Did robots from another planet visit Avon, Connecticut in September 1967? Police officers found themselves responding to frightened calls from the public involving a “shiny-suited robot” in the vicinity of Talcott Mountain. The seemingly mechanical entity appeared to be engaged in some sort of frantic semaphore, trying to stop drivers along Route 44. Descriptions of the entity coincided in aspects such as a cowl or helmet that completely enshrouded the figure’s features, and its stiff movements as it wobbled on the road’s shoulder, trying to stop traffic. Police officers reported to the scene, but were unable to find any trace of the intruder.

In February 1981, Luis Dominguez, proprietor of small food and beverage concern in the village of Fuentecén in Spain had a brush with the unknown that led him to believe that ‘robots” of unknown provenance had visited his small community.

Between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. on February 13 of that year, Dominguez had closed down his business and was heading home when two red lights caught his attention. Thinking it might be the taillights of car being used to commit burglaries in the wee hours of the morning, he headed in their direction, hoping to take the law into his own hands, but the would-be vigilante was floored by what happened next: the "taillights" rose into the air, made an odd twisting turn to the right, and landed elsewhere in the countryside. By his own admission, the unnatural sight made him break out in goosebumps.

Speeding back home, from where the red lights were still visible, Dominguez, his wife and son watched nervously as the lights engaged in a variety of movements, some of the undulating. Most spectacular of all was a sudden flash or beam of white light fired from the source of the two red ones, illuminating all the homes of Fuentecén as if by a giant klieg lamp.

It was then that Dominguez heard his dog bark. The family pet, ominously named "Satán", was outside the house barking at an object near to fence that encircled the property. Dominguez realized described it as a box-like contraption resembling a washing machine or small refrigerator, taller than the fence by a few inches. It had neither head nor appendages.

The curious object disappeared when Dominguez armed himself with courage and a flashlight and stepped outside for a closer look. However, he made a startling remark to J.J. Benítez: "the dog would bark at it and the object, from the very edge of the fence, would answer it with a very slow "bark" that was slower and muted. It may seem ridiculous, but I swear it's true. We got the sensation that the thing was imitating our dog."

The following day, while returning from school, Jose Francisco Dominguez excitedly told his father that a patch of burned vegetation was now in evidence at the site where the red "taillights" had been seen the night before: in fact, a patch measuring some five square meters of desiccated--rather than burned --grass was found in a field. The case attracted the interest of a number of local newspapers, which in turn prompted government ministries to take an interest in it. Subsequent analysis revealed no traces of radiation at the site.

Willy Rodriguez was an avid fisherman who enjoyed practicing the sport in the waters of the Esla River, not far from the monastery of Santa María de Moreruela in the Spanish province of Zamora. During the quiet hours of an early morning in the spring of 1974, Rodríguez’s two dogs began to bark furiously for no reason. Chiding his animals for spooking away the fish, the man later became aware of a bizarre figure, standing over six feet tall, with its arms held closely to the sides of its body, “like a soldier”, according to his description. In the sunlight, the strange entity looked as though it had been made of silver. Once recovered from the shock, he ordered his dogs to attack the strange metallic form, which simply glided away toward a nearby hill, and then vanished.

While may have questioned his claim, Rodriguez is adamant that the silvery presence he saw in the spring of 1974 “wasn’t a person – it was artificial. I think it was a sort of robot that came out of a flying saucer and answered to its commands,” he told Iker Jiménez and viewers of the Cuarto Milenio television program.

Spain’s own Antonio Ribera made a significant caveat when it came to cases involving humanoid occupants: “We must not exclude the hypothesis of biological robots created by an extremely advanced Science. Such robots would bear no resemblance to the crude robots of our science-fiction, full of nuts and bolts and electronic cells, but would be actual living being.” (FSR, “The Landing at Villares del Saz”). This dovetails, interestingly enough, with the physical appearance robots presented by Karel Capek’s “R.U.R.” – human looking in every way, and capable of emotion.

Robots in Saint Jean du Gord

On August 19, 1972, Mrs. X -- a schoolteacher -- was camping in Southern France near Saint Jean du Gord in the backyard of a friend's house. The location commanded a view of the town and its surrounding hills. At around 2:00 a.m., stirred by the sound of festivities in the town, Mrs. X left the tent for some fresh air and became aware of a very bright light "about the size of an Isetta" (an egg-shaped, two passenger car) located in a parking lot on one of the hillsides. While she wondered what could cause an automobile to glow in such an uncharacteristic manner, she heard the sound of heavy footsteps advancing toward her in the darkness. She would later tell researcher Jean Paul Guguen that strange sound was similar to "a child stomping on dry leaves". Upon turning around, the woman was startled to see a perfectly black shape against the blacker background: a rectangular shape crowned by an oval head, standing some ten feet away.

"It seemed to me that the shape was made of wood, some thirty to forty centimeters thick," she would later tell Guguen. "It was a parallelepiped, with two round circles where its eyes should have been...two round circles some five centimeters in diameter which were all that could be seen of the black mass, turned toward me. I was unable to see its feet or its legs, because they were covered by tall grass."

According to Mrs. X, she felt an overwhelming sense of morbid fear--not arising out of herself, but being projected onto her by the apparition. She added the curious detail that everything surrounding the object appeared "dead", as if it were able to neutralize the very air, grass and trees around it.

Mrs. X ran back into the tent, where her sleeping husband had been aware to the entire proceedings. The husband testified that his wife's features were "deformed by fear" and that she told him she had just seen a "frightful, horrible thing" outside the tent. When asked why he did not venture out of tent to see for himself, he admitted that his courage failed him.

While no other locals corroborated the sighting of the "robot", a nearby homeowner complained of having heard strange footsteps on her back porch at exactly the same time that Mrs. X's encounter with the unknown was taking place.

Geometrical, artificial ufonauts must have had a fondness for France: in 1976, Jean Dolecki was driving his pickup truck along a twilit rural road in St-Jean-de-Royans (Saintonge) when he became aware of a bright white light in the darkening skies above him. In a hurry to make it home, Dolecki ignored the object and continued on his way--before realizing that the object was coming in for a landing. Suspecting a private plane in distress, the motorist pulled over and hoped to get a better look.

In a matter of seconds, he realized that it was neither an airplane, nor a balloon, nor anything he'd ever seen before. The spherical object eventually landed in a nearby field. Much to his amazement, an opening appeared on the side of the luminous object and three "giant robots" -- as Dolecki described them -- emerged from within, having small square heads and spindly tubular arms resembling "fishing rods". After cavorting in the field for approximately ten minutes, the mechanical giants re-entered their craft, which shot away at a fantastic speed.

An article by Jacques Vallée for Flying Saucer Review (“The Pattern Behind UFO Landings”) contains an interesting case that could be perhaps interpreted as a cyborg report rather than a robot: On October 20, 1954, an unnamed witness in the Parravicino d’Erba near the Italian city of Como saw a strange being in a silvery outfit, standing near a tree. The witness was paralyzed by a “flashlight” type device wielded by the unknown entity (a common occurrence in UFO reports) but somehow was able to break this hold by clenching the car keys he held in his hand at the moment. Upon seeing this, the entity rose from the ground making a whirring sound: its lower body appeared to end in a funnel-shaped device with a circular platform “having the same diameter as a bicycle wheel”. Authorities managed to photograph what appeared to be an oily spot on the ground. Had the cyborg sprung a leak as a result of the incident? Four days later, a child in Sainte-Catherine (Rhone) reportedly saw a manlike figure “with clothes that looked like iron” emerge from a craft.

Summoned by Mechanical Men

Argentinean ufologist Roberto Banchs looked into a case involving peasant women from the town of General Pico in the Province of La Pampa on May 24, 1962. The psychological impact on the witness was such that she required hospitalization after the experience.

The anonymous witness was tending her field adjacent to another property belonging to her brother when she saw two “flying saucers” land in a neighboring field. One of these objects disgorged “two horrible giants that shocked her deeply.”

According to sources, the witness’s family reported the incident immediately to the police, who reported promptly to scene of the events. Their survey of the area found “an immense wheel of burned, crushed grass at the sight where the flying saucer had made a soft landing.”

The witness’s brother – who acted as her spokesman in all these reports – told others that the giant entities made “non-human movements, uncoordinated and mechanical” and gestured to his sister, bidding her to come closer. These gestures were described as “strange and nearly incomprehensible”. With the witness unavailable to tell her story, hearsay details would later emerge, such as the giant mechanicals retreating to their saucer when they noticed the woman flailing about in abject terror.

High Strangeness Robots

The following account may remind some readers of Matthew Robbins’ 1987 film Batteries Not Included, in which diminutive alien mechanisms – “the Fix-Its” -- lend assistance to the movie’s harried protagonists. But it is far from being a rough draft for some science fiction project.

Jerry Townsend, a young radio broadcaster, was on his way from Little Falls to Long Prairie, Minnesota, at around 7:40 in the evening on October 23, 1965. As he rounded a bend a few miles outside of Long Prairie, the electrical system in Townsend’s car went dead, forcing him to hit the brakes and coast to a stop. Ahead lay an astonishing sight: a rocket-shaped object standing some twenty to thirty feet tall, resting on fins much like a V-2 rocket or a pulp magazine spaceship. According to the broadcaster – who had left the relative safety of his car for a closer look at the rocket – a trio of diminutive objects “shaped like beer cans” emerged from under the ship, heading toward him. These small robots, six inches high, waddled on two fin-like appendages and appeared to be watching him.

After ascertaining that the 19-year-old radioman was no threat, the objects retreated under the rocket and vanished into it. The craft took off noiselessly, causing Townsend to compare it to “a flashlight being lifted off a table.”

Coral Lorenzen, who included this account in her article “UFO Occupants in the United States” for Flying Saucer Review, noted: “The wrap-up on this case included inquiries to teachers and friends. Townshend got a clean bill of health as far as his reputation for honesty was concerned.” The local sheriff and a police officer visited the scene of the alleged incident and found “three parallel strips of oil-like substance about 4 inches apart and a yard long on the surface of the road.”

Corrboration for the sighting came from a pair of hunters, who reportedly saw a lighted object lifting off into the sky from the area where the mini-bots had startled Jerry Townsend, who perhaps wishes he would have had a witness or two to corroborate his mind-bending experience, as occurred in the following Australian case.

Six young friends had set off in their car to Bents Basin in Wallacia, New South Wales (Australia) on June 4, 1972 never thinking for a minute that they would become part of UFO lore. Finding that their vehicle would not start, the group became aware of a pulsating, red, disc-shaped object resting on a nearby hill, some two hundred yards away. A humming sound, combined with the red pulsations, caused the witnesses to feel ill. Two members of the group who had gone out to search for help returned running, saying that a giant “shadow” was headed their way.

Hiding in the grass, the youths reportedly saw a towering robotic entity – having an estimated height of seven to nine feet -- gliding over the surface. They described the menacing presence as shiny and with “a round, helmeted head, broad shoulders, and arms that came to pointed hands.” ( As it grew closer, the witnesses reported that it vanished into thin air. An illusion projected by the disc to keep intruders at arms’ length? This fascinating case was investigated by author and researcher Bill Chalker in 1975, who suggests the area surrounding Bents Basin is a major paranormal “hotspot” prone to a wide array of UFO-related experiences (


As our own automated probes venture cautiously into the solar system, delighting scientists with data and the casual observer with amazing photographs, we had no problem envisioning an extraterrestrial civilization engaging in similar behavior. Why expose an organic crew of explorers to the perils of a hazardous, even poisonous, atmosphere without first sending a mechanical advance party?

UFO case histories, particularly those overseas, contain fascinating eyewitness accounts of machines and entities that were classified as “robotic” due to their halting movements or simply the observer’s perception that he or she faced something that wasn’t alive. Are such robotic manifestations by an unseen intelligence simply meant to fit into an acceptable frame of reference – that of the machine man – which has become worldwide, or actual pioneers from a distant solar system?