2-XL.net is a tribute to that wonderful talking robot. If you owned one as a kid, you know what I’m talking about. If you didn’t, look around, he’s a fascinating specimen of the early digital age.
This site is maintained by Mark Adams. I can be contacted at netadams (at) gmail.com. Always eager to hear from others.
My first interaction ever with a computer was the 2-XL talking robot by Mego Corporation. Some will note that 2-XL is not actually a computer, but an 8-track player cleverly engineered to simulate one. True enough. The popular toy of the late 1970s possessed neither a processor nor memory, but it was designed to behave like a computer. That was as close as any child of the 1970s would get to using a computer. Why? Computers simply were too expensive then.
In 1976, the first Apple computer sold for $666.66 — assembly and programing required. In 1978, 2-XL sold for around $68, no assembly or programing required. I (and my parents) did not find it feasible to buy a computer until 1988, when I purchased a dedicated word processor, a Brother WP-50. A year later, I bought my first, full-fledged computer, a Macintosh Plus, which set me back nearly $3,000 (computer, keyboard, hard drive and ink jet printer). I also note that in the 1970s and 1980s, most schools did not provide students access to computers, so 2-XL, hobbled together from existing, inexpensive technology was the closest most children were able to come to accessing an intelligent machine.
Another important point to mention is that in the 1970s, 2-XL was regarded as an intelligent toy. Though lacking a processor, it did process information, and it did interact with children, and it could respond to inquiries. Granted, this was a vicarious experience. What children really experienced was the person behind the machine, Dr. Michael J. Freeman, who cleverly programed 2-XL to anticipate children’s responses. Given the limits of technology in the 1970s, 2-XL was actually a more capable device than anything else priced at under $100. Perhaps this is why so many accepted 2-XL as possessing artificial intelligence.
It is regarded, alongside Playskool’s Alphie, as among the first interactive, electronic toys of the modern age.
Truth be told, 2-XL.net is not strictly a tribute site. The site is a launching point for a discussion about how computers have impacted and influenced our lives, and how much different the experience could be. It’s fascinating that people’s early view of computers nearly always entailed a human-like robot. Think R2-D2, C3PO, HAL, and, of course, 2-XL. Hardly ever was a computer imagined as a device possessing a screen. Computers either talked or moved. How different it is today.
Though a computer enthusiast, I find the concept of 2-XL more engaging. I never turn to my MacBook Air and say, “How are you doing?” Nor do I expect the same in return. I don’t expect my computer to make jokes or pause before giving me information. My MacBook Air, though a machine of grace and beauty, is impersonal. It is an object. Attempts to “personalize” modern technology mostly fall flat. Apple’s Siri will respond to questions, but she (or he) has no desire to engage me in conversation. Siri does not worry like C3PO, does not joke like 2-XL, does not terrify like HAL. She (or he) is inanimate; useful, but not friendly — here, I use the term as a social descriptor, not to suggest “ease of use.”
I could be wrong about all this, but I don’t recall anyone taking their computer to bed with them. Countless children tucked 2-XL to bed with them in the 1970s and 1980s. We even “played” with him, taking him on expeditions around the house or neighborhood. This is not to say 2-XL fully met our expectations, but he anticipated them.
What is 2-XL?
2-XL is an educational toy invented by Dr. Michael J. Freeman, a robot enthusiast who engineered his first machine in the 1950s. The Mego Corporation manufactured Freeman’s first commercial robot between 1978 and 1981. Tiger Electronics reintroduced 2-XL in the 1990s, and Fisher Price introduced Kasey the Kinderbot in 2002, a toy represents the third iteration of Freeman’s work, minus 2-XL’s voice and personality.
Programming for the 1978 robot was stored on a simple 8-track cassette, a medium featuring four stereo channels (thus 8-track), each containing a synchronized recording of the tape’s program. Children were instructed to press buttons to answer questions or make selections. giving the impression that 2-XL was actually engaging them with questions and answers. The Tiger version of 2-XL used a standard cassette, offering the same four-channel experience as the 8-track version. Kasey the Kinderbot used specially manufactured cassettes for its programing.
You can learn the most about these toys at 2XLRobot.com, the only other dedicated 2-XL fan site. Though I plan to expand 2-XL.net, I hope to present a different kind of information about Freeman’s invention, focusing on what the toy represented for the early digital age.
Where else can I learn about 2-XL?
Only fan sites provide information about 2-XL. The most authoritative site is 2XLRobot.com, it’s been around since the early 2000s.
How can I get my hands on one? How much should I prepare to spend?
The world’s flea market is eBay, where 2-XL regularly appear. One can be had for as little as $20 or as much as $200. It appears that interest in 2-XL is sporadic, which results in startling price fluctuations. My advice is to exercise patience and wait for a lull in interest.
2-XL is especially valuable if he comes with a lot of cassettes; otherwise, he is inert. Lots of sellers advertise that they don’t know if their unit works, because 2-XL requires a unique power supply, which the seller has likely lost. The power supply, however, can be obtained at Radio Shack. So the ultimate cost depends on the following factors: condition of unit, number of cassettes, and possibly included power supply. If you are patient, you can acquire one inexpensively — especially if you are not particular as to type (see here).
NB: Some sellers are convinced that because 2-XL is over 30 years old, their’s is very rare. This is not the case. Hundreds of thousands of this toy were manufactured. Certain tapes, however, can be very rare.
You can experience 2-XL for free at Mouser’s simulation: press here.
I own a 2-XL, but he’s broken. How do I get him fixed?
Visit Mego 2-XL Robot Repair. At present, repairs cost around $69. An alternative is to purchase a working unit on eBay.
Is 2-XL.net affiliated with Mego or Tiger?
No. It’s just a fan site.
What happened to the 2-XL you owned as a kid?
My parents gave it to my cousin. It was his favorite toy as a kid, too.
2XLRobot.com — This site is the most comprehensive 2-XL tribute in existence. Until 2-XL.net was launched, 2XLRobot.com was the only dedicated fan site. Navigation at 2XLRobot.com is “old school,” but the site is filled with valuable information and reminiscences about this popular toy. For reference, visitors might want to view the site map at 2XLRobot.com.
The New York Magazine — Here is a 1979 article about 2-XL, rich with information and anecdotes.
2-XL Simulator — Don’t own a 2-XL? Try him out at Mouser’s simulator! Among the tapes included is the demonstration tape, provided by the owner of 2XLRobot.com.
2-XL on TheOldRobots.com website — A wonderful collection of photos of the Mego version of 2-XL. Don’t miss the navigation menu toward the upper right of the page.
Tiger 2-XL on The Old Robots Website — The original 2-XL was in production for only a few years. It was reissued in the 1990s by Tiger. Again, look for the navigation bar toward the upper right of the page.
2-XL on Wikipedia — One almost gets the impression that information in this encyclopedic entry was gleaned from 2XLRobot.com, but it does, nevertheless, provide a nice summary of the toy robot.
The Unofficial 2-XL Homepage — This is an older tribute site that hasn’t been updated in a while (since 2009) and its first entries date to 1997! Still, it is well worth visiting.
Dr. Freeman’s original patent for 2-XL, offered as a PDF on Google — Want to get inside 2-XL? Check out the patent.
2-XL at RobotsAndComputers.com — See, he is regarded as a computer!
Contribute to this site
You can register your 2-XL here. Information collected about your robot will enhance here at 2-XL.net.
You can submit general information here. Use that link if you wish to submit a story or reflection about the toy.