Photos from the Vault

Bubble-headed robot got out of ‘jail’ for a party in Pismo Beach

John C.W. Shoop’s Orion robot celebrates his reprieve from “jail” at a party at Trader Nick’s in Pismo Beach on Aug. 24, 1978, dancing with Shyer Pitt of Shell Beach and doffing his hat, right.
John C.W. Shoop’s Orion robot celebrates his reprieve from “jail” at a party at Trader Nick’s in Pismo Beach on Aug. 24, 1978, dancing with Shyer Pitt of Shell Beach and doffing his hat, right. Telegram-Tribune

Stories about robots usually fall into predictable genres.

Androids take over the world, humans are forced into servitude, chaos ensues.

Robot wants to feel human emotions, chaos ensues.

A programming flaw leads to murderous rogue robots, chaos ensues.

Faulty programming leads to misunderstandings, hilarity ensues.

Droids get dialog like “Does not compute” or “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!

Meanwhile we wait for that great novel or movie on robo calls or social media bots.

There aren’t a lot of stories about a personable robot caught in the middle of a messy custody battle, who only yearns to get out of jail to dance and pinch again.

This isn’t the droid I’m looking for, but it is an unusual story.

Robot owner John C.W. Shoop appears in internet searches as a long-shot 2012 congressional candidate in Washington state who formerly lived in Pismo Beach.

Reset the internal clock to Aug. 24, 1978, when Carol Roberts wrote this story for the Telegram-Tribune:

Pismo’s Orion likes it on the outside

There was an unusual welcome home party in Pismo Beach Wednesday night for a short, young TV personality who recently spent six weeks “in jail.”

And County Sheriff’s Department spokesmen said the bubble-headed youth’s problems aren’t over yet. He is still a “ward of the court.”

Orion, a personable robot, is involved in a custody dispute between John C.W. Shoop Associates of Pismo Beach and Digetech East, a firm on the East Coast. He probably is the county’s first robot ever involved in a custody case.

During the legal proceedings, presided over by Superior Court Judge Wickson Woolpert, Orion was imprisoned for six weeks at Jack’s Towing Service, San Luis Obispo, where the sheriff’s civil division often keeps property involved in court disputes.

“We thought about putting him to work for us,” joked one of Orion’s “guards,” Deputy Duane Dague.

Wednesday night Orion cavorted with friends at Trader Nick’s to celebrate his second night out of “jail.” Dague said Shoop put up a bond for Orion that eventually was approved by judge Woolpert. However, the legal battle for Orion’s final ownership is only “about half over,” Dague said.

Shoop’s lawyer Paul Geihs of Pismo Beach said the bond posting is a temporary measure to ensure him possession of the robot pending litigation. “And he can do whatever he wants to with him during that period,” Geihs said.

The 156-pound robot was a “model prisoner,” but “went to pieces” when first taken into custody, the deputy said. Actually, Orion spread out a little, being kept in more than one box at a time during his detainment.

But Wednesday he pulled himself together again to dance with the girls and talk with his partygoers.

Shoop — who has some big plans for the little fellow — said Orion has appeared on network television and currently is doing some work for ABC.

“He’ll be in a space film for Mai Tai Productions in Beverly Hills with actor William Shatner and he has been a co-host on ‘AM Los Angeles,’” Shoop said.

If Shoop, who considers himself Orion’s dad, gets final custody, he’ll be helping a New York firm sell computers. The job could take him to Jamaica, Japan, Holland, and France, Shoop sad.

Meanwhile, as the legal hassle continues, Orion will be in Shoop’s custody in Pismo Beach. The spunky robot seemed happy to be out and about again Wednesday.

For a while he dominated the dance floor and joked with musicians. But one of his partners had a warning for the girls he might encounter.

“Watch out, he pinches!”

David Middlecamp is a photographer for The Tribune. 805-781-7942,, @DavidMiddlecamp

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