1957 Robot Target Article

My historical research team (Craig, Gaston and Jay) recently sent me a scan of a 1957 Guns magazine article about a robot quick draw target that could shoot blank firing sixguns at the human opponent. Spell check tells me that “Dueller” should be “Dueler” but I have used the author’s original spelling and use of hyphens and quotes from the original article in the transcription below. – KR

The Target That Shoots Back (Arthur C. Ross)

A lot of people talk about quick-draw combat shooting, but only a few men ever really match their draw-and-fire speed against a shooting-back target. Now you can do just that-without risking anything more important than some personal embarrassment. You can do it by shooting it out with the Robot Dueller, the mechanical man who matches your reflex time and your gun speed and accuracy against bis electrical impulses-and shoots back if you fail to beat him.

Many factors enter into the actual man-to-man shoot-out of the type made famous by old time western gunfighters, of the type experienced all too frequently today by law enforcement officers and sometimes by combat soldiers. Success in such an encounter – and in this instance success means survival – means far more than mere speed in getting a gun out of its holster, pocket, or any carrying position selected, and blasting a shot through the barrel. It means (a) how long does it take you lo get into effective action after you are warned of danger, (b) how fast can your muscles perform the !unctions of the draw-and-fire. and (c) how accurately can you place that first shot on a target. No one of these tests – nor even any two of them is enough if you are pitted against a man who will kill you unless you kill him first.

There is another factor in this equation-the most important factor of all, perhaps in the business of combat shooting. That factor has been called “the will (or willingness) to kill.” The Robot Dueller is willing, his nerves are cold metal, and there is no emotion in him. Your willingness to ‘kill’ is not really tested when you shoot against him, because you know that he is a man of metal and gadgets, not flesh and blood. But it is odd how real he seems when you face him. Particularly when you have faced him before
and know that he will shoot back if you fail to beat him.

Mechanical Gunman Offers Next Best Thing to Real Duelling Conditions as Test of Quick-Draw

The Robot Dueller was built to simulate as nearly as possible the conditions a shooter would face in an encounter with a fairly fast gunman. It was and is the belief of the robot’s inventor that shooting against this kind of competitive target would be not only interesting and fun, but that it would be of very real value in the training of low enforcement officers and military personnel. This belief is borne out by enthusiastic testimonials from every such shooter who has tried, or been tried by, the robot. And it is fun. It is the most fascinating form of shooting competition I have experienced and I have tried them all.

The specifications we set up for ourselves in building the Dueller were these: he would be a target of man size and appearance, electrically operated so as to give out a starting signal and then time the interval between the starting signal and the completion of the test. He must be so designed that he would actually draw and shoot if not stopped, and so that he would stop if hit by a bullet within specified time
limits. He must have a timing device that would show expired lime in terms of hundredths of a second, and a bell that would ring when a killing hit is scored on the robot. Killing hit means a hit that would make a live gunman harmless to his opponent.

The Robot Dueller fills all of these specifications, and fills them in a manner true to the code of the old West. He stands facing you at a distance of ten, twenty, thirty or more feet; it’s your option. When you are set, a button is pressed and the robot’s eyes light up. You don’t know exactly when this is going to happen, any more than you would know exactly when a gunman might make up his mind to kill you. The lighted eyes are your cue to “go for your gun.” You draw, fire. The robot’s timer is set to touch off his shots exactly 1.3 seconds after the starting button is pressed to light his ‘eyes. ll you hit him inside the killing area in less than 1.3 seconds, a gong sounds, the robot cuts off, you’ve won your battle. If you’re too slow, or if your shots miss the killing area, he fires. And since he is Mr. Dead-Eye Dick, you’re dead.

A lot or people who have read the current claims of various quick-draw shooters – and some who have been practicing quick-draw at home, timed by a friend with a stopwatch-are due !or a rude awakening when they face the Robot Dueller. They start out by saying. “‘One and three-tenths seconds? Why, that’s slow. A good man can do it in a quarter or a second, or less. Why, only yesterday, Jim held a stopwatch on me and I drew, fired, and busted a half gallon jug at twenty paces in just two-tenths of a second!”

Okay, so Mr. Robot will be a cinch for you. But don’t be surprised if be beats you, even at the “slow” time of 1.3 seconds. Because the times he gives you are true times, starting from the warning and running to the impact of the bullet. He includes the time you require to react to his warning — just as a living gunman would do. That plus your draw-fire-and-hit time is what the clock shows against you. And you have to kill him to stop him.

The Electrical Robot Dueller consists of a series of pipes and springs supporting a bullet shield which resembles the vital area of the human body. He has a control mechanism and a time-indicating device. The legs and backbone are of two inch galvanized pipe, using two 90-degree elbows and two close nipples as hips. These are centrally connected to a two inch T for the backbone support. The movable relay contact points are on the spring-mounted bullet shield, while the stationary contact points are on the stationary backbone. The bullet strikes the spring-mounted bullet shield, forces it back, closes the relay points, and causes other control circuits to be disconnected, stopping the Robot’s action and indicating victory for the contestant.

If these bullet-shield relay points are not closed after the signal and before 1.3 seconds have elapsed, the machinery will operator which will cause the dueller to throw up his guns and fire. From the instant the push button is pressed, all circuits and actions are completed automatically.

The contestant checks his gun and makes ready for the contest with the dueller. He presses the push button and stands by for the signal. Two, three or more seconds may pass before the Robot’s eyes light up as the ‘go’ signal. On the signal, the contestant draws and fires as quickly as accurately as possible. Win or lose, the dueller’s control mechanism returns to the ready position for the next contest.

If the contestant gets over anxious and fires before the signal and his bullet strikes true, there will be no signal, no time indication, no victory bell and no firing by the dueller. This makes a cheating contestant feel like a true bushwhacker. However, should the contestant’s premature bullet fail to strike the vital area, the dueller will draw his guns and fire as scheduled. The dueller is fool-proof. He cannot be cheated.

The cost of construction of this operating model is about $500 (estimated cost $5500 in 2023, due to inflation/devaluation of US currency since then – KR). The right utilization of scrap pipes and other metals should bring mass production of these robots into the approximate price range of $600 or $700 retail. (For reference, handguns in the 1950’s cost roughly $40-50 – KR)

The control circuits are actuated by slight modifications of existing standard electrical equipment, which includes two fractional horsepower motors, speed reduction gears, and a few standard Allen-Bradley magnetic relays. The control circuit is somewhat complicated, but does not constitute any staggering new discoveries.

The feeling of a contestant who duels with this training instruments is one of strong compulsion to be first with a bullet. There is a very real sense of competition, similar to that which would be felt in an actual duel. Here, there is a double incentive: to beat the dueller, and to break previous time records. A policeman is likely to see the dueller as an armed robber that he has caught red-handed. He knows he must shoot fast or be killed. A sportsman might feel the keenness of the contest and try over and over again, merely for a new time record. The gun enthusiast will shoot time after time, for it is the type of target he has always wondered about and wanted to try. He enjoys handling that old favorite pistol and the dramatic violence of the explosion when she bucks to life in his hand.

To the thrill-seeking adventurers, the Robot Dueller is a substitute for the spine-chilling thrill of a death duel. Even to the novice the Electrical Robot Dueller is a fascination. I have had people who hardly knew the dangerous end of a gun insist upon testing the Dueller. The people are especially interesting, because they are a picture of confusion and hopelessness when the duel ends and they are defeated.

Under careful safety regulations, this instrument could be adapted to multiple use for combat training of military personnel. It requires nobody behind the targets in the butts, and no scoring of targets, thus offering a saving of personnel. The robot could be made to appear from behind a tree, from a foxhole, or the windows of a house, pause for a brief time, then fire a gun and disappear. If a combat trainee is alert and fast and can shoot straight, he can kill the robot. If he fails to see the robot or fires and misses, the trainee would be considered a casualty.

It is the opinion of this author that this device could improve the present training methods, save time in combat training, reduce instructor personnel, and provide a much more certain method for screening and eliminating undesirable combat people.

The general opinion of police officials is that this Electrical Robot Dueller should NOT be displayed at amusement centers for the general public. This is certainly a point for consideration. Quick draw can be dangerous to the contestant and is not for children in amusement parks.

(By the 1960’s, a version of this idea became a “light gun” game in amusement parks, and in the 1980’s, an updated version was on the market. – KR)

More about the 1961 Taylor arcade game here.

This next one is the Mr. Quick Draw game made in 1961.

“To survive, the badman needed something besides a quick draw and accuracy. Some would call it nerve, others the psychological edge over the opponent …” Men stood before mirrors practicing the draw for hours at a time and yet found themselves greatly inferior to another untrained man with the mental edge. Again a Wild Bill or Billy the Kid was born, not made. Another thing – a post or tin can will not “sass-back” but an angry, desperate man with a sixgun will. So it is partly a question of mind over mind. Indeed, the victor of many a gunfight was the inferior pistol-artist, but the superior duelist merely by force of his nerve or personality.”

George D. Hendrick writes in “The Bad Men of the West”

Hendrick also cites the two instances when Wyatt Earp advised Cockeyed Frank Loving and Bob Cahill who stood challenged by different aggressors, “You take your time, aim and hit.”

It is obvious to any student of Wyatt Earp’s career that he did not mean that a dueller should calmly day-dream while an aggressor spewed hot lead at him from a six shooter. He meant “go for your gun in a hurry, get a firm grip upon it, bring it to bear with all possible speed, aim for certain death, then pull the trigger.” Earp may or may not have been the greatest gunfighter of them all, but he survived to die in bed at a ripe age, which a lot of them didn’t. Was he lucky? Perhaps. But it is my personal opinion that his success and his survival were due to to his superior intelligence and his most unusual reflexes.

What are reflexes or reflex actions? How do they figure into a gunfight? And how can they be tested and improved? To determine the answer to those questions, the author turned to mechanics and science. The Robot Dueller is his answer. With it, it is easy enough to determine the part human reflexes play in shoot-outs of this description.

The shooter’s problem in the draw-and-fire duel is about as follows: (a) recognize the starting signal (b) grab the gun, (c) draw (d) cock (e) aim, (f) fire. Let’s say your best time through those steps is 0.7 of a second. (Keep in mind that the “aiming” the author refers to here is hip shooting, and the drawing was being done from a low slung open carry cowboy holster. Fast draw to first hit times from this type of set up, in modern competition, are down in the 0.3’s.- KR)

Tests with the electrically timed robot prove to our satisfaction that a man this fast can perform the physical movements of the draw-and-fire in about 0.2 seconds, and that the remaining 0.5 seconds is the time that he takes to grasp the situation and direct his actions to meet it – in other words – his reflex time. No quick-draw claim which fails to account for this reflex-time factor can possibly be credited as a fair appraisal of a man’s true gun-fighting ability.

It is possible, however, for a man to capitalize on this very factor that hampers his own gun-speed. He can do this by increasing the reflex time of his opponent – and this can be done by complicating the situation. For example, a gunfighter who steps or jumps to one side as he draws forces his opponent to add new steps to his reaction problem. The opponent must identify the movement, decide how far it will carry and how fast, and move his own gun to cover the new position of the target. (In modern terms, the author is describing the Observe Orient Decide Act loop and what some call “Getting off the X” – KR) The moving shooter, having his movement figured out in advance, gains an advantage. If he can still shoot accurately during or after his movement, he should win. Providing, of course, that he is facing a human opponent. The Robot Dueller is not affected by such tactics.

Nevertheless, to face this machine is to come as close as anyone will ever come to the fighting or a pistol duel without gambling life on the outcome. Here is the man of steel facing you, a gun in each hand. His intentions are to kill you. You know that he is a dead shot and lightning fast. You know that there is only one way in which he can be stopped, and that is to shoot first and strike true. You strain every nerve and muscle as you watch for that death signal. It comes, and you explode into action. Then you look at the clock and read – bad news. It shows 1.3 seconds, the maximum time setting for the dueller. You either missed or were too slow. You picture yourself being carried off toward Boot Hill, and you can’t understand how the hell it happened. You’re fast with a gun, surely faster than 1.3 seconds!. Something must have gone wrong.

(The author’s choice of 1.3 seconds as an acceptable minimum draw to first hit time is interesting. By current standards for strong side and/or appendix concealed or retention holster duty carry, 1.3 seconds at 20 feet is a very reasonable par time goal for a shooter that has developed enough skill to reach “automaticity”, as John Hearne calls it. More about performance goals and automaticity can be found in this earlier blog article – KR)

Fortunately, with the dueller you can try again, and after about a hundred attempts you begin to get the idea. You relax and watch for the signal. You are hardly aware of the signal when you see it. You are almost complete unaware of your actions. Chances are you will hear a loud gong and your time reading will be around 0.9 seconds. You have won. Now you can expect to win occasionally against this man of steel.

There are a few notorious gunfighters today, but the gun-toting criminal is still with us. Armed robbers, escaped convicts, kidnappers, dope peddlers, impulse killers, sex fiends, protection peddlers, extortionists are all potential killers. A glance at the casualty list of any police department will give conclusive evidence that the American badman is an even greater menace to our policemen than was the killer of yester-year. He is sneaky, lives and fights by no code, and is likely to shoot without warning.

Against this hoodlum is pitted the police officer. What sort of man is he? He is usually a level-headed man, a good family man, with no “killer instinct”. He is marked as a target by his uniform, his badge and obvious display of his gun. His ability with the gun is often neglected because he may have no convenient place to practice, and in most cases he must purchase his own gun and ammunition. We further handicap him by teaching him that he must warn before he shoots, or even give the criminal the first shot. The results are all too often fatal – not to the crook but to the policeman.

With practice against the Electrical Robot Dueller, the police officer can so improve his skill with the pistol that he can meet even this one sided challenge. Through the courtesy of Police Chief G. B. Douglas of the Port Arthur, Texas, Police Department, the Robot Dueller was demonstrated on that department’s very fine pistol range, and the patrolmen and police officials who tried it were obsessed with the desire to try it again, until they were able to gain a victory over the robot.

That spirit of competition is, in itself, the best possible stimulation to shooting practice. Given that incentive and the very practical combat experience of facing a “shoot back” target, the effectiveness of law enforcement officers against armed enemies could be improved tremendously — to the benefit of police for protection, and to the benefit of all in the saving of police lives.

(The Lee Weems podcast linked below features discussion from Dustin Salomon, John Hearne and John Holschen – three trainers using new equipment with visual start signals and shot timing in their courses, the modern extension of the training principles the inventor of the Electrical Robot Dueller was pursuing in his work. KR Training hosted John Holschen’s class last year, and John Hearne’s Cognitive Pistol course, scheduled for January 2024 at our facility is sold out with a wait list. John’s “Who Wins, Who Loses…” lecture coming up January 2024 still has slots open for registration. – KR)

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