I was thinking the naming of the droids in Star Wars is rather unique, such as R2-D2 and C-3PO, where we have a mixture of letter and numbers and nothing else.

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Then I thought of K9 from Dr. Who, which I would have to put in the same category enter image description here

which, lo and behold, Wikipedia tells me first appeared in The Invisible Enemy (1977).

Now, of course, A New Hope was also released in 1977, but feature films have longer production schedules, so R2-D2 and C-3PO were probably named first. (Is that so?)

But aside from all of that, is there an earlier reference to a robot named entirely with a mix of letter and numbers?

What was the first purely alphanumerically named robot?

What is not accepted:

  • Acronyms ("R.O.B.O.T.")
  • Names with a name or function in concert with letters or numbers ("Zeus 35B", "Toaster 23")
  • 2
    Yes, I know we could call then "Protocol Droid C-3PO" and "Astromech R2-D2", but we're talking about what they are generally known as. Nov 16, 2017 at 16:46
  • @user14111, I guess at least as part of an answer that explains it. Nov 16, 2017 at 19:28
  • Drat! I was thinking of Gernsback's Ralph 124 C41+, circa 1911, but that doesn't fit the requirement.
    – Whit3rd
    Nov 21, 2017 at 9:29
  • So when are we going to find out what's the first alphanumerically named robot? Do none of the proposed answers meet your requirements, or are you waiting for earlier examples?
    – user14111
    Feb 22, 2018 at 5:26

6 Answers 6


Here's an example in "Revolt of the Robots" by Arthur R. Tofte in Fantastic Adventures, Vol 1, No. 1, May 1939

It opens with the paragraph:

Deep within Tarra Greghold raged a fierce jealousy. The people of the year 2860 A. D. still felt the passions of primitive man, but they had learned not to show them. And Tarra, with her keen-eyed personal robot, Q9T9, watching from the corner, tried as well as she could to conceal her jealousy.


Amazing Stories, February 1932

1931: alien cyborgs

"The Jameson Satellite", a novelette by Neil R. Jones, the beginning of his Professor Jameson series; first published in Amazing Stories, July 1931; available at Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive. (The image above shows the February 1932 Amazing Stories with cover by Leo Morey illustrating the second story in the series.)

Wikipedia summary:

Rating not even a cover mention, the first installment of Jones' most popular creation, "The Jameson Satellite", appeared in the July 1931 issue of Amazing Stories. The hero was Professor Jameson, the last Earthman, who became immortal through the science of the Zoromes. Jameson was obsessed with the idea of perfectly preserving his body after death and succeeded by having it launched into space in a small capsule. Jameson's body survived for 40,000,000 years, where it was found orbiting a dead planet Earth by a passing Zorome exploration ship. The Zoromes, or machine men as they sometimes called themselves, were cyborgs. They came from a race of biological beings who had achieved immortality by transferring their brains to machine bodies. They occasionally assisted members of other races with this transition (e.g. the Tri-Peds and the Mumes), allowing others to become Zoromes and join them on their expeditions, which sometimes lasted hundreds of years. So, much like the Borg of the Star Trek series, a Zorome crew could be made up of assimilated members of many different biological species. The Zoromes discovered that Jameson's body had been so well preserved that they were able to repair his brain, incorporate it into a Zorome machine body and restart it. The professor joined their crew and, over the course of the series, participated in many adventures, even visiting Zor, the Zorome homeworld, where he met biological Zoromes. The professor eventually rose to command his own crew of machine men on a new Zorome exploration ship. "The Jameson Satellite" proved so popular with readers that later installments in Amazing Stories got not only cover mentions but the cover artwork. The series eventually became some of the most popular and well-known of the 1930s pulps.

Description of the Zoromes:

Within the interior of the space traveler, queer creatures of metal labored at the controls of the space flyer which juggernauted on its way towards the far-off solar luminary. Rapidly it crossed the orbits of Neptune and Uranus and headed sunward. The bodies of these queer creatures were square blocks of a metal closely resembling steel, while for appendages, the metal cube was upheld by four jointed legs capable of movement. A set of six tentacles, all metal, like the rest of the body, curved outward from the upper half of the cubic body. Surmounting it was a queer-shaped head rising to a peak in the center and equipped with a circle of eyes all the way around the head. The creatures, with their mechanical eyes equipped with metal shutters, could see in all directions. A single eye pointed directly upward, being situated in the space of the peaked head, resting in a slight depression of the cranium.

These were the Zoromes of the planet Zor which rotated on its way around a star millions of light years distant from our solar system. The Zoromes, several hundred thousand years before, had reached a stage in science, where they searched for immortality and eternal relief from bodily ills and various deficiencies of flesh and blood anatomy. They had sought freedom from death, and had found it, but at the same time they had destroyed the propensities for birth. And for several hundred thousand years there had been no births and few deaths in the history of the Zoromes.

This strange race of people had built their own mechanical bodies, and by operation upon one another had removed their brains to the metal heads from which they directed the functions and movements of their inorganic anatomies. There had been no deaths due to worn-out bodies. When one part of the mechanical men wore out, it was replaced by a new part, and so the Zoromes continued living their immortal lives which saw few casualties. It was true that, since the innovation of the machines, there had been a few accidents which had seen the destruction of the metal heads with their brains. These were irreparable. Such cases had been few, however, and the population of Zor had decreased but little. The machine men of Zor had no use for atmosphere, and had it not been for the terrible coldness of space, could have just as well existed in the ether void as upon some planet. Their metal bodies, especially their metal-encased brains, did require a certain amount of heat even though they were able to exist comfortably in temperatures which would instantly have frozen to death a flesh-and-blood creature.

Their alphanumeric designations:

These machine men had no names and were indexed according to letters and numbers. They conversed by means of thought impulses, and were neither capable of making a sound vocally nor of hearing one uttered.

"Where shall we go?" queried one of the men at the controls questioning another who stood by his side examining a chart on the wall.

"They all appear to be dead worlds, 4R-3579," replied the one addressed, "but the second planet from the sun appears to have an atmosphere which might sustain a few living creatures, and the third planet may also prove interesting for it has a satellite. We shall examine the inner planets first of all, and explore the outer ones later if we decide it is worth the time."

"Too much trouble for nothing," ventured 9G-721. "This system of planets offers us little but what we have seen many times before in our travels. The sun is so cooled that it cannot sustain the more common life on its planets, the type of life forms we usually find in our travels. We should have visited a planetary system with a brighter sun."

"You speak of common life," remarked 25X-987. "What of the uncommon life? Have we not found life existent on cold, dead planets with no sunlight and atmosphere at all?"

"Yes, we have," admitted 9G-721, "but such occasions are exceedintly rare."

"The possibility exists, however, even in this case," reminded 4R-3579, "and what if we do spend a bit of unprofitable time in this one planetary system—haven't we all an endless lifetime before us? Eternity is ours."

  • It describes the removal of their biological brains and the placement of those in machine bodies, however -- so these are apparently cyborgs, not pure robots.
    – Jacob C.
    Nov 21, 2017 at 21:52

Robbie, from the 1940 Asimov story Robbie, is an RB-series robot but I do not know that its number was given. In 1942, Robot AL-76 went astray.

To be clear Robbie is a nickname for the RB robot, so the robot was actually designated RB (much like R2-D2 is a more "real" name for Artoo).

  • 1
    Actually the designation "RB" isn't mentioned anywhere in the story, neither in the original version nor in the revised version. Maybe you're mixing this up with the 1941 story Liar!, which features RB-34 ("Herbie").
    – Ubik
    Nov 17, 2017 at 18:06

In case this answer is rejected because a cyborg is not a robot, here is a later story featuring a true robot named X1-2-200, or X1 for short.

1938: "X1-2-200", a short story by Ray Cummings, published in Astounding Science-Fiction, September 1938 (available at the Internet Archive), apparently never reprinted.

His name was X1-2-200. He was built in the Dyne Robot Factories; the date when his existence began was engraved on his fuse-box—Jan. 20, 2200. Old Elihu Dyne was present when the last motivating connection was made, for this was to be his personal servant—the highest type automatic machine his genius had produced.

X1 could barely remember his three months of preliminary training. It was a blur upon his brain-scroll. But he was dimly aware of the daylight hours on the big training field within the walled enclosure of the factory, where, with squads of other robots, they were taught to motivate at the spoken word—walking, running retrieving objects that the instructors threw for them.


The earliest I could find was...

AL-76 in 1942

Appearing in Isaac Asimov's short story Robot AL-76 Goes Astray being published in the Amazing Stories magazine in February 1942.

  • 2
    The earliest Asimov story with an alphanumeric designation is Reason, published in 1941, which features QT-1 ("Cutie").
    – Ubik
    Nov 17, 2017 at 18:08

1932: "The Last Evolution", a short story by John W. Campbell, Jr.; first published in Amazing Stories, August 1932. The Project Gutenberg etext is from the reprint in Amazing Stories, March 1961, which may have been revised. The excerpt below is quoted from the original 1932 publication, which is available at the Internet Archive.

He was interrupted. One of the newest science machines was speaking. "The secret of the force-screen is simple." A small ray-machine, which had landed near, rose into the air at the command of the scientist-machine, X-5638 it was, and trained upon it the deadly induction beam. Already, within his parts, X-5638 had constructed the defensive apparatus, for the ray fell harmless from his screen.

"Very good," said Roal softly. "It is done, and therein lies their danger. Already it is done.

"Man is a poor thing, unable to change himself in a period of less than thousands of years. Already you have changed yourself. I noticed your weaving tentacles, and your force-beams. You transmuted elements of soil for it?"

"Correct," replied X-5638.

"But still we are helpless. We have not the power to combat their machines. They use the Ultimate Energy, known to exist for six hundred years, and still untapped by us. Our screens can not be so powerful, our beams so effective. What of that?" asked Roal.

"Their generators were automatically destroyed with the capture of the ship," replied X-6349, "as you know. We know nothing of their system."

"Then we must find it for ourselves," replied Trest.

"The life-beams?" asked Kahsh-256,799, one of the Man-rulers.

"They affect chemical action, retarding it greatly in exo-thermic actions, speeding greatly endo-thermic actions," answered X-6621, the greatest of the chemist-investigators. "The system we do not know. Their minds cannot be read, they cannot be restored to life, so we cannot learn from them."

"Man is doomed, if these beams cannot be stopped," said C-R-21, present chief of the machine Rulers, in the vibrationally correct, emotionless tones of all the race of machines. "Let us concentrate on the two problems of stopping the beams, and the Ultimate Energy till the reenforcements, still several days away, can arrive." For the investigators had sent back this saddening news. A force of nearly ten thousand great ships was still to come.

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