I can't see how being able to record sound would be useful to a portable rubbish compactor.

Bonus points for explaining why it seems to be analogue!

  • 2
    How do you know that it's analogue? – Valorum Jan 21 '15 at 9:27
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    Even if it used a cassette of magnetic tape, that doesn't mean the recording isn't digital. – OrangeDog Jan 21 '15 at 13:58
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    Wikipedia states that first ideas of the film date back to 1995 - maybe the recording equipment is from that time. – SpaceTrucker Jan 21 '15 at 16:23
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    It was one of ten movie ideas the Pixar guys came up with during a working lunch in the 90s. Probably just a holdover. – Dave Johnson Jan 21 '15 at 18:15
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    Pure speculation: Wall-E robots were not always meant to be left behind. The 'tapedeck' therefore would be for its human co-workers for recreational use. Given the hyper-commercial nature of the world in Wall*E, it was probably touted as a feature to help sell the model. – Zibbobz Jan 21 '15 at 20:36

I can’t find any interviews explaining why he has the audio recorder, so here are two of my guesses:

  • Having some canned messages he can play to any friendly humans he encounters.
  • Being able to carry messages between people (probably supervisors).

I’ve seen some theories that WALL·E wired it in himself, but I can’t find a high-enough resolution shot of one of the broken WALL·E units to check this idea.

Now the more interesting question: why is it an analogue recorder?

I’ve looked around, and I can’t actually find any evidence that it is analogue. It seems to be based on the design of his buttons, which look like a traditional cassette player:

enter image description here

But we never see an actual cassette, and besides, wouldn’t an audio cassette have worn out by now? And we never see at the end of the film when

he gets crushed.

I think it’s actually a digital recorder with these chunky buttons.

These buttons make a fair amount of sense:

  • The large indentations make tactile discovery easy, which is useful if visibility is poor (for example, in a dust storm).
  • The large indentations make them easy to find by touch (for a human operator, at least).
  • They look like mechanical switches, which are more durable in harsh environments than something like a touchscreen or click wheel.
  • He’s a mass produced unit, and simple buttons like that are cheap.
  • large mechanical buttons are easier to operate with gloves and clumsy mechanical hands

That’s still a guess – point to proof that it was an analogue recorder and I’ll retract this part – but it’s the best guess I have.

  • 9
    The buttons also make sense as Wall-E himself can press them with his oversized "fingers". – Jonathan Drapeau Jan 21 '15 at 14:04
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    >! After his memory got wiped, when Eve pressed play on his recorder it played static. IMO, that's a pretty good reason for assuming it's analog. – Ajedi32 Jan 21 '15 at 15:31
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    @BPugh As far as "who says the last owner of it didn't record static", I think balance of probability should apply here and say that that's far less likely. – asteri Jan 21 '15 at 20:15
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    @Ajedi32 I don't think the presence of recorded static shows that it's analog - if you try to play non-audio data (or a corrupted audio file) as if it were an audio data file, you'll hear loud static. Even a "digital" recorder has an analogue component -- the microphone and A/D converter, so a loose microphone cable (or missing or damaged microphone) can lead to static in the recording, even if it's all stored digitally. – Johnny Jan 21 '15 at 22:37
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    The fact that wiping his memory wiped the recording pretty much proves that it is digital. – Harry Johnston Jan 22 '15 at 3:44

Although I can't answer why Wall-E might have had a recording system (beyond speculative reasoning) I can explain why it would make sense to have mechanical buttons on a robot such as Wall-E-- Wall-E works in a rugged, dirty environment and mechanical equipment is far more durable than sophisticated electronics.

When engineering mechanical devices, designers must consider the rugged nature of the use case. If you were to design a robot to be used in an office space, with clean air and minimal chance of forceful damage, you can design a robot with a plastic, "slick" exterior, equipped with touch screens (or holographic, interactive projection systems that user's can interact with), small moving parts and other little details that could easily break when exposed to the elements.

However, when working with rugged equipment that will get dirty, you have to engineer for wear-and-tear, weather, dirt, grime, dust, force-full impacts, etc. A touch interface would quickly be covered in grime and it could be annoying to properly maintain in the field.

An interactive, holographic, projection system could also be hard to maintain because, again, dirt and grime could smudge the projector lens and, potentially, cause false-positive user input interactions or block portions of the holographic projection.

Of course, if one thinks about this too much, you may realize that this doesn't seem to be an accurate assumption because for as rugged as Wall-E is, he still has very complex eyes cameras for seeing, which should also be limited by all of these environmental issues. This might be true, but for this design I think it's safe to assume that the artists at Pixar probably decided to forgo a little realism in order to paint a picture of a rugged but very emotional robot.

Artistically, Wall-E is a balance of mechanical engineering and artistic expression. Some things exist without real world importance. The recording unit isn't necessary for a mini-trash compactor. However, if someone were to engineer a similar device today, or for years to come, mechanical buttons would most-certainly be used due to their durability. This is something that I think Pixar considered and probably came to the correct design conclusion.

I don't see these style of buttons going away for decades, if not centuries, to come when the environment dictates.

  • This seems to answer "Why does Wall-E have buttons?" instead of anything asked in the OP. – Geobits Jan 21 '15 at 14:59
  • @geobits, to be within the guidelines the first two sentences of the second-to-last paragraph address the question. Furthermore, this is one post with two questions. If you're going to exercise your right to down-vote (and you are free to do so) you may consider downvoting this question and marking it as "too broad". My answer addresses the fact that there is no need for a recording device on a trash disposal device. However, Pixar had to tell a story and, without any direct quotes from writers, this type of answer is the best you will get for explaining the "arcane" nature of the buttons. – RLH Jan 21 '15 at 15:06
  • Wall-E does replace his broken eyes in the movie. So it seems like they are on of the less durable parts. – orkoden Jan 23 '15 at 22:24

Ubiquitous surveillance. The human society in the film is clearly highly regulated and monitored, so it seems perfectly plausible that every electronic device would be required to record nearby activity, so it could be accessed later to detect crime. The fact that it's analogue tells us that there was a serious hacking problem, so analogue recordings are made on physical tape because then they can't be accessed remotely by unauthorised people -- you have to get physical access to the tape to play back the recording.

  • "so analogue recordings are made on physical tape because then they can't be accessed remotely by unauthorized people" - Not true. The medium in which data is recorded has no relationship with how it may be accessed. Tape backups for example. – bobbyalex Jan 21 '15 at 9:30
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    Unless there's an automated tape loader, I don't give much for the chances of a hacker in Ljubljana who's trying to access a backup tape in a tape safe in Singapore. – Mike Scott Jan 21 '15 at 10:01
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    Any digital recording medium would also be secure if not on a network. Stacks of DVDs or hard disks in a warehouse is exactly the same as stacks of tape. Also, magnetic tape recordings can be digital. – OrangeDog Jan 21 '15 at 13:57
  • The point I am trying to make is that the storage media doesn't matter. As long as you are wired in, you can access the data. PS: I can access the current backup tapes running right now from my home. – bobbyalex Jan 22 '15 at 2:37
  • Your backup tapes are digital data, not analog. If you connect an old VCR to your network, can you access the videos remotely? – Mike Scott Jan 22 '15 at 8:10

According to a footnote in The Art of Wall•E, the primary out-of-universe driver seems to be that Wall•E was heavily inspired by Star Wars' R2-D2. Since R2-D2 (famously) has recording equipment, it stands to reason that Wall•E has to have it as well.

Everybody in this building was influenced by Star Wars. That was Andrew Stanton's inspiration. He said "I want to do 'R2-D2: The Movie' ". Because he loved R2-D2 so much, he wanted to do a movie with a character who doesn't speak.

Jim Reardon: Head of Story.

enter image description here


I believe Wall-E added the recorder himself.

Wall-E has the ability to replace his own parts. He also is continuously looking for new items to use among the junk that he processes.

It makes sense that if Wall-E found something that he could use while accomplishing his directive that would make it more enjoyable, he would want to bring it with him. And if he could find a way to attach it to himself so he wouldn't have to carry it, he would. This explains why it has buttons; if it was standard equipment, he would activate it internally, just like he does the trash compactor. (There is no button to start the compactor function.)

  • 2
    Ahem. I'll just leave this here, shall I? i.stack.imgur.com/VapUZ.jpg – Valorum Feb 28 '15 at 16:25
  • @Richard Hmmm. <Grasps at straws.> Since it doesn't really make sense for an audio recording function with physical buttons to be standard equipment on Wall-E units, perhaps those buttons on the old unit are for some other manual function, and Wall-E, recognizing that he doesn't need those buttons anymore, re-purposed them for audio recording. Or maybe the old unit used to be a partner/friend of our Wall-E, and they found two audio recorders and modified themselves together. – Ben Miller Feb 28 '15 at 18:00
  • At this point, I see that you've got two choices. 1) Defend the indefensible 2) Delete the answer and slink away into the darkness with some semblance of honour remaining. :-) – Valorum Feb 28 '15 at 18:05
  • 1
    @Richard Number 1 sounds more fun, doesn't it? – Ben Miller Feb 28 '15 at 18:06
  • It's what I'd do. – Valorum Feb 28 '15 at 18:06

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