Day 6

So long, and thanks for all the mail: CBC retires its fleet of mailbots

They look like hippopotamus-sized Roombas and over the years, they've provoked mixed emotions among the people who work alongside them.
Basher the mailbot prepares to deliver the mail on Sept. 29, 2017. (Justin Chandler/CBC)
The lore surrounding the CBC mail robots is that they've never missed a day of work. But now, after more than two decades of service, the whole stable is being put out to pasture… or retired to stud… or whatever it is that robots do when their time is up.

With names like Basher, Rasputin and Mom, each robot has a name and personality that could be shared with a professional wrestler or a death metal band. As Tony and Victor, the new hosts at CBC Kids, tell Day 6, it's the idiosyncrasies that make them so lovable.

Basher the mailbot prepares itself for duty. (Justin Chandler/CBC)

"To get a machine to walk up to you and give you mail is something so surreal and awesome," Tony says.

To be clear, they don't walk, they roll, but as Victor points out, it's no less awesome.

"It blew my mind that they could follow invisible magnetic lines but they still had minds of their own," he says.  "It's this box with eyeballs glued on it but they all have their own thing. It's pretty cool."

Basher the mailbot has a luscious Burt-Reynolds 'stache. (Justin Chandler/CBC and Hulton Archive/Getty)

Victor and Tony developed an immediate fascination with Basher, the bot that delivers mail to their department. So much so that they wrote, recorded and filmed a tribute. And they did it all in one day.


Chicken soup for the mail robot's soul

Victor and Tony aren't the only CBCers to take notice.

Earlier this year, CBC employee and Lego aficionado Julio Preuss built a replica of the Toronto broadcasting centre as part of Canada Builds 150 — a collective project turning all kinds of Canadiana into Lego tributes for the sesquicentennial.

Julio Preuss poses with his Lego replica of CBC's Toronto headquarters. His model won the Best of Brickfête Award at a massive Lego fan festival in Toronto. (Julio Preuss)

Preuss used 30,000 pieces and included details like the welcome desks, kitchenettes and the set where The National is filmed. It also included special touches like The Friendly Giant's tree and the mini-Lego mailbots.

Julio Preuss Lego model includes a mini mail robot sneaking up on a Lego intern. (Julio Preuss)

Move it or Lose it

Note the look of terror on the Lego intern's face. The mail robots reliably transported letters and packages throughout the ten-story building, but they also delivered their share of frustration.

"There's a certain fear when you hear the beeping coming down the hall," says Kati Mason, a producer with CBC Morning Live. "We like to zig and zag and play a dangerous game of chicken."

Despite their best efforts, the mailbots take up most of the hallway, and if you think they won't hit you — or can't hit you — you'd be wrong. The Sunday Edition's Michael Enright has a story to prove it.

Enright battles the mail robots

6 years ago
Duration 1:01
Michael Enright recalls the time a mailbot pinned him to the wall.

Being a little weird can be a lot of fun

Members of The Current say goodbye to MOM, the 3rd floor mail robot. (Courtesy Lisa Ayusa)
"That beeping sound that it's [mailbot] coming was a connection to the outside world. People write to us, listeners send us postcards," says Lisa Ayuso, a producer with The Current and witness to the mailbot assault on Enright. "It's a presence here and it will be weird not having it."

Close calls aside, everyone at CBC Toronto seems to have a personal story with Basher, MOM, Move It Or Lose It, Maze-Mobile or Rasputin. Some of them shared their memories at a retirement party for the bots. 

One story involved an employee dressing as Santa Claus, mounting the mailbot and riding it through the office delivering holiday cheer along with the mail.

Jeff Goodes, a producer with White Coat Black Art, has hitched a few rides on the mailbot but he says the thrill is more in the idea and less in the execution.

Now that we know they've punched their last timecard, it feels more and more like an aging family pet. They're slow and old, they bump into things and make weird noises but they're also reliable and fun. As we learned this week, they're beloved and they will be missed.

As of this writing, the future plans of the five CBC Toronto mailbots is uncertain.

To hear CBC employees share stories about the fleet of mail robots, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.