Eight-track tapes weren’t just for music! The 2-XL robot was an early electronic toy that both entertained and educated kids by asking and allowing them to answer questions using eight-tracks.
New York City-based Mego Corporation initially released the eight-track model in 1978. Tiger Electronics followed suit with a second version of the 2-XL (short for “to excel”) in 1992 – enhancing the performance and sound quality of the toy by replacing outdated eight-track technology with new and exciting technology… cassette tapes. (As if eight-tracks weren’t already exciting enough!)
The human behind the 2-XL was Dr. Michael J. Freeman, a prolific inventor with more than 50 patents to his name in the areas of robotics, telecommunications, and cable television. Freeman invented and patented the 2-XL in 1976 and spent the next several years shopping it around to various toy companies, until Mego finally signed on roughly two years later.
At the time of the signing, there was great skepticism in the toy industry regarding the profit potential of interactive educational toys, like the 2-XL. Mego’s decision to take a chance on the 2-XL paid off, however, as the toy was an immediate hit. It became a top seller during the 1978 holiday season and remained on the market for four years before dwindling sales (and the subsequent bankruptcy of Mego) resulted in the robot’s demise in 1982.
The original 2-XL consisted of an eight-track player encased in gray and white plastic shaped to look like a human being. Its design was complete with facial features, two eyelets, and a “body” measuring about a foot high. 2-XL’s eyes and a red dome at the top of his head would light up and/or flash while the eight-track played. Users interacted with 2-XL through the use of four red buttons housed above the slot for the eight-track tape cartridge. By default, the buttons on the 2-XL came labeled with “Question”, “A or Yes or True”, “B or More Info” and “C or No or False”. Pressing these buttons caused the toy to switch between pre-recorded tracks on the eight-track, thereby appearing to respond to user input.
One of the most distinctive features of the 2-XL was its voice. Freeman filtered his own voice through a synthesizer to create a high-pitched robotic sound. However, it doesn’t stop the toy from having the same distinctive Brooklyn accent as its inventor!
The 2-XL retailed for $50 to $60 for ages 5 and up. The package included an AC adapter and a single eight-track tape entitled General Information.
Through the years, Mego produced over 40 eight-track tapes for the 2-XL. Each tape was sold separately at a retail price of $7.95 to $9.95. Topics included American history, astronomy, general information, math, and sports. Freeman even developed an exercise program and another interactive game called “Tri-Lex”, which was a cross between tic-tac-toe and checkers.