If you were to show ten young visitors to the American restaurant chain "Chuck E. Cheese's" which data carriers are used to control the popular animatronics there, there is a good chance that nobody would know what it is about. Because, as an employee now shows in a viral video on Tiktok, the robotic animals are still programmed with floppy disks.
The somewhat spooky animatronics are now quite outdated. These are robots that move mechanically, pneumatically, and electronically and are often found in amusement parks. For example, Phantasialand in Brühl used 120 of them in the legendary silver mine.
At "Chuck E. Cheese's" the various little animals still dance today, including Chuck the mouse, Helen the chicken, Jasper the dog and Crusty the cat. On Tiktok, Stewart, who calls himself "Showbizpizzaman," explains how to bring the characters to life. At least for a short time, because according to Stewart, the technology will soon be completely overhauled. What follows is like a journey through time.
First he presents the data medium on which the commands for the band are located. This is a 3.5 inch floppy disk. As a reminder, it's been 42 years since Sony first introduced this storage medium. But the sticker on the restaurant floppy indicates that the chain is still actively using it. Because it says: "Chuck E. Cheese's Evergreen Show 2023".
Stewart shows that the disk must first be plugged into a computer that is turned off. After the drive clicks into place with a frighteningly loud noise, he switches on the huge cabinet responsible for controlling the characters. A never-ending loading time begins, during which said computer reads the data from the diskette. According to the explanation, these are the individual dance steps that the figures are supposed to perform later.
At the end Stewart pushes two DVDs into different drives and activates the character in the restaurant - in this case just the mouse.
As "Buzzfeed" reports, around 50 restaurants in the USA are said to be running with this system. Tom Persky, owner of one of the last remaining shops for floppy disks, confirmed to the US magazine that "Chuck E. Cheese's" is one of his valued customers and that he is sad that the end of the old robots will also end an era for him.
Persky also provides an explanation as to why some companies find it so difficult to say goodbye to the floppy disk. "Buzzfeed" he explains that behind the ancient medium is an "extremely reliable" technology that you can rely on. Since floppy disks are neither internet-based nor network-based, it would be a completely safe method to protect against malware and hacks.
This could also be the reason why the US Department of Defense relied on floppy disks to control the nuclear weapons control system until just a few years ago. That only changed in the summer of 2019, as the “New York Times” reported at the time.