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Bridgeville man ready to reboot ‘Robot Repair’ at Pittsburgh airport | TribLIVE.com
Carnegie/Bridgeville

Bridgeville man ready to reboot ‘Robot Repair’ at Pittsburgh airport

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Toby Fraley at his home in Bridgeville with Robot 65.

Robot 65 sits in one corner of Toby Fraley’s house in Bridgeville.

Fraley, 37, a self-employed artist, doesn’t give proper names to the numerous robots — which now number into the 80s — he’s constructed out of jugs, thermoses, vacuum cleaners and random industrial materials.

But 65 is still a member of the family.

“I was hoping maybe in the future if we did have robots, we’d take them and get them repaired. And they might also have a personality so you wouldn’t want to ditch a robot, you’d get attached to it. It’s kind of like a pet.”

His fascination and imagination culminated in “Fraley’s Robot Repair” art installation, which stood at 210 Sixth Ave. in Downtown Pittsburgh for 17 months starting in November 2011.

It was part of “Project Pop Up: Downtown,” a venture of the mayor’s office, Urban Redevelopment Authority, Department of City Planning and Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership that placed 11 art installations and businesses in empty storefronts.

Two years after the installation was dismantled, Fraley is planning to open a new branch of “Fraley’s Robot Repair” at Pittsburgh International Airport if he raises enough money. His fundraising page on Kickstarter.com went live on May 19. He hopes to raise $10,000 within a month.

He met with airport officials before last Christmas. They offered him a space shop in Concourse A near Southwest Airlines three times the size of his original

“The airport authority is pleased to offer a new space for the Robot Repair Shop as part of our expanding ‘Art in the Airport’,” said Richard Belotti, vice president of planning at the airport.

“We know that the original installation was very successful, and we are delighted that millions of travelers each year will once again be able to experience this unique and playful piece.”

Fraley said he’s always been attracted to vintage Americana.

“My dad collected Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines and a reoccurring theme was always flying cars and jetpacks and robots. Things we should have now but we don’t,” Fraley said.

“So, I was thinking: What if it actually did happen? Chances are (robots) would be expensive and you’d want to get them repaired, unlike if a CD breaks, we just pitch it.”

Fraley is looking forward to working in his new space at the airport and creating all the small details — a “Robot Model 45-58 Quick Reference Chart” poster, cans of robot-grade paint and retro tools — that made the original shop a “living” piece of art.

“Those were so much fun to make. The little, minute things someone might never notice. Working on those was a blast. I could have spent another year just making all those strange little details.”

Fraley said the reaction to his original shop was overwhelming. Hundreds of people sent in selfies with it were posted to his website.

“I was totally blown away and flattered. It was amazing, When I was putting it up, I really thought this might be a mistake, putting a robot repair shop in Downtown Pittsburgh. I didn’t think anyone would think it’s a good use of space.”

He’s keeping some of the ideas for his new shop under wraps.

“I want to make a big, robot arm that’s been taken off a robot and kind of sitting in the room, hooked up to some machines. … I want to make its fingers slowly open and close. … I want some mechanical things you won’t notice immediately.”

If he raises enough money, Fraley hopes to start working on it this summer so it is ready for the millions of eyes of airline passengers in September.

“Ever since I was young, I’ve always been infatuated with flight and airports. The 7-year-old Toby would be really proud of the 37-year-old Toby,” he said.

David Mayernik Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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