Live Robot Hack Session
DJ Sures

1983 Robot Magazines show robots haven't changed

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Take a trip with us into the past down memory lane - or - aka the time before now! We spend 3 and a half hours browsing 3 robot magazines from 1983 that show the robot industry hasn't changed. Today, the industry is making the same robots with the same challenges. Amazing to see how far we've come and how far we haven't!

Did you know there were 32x32 pixel vision systems for Commodore 64 and BBC Microcomputers?


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At 2:30 in the morning, damm time zones. Have fun guys, would love to attend this hack but i am workin tomorrow.


Jeremie and I had a real great time going through these magazines. I'm blown away by how similar the world was as it is now.


Computers follow Moore’s law and robots follow snores law.

Moore's law is the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles about every two years.

Snores law is the observation that the number of skills in a sophisticated autonomous robot doubles about every twenty years.


LOL yah - that's about right. Although we went from 0 to 601 robot skills in 5 years. That's not bad! I'd have to run a report for growth but I think it's a bit bumpy ;)

I'm obsessed with these robot magazines - it's inspired me to start a blog series!


Yah dave - it was a blast. Jeremie and I didn't leave the office until close to 2:00 AM because we were learning a lot. I know it's a long video and could use a trim to extract the highlights, but the articles and content did deserve our full attention. Just amazing to see how far we've come and how far we haven't

#7   — Edited

No, no need to trim. Every minute was enjoyable and fascinating. I remember some of those robots and was amazed at how advanced by today's standards some of that stuff was. You're right we really haven't come a long way. I think the biggest leap we've made is making robotics more accessible and doable to the common person. We all know that's thanks to you and your ingenuity. I'm not sucking up here just being honest.


Ya DJ, it was amazing to see all those retro robots I wanted to own when I was a kid, That RB5X was actually at a mall near me when I was a kid and I dragged my Dad in the store begging him to buy it for me, The guy had it on demo mode with talking and moving around! OF course the price was way to high and never did get it.

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Watched video, very nice

Old magazines are like a looking glass back in time, like old TV shows.

Not so different, but the past and birth of things are always very interesting to see how and who started it and why it started.


DJ, Sooo Many memories does this bring back,,, :)

Things I remember, the Futaba servo. First Time I seen that was back when Heathkit was big. Their catalog was awesome. The servo was part of an RC model airplane kit that cost around $2000 back then. I had heard Futaba was already doing RC for the military back then. Also remember wanting to get the Hero 1or the Hero 2000 , but was was too expensive back in the day. Aslo, back then, Heathkit had an Education program. My highschool was a trade school, and I was in Industrial Electronics class, the school used all Heathkit products for teaching everything from tube theory to their first PC.

The Androbot series (bob or fred) was around then too, very short lived as you know. I had always wanted to build a full size version of one, but with todays technology. Right now, I only have a little 12"mockup up one that was created by an ex Androbot employee. Heres a fun fact DJ, Nolen was also the creator of the Chucky Cheese franchise...

I also remember in HS, they started to teach cimputer classes using those old APPLE metal box desktops, and yes we had a robot arm in the class too:) I use to tray and controla home build arm with my C64 . Also the Omnis and Tommy robots were fun days.

This was a fun trip down memory lane.... thank you

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Would it be improper to ask who the person was that owned these magazines? You said it was a community member that had passed away. I've been around a long time now and maybe I knew him. There are lots of old timers I considered friends that I wonder what happened to them.


I don’t believe he had ever posted on the forum. Doubt anyone here had spoken with him. Not a lot of people use the forum outside of the select handful of you guys. It’s funny but the fee of you are the only reason the forum exists. You wouldn’t believe how many times we had discussions about removing it because they thought it was a waste of time. Good thing they’re not working for me anymore :)


Ha ha noway, This Forum has saved many of my Projects when I was clueless on what I was doing wrong. Many times one of you guys has saved me from total robot doom and giving up and try some other hobby instead! All for 1 and 1 for all in here saves the day,LOL!

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OK, I understand. My condolences to his loved ones even though.

Man, am I glad you didn't listen to their advice. This forum is so essential to us who struggle and are learning. As a example Dimension Engineering who offer the excellent Sabertooth and Kangaroo motor controllers do not have a forum. There is so many questions about getting that little Kangaroo tuned and running properly and using their software. I've talked to so many builders that had no idea about "hidden" features that are not well documented. Every time someone hits a wall getting it to run properly the questions go through their Customer Service. other people they know have used it or forums like this. I think a community forum like this takes the pressure off the companies CS and promotes a good product . It also brings in outside people (like PTP here on this forum) that have struggled and figured issues out because of their talent and experience. There are just so many other advantages to a properly maintained forum that outweighs the downsides.

Then there are the experienced pro's that hang out here and share their work and experience with the rest of us want to learn. For me, that's invaluable to be privy to their thought processes and exploration of ideas. Kind of like watching Thomas Edison or Leonardo da Vinci at work.

Of course these are just my opinions.

Thanks for keeping  this forum up and running.


Yeah when I first started out, I would have probably given up on using the software, if there had not been a forum to ask questions in. Even if only a few of us are active on the forum, I bet thousands of people use it daily to search for answers about building their robots.


Oh ya - don’t worry it’s not going anywhere:)  I made sure of that a long time ago. Merely mentioned how few people post on it. My theory is people like you guys post and ask questions. And other people learn from those questions without needing to post


It would be fascinating to see the web analytics of how many hits see from logged in users vs users without accounts and what hits are redirects from search engines vs direct, etc. If you are ever feeling like sharing.  I suspect the logged in accounts are a pretty small percentage of the users searching for answers, but I would love to look at the numbers (professional curiosity.  I am part of the team that manages a web AI, text AI, and phone AI at my employer.  We are adding live web chat in April as well for when the AI can't find an answer).


Ya you know sometimes I do a general Google search on how to fix a problem robot related such as sonar sensor or camera ai vision.I will many times find Ez robot Community posts or Synthiam forum posts dealing with subject. Sometimes at top of search. I have also seen my questions from when I first joined back in 2016 !


Who remembers the Hero-1 copy from the 2000s?

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Did not know they re did the hero 1,need to try and buy 1 !

#21   — Edited

It is not the hero-1. It was made in 2004 i think by a company named white robotics. They dont exist anymore.


Oh yeah, I remember that company. The robot was to be an educational platform I believe. Went for about $600 I think ?

#23   — Edited

It's actually shocking to see that not a lot has changed in robotics in 38 years since these magazines were published. So many robot arms in the advertisements. Certainly, the things that have changed are computer speed and efficiency. But it's still a buncha code to move motors from one state to another, reading sensors and doing 1,2 or 3 based on those readings. GAI, may allow more behind-the curtain "magic" for the average person to be wowed, but basically, robots are staying in the industrial market, save a few of the winners like robot floor vacuums, robot lawnmowers...perform a task, finish task..go charge.


I will be honest I am extremely underwhelmed by the capabilities of high end robots. They are supposed to be semi autonomous but at best they are remote controlled machines that can’t function unless they are performing repetitive tasks or manually controlled by a human.  What is worse they don’t even include the sensors in their robot to allow you to even develop code to make them perform their intended purpose.  This idea of COBOTS is frustrating when we should be focusing on fully autonomous mobile robots and not remote controlled robots that cant interact with the real world or barely navigate between way points.

example why make a robot arm without a 3D depth sensing camera in the gripper.  It is very difficult to accurately  calculate position, orientation and location of the object without it.  It is very difficult to pick up anything autonomously without one. Why would you not have touch and pressure sensors on the gripper so you know when you have hold of it and the appropriate pressure to apply. Why would you create a single DOF gripper when we know a human hand needs over 20 DOF to pickup and manipulate an object.

There really needs to be some serious investment and a consolidated effort across the entire robotics industry if we want fully autonomous robots to move forward

#25   — Edited

In the manufacturing world, they need a "return on their investment", so the robots that are created perform their tasks required, robots that are necessary. Can't imagine autonomous robots just wondering around trying to figure out what to do on their own , that would be dangerous and scary in a "real life"  scenario.

Even the "terminator" first was programed to perform a particular task  :-(

what kind of robots are these?  watch the  videos -

I see Justin below just brought us back on topic :-)


DJ!!!  I laughed so much at your comments as you read through these vintage magazines!  Thank you for this....this needs to be a weekly show, no doubt....The DJ and Jer show reading vintage robotics magazines!!  xD

#27   — Edited

Ha ha ya Justin! when he wrote in the posting that it was just going to be boring coding as a heads up, I thought well I already bought my Friday night 6 pack,let's see what DJ is up to. So he pulls out the Vintage magazines with Hero 1 on the cover and that peeked my interest right there! Every article in those mags was like Robotics Porn, Ha ha! Very interesting what people were building back then and having the same problems we still have today!

Edit---- And all those robot Arm ads, that one Arm with the Hilarious name and DJ made this comment for Jeremie to use it on himself had me rolling on the floor,That alone made the show worth it!


Oh yes, to Nink, It is truly amazing that high end robots are still not doing much, I am watching a movie right now called Hornet about some High school kids that build a robot that can do more amazing things than anything Boston Dynamics has,including stop Alien invasion on Earth,LOL!! What a stretch! Also to Wil I think that is you,fxrtst? What you did with that Starwars Robot is truly mind blowing stuff since I like all Sci-Fi movie robots! I had a chat with Dennis down at EZ Robot and we were both talking about you and the stuff you are doing, I mentioned I was even wanting to buy your rejected 3d printed parts for that starwars bot,LOL! xD


I loved reading those robot magazines as kid. I remember trying to build a 6 ft robot from scratch that was better than Hero 1. lol


How far did you get? Lots of time to try again :D

i didn’t know those existed as a kid. Would have been all over them. My dad kept popular mechanics in the washroom at his company. I must have read the HealthKit hero articles a thousand times over.

#31   — Edited

In 6th grade I started reading a book called "How to build a self programming robot" by David Heiserman in 1980.  I built the power supply and the base . Heiserman's  design was the size of the Hero Robot, but I wanted to make it 6 feet tall like the Lost in Space Robot B9.   So added a some motorized aluminum legs that had motors for bending. I didn't make it much past this point when I was swept up by the personal computer craze. I studied Electrical Engineering and built mobile robot platforms in College and worked on the Cassini robotic spacecraft and the Mars Sojourner Rover for NASA. Now I teach students how to build robots using Mecanno kits,  Ez-Robot microcontrollers, Raspberry Pis, etc...  I've always meant to get back to that original project one day. Thanks for encouraging  me to do so. BTW, I still have pieces to that original robot in my garage. Glad my parents saved it over all those years.

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I am so enjoying this, it brings back so many memories for me! I still have the (only) four Practical Robotics mags that were published. This was a very exciting time for me!

With the Hero robot, I am sure the speech synthesiser was Votrax SC01 by Federal Screw - I actually bought one and it cost me a whole week's wages at the time!!

Myself and a good friend redesigned Big Trak we called it XTR

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More info of the 2nd generation BigTrak that we developed in 2012 - unfortunately it never got to market. DJ I have a few of the existing (non XTR) BigTraks (with magnetic clutch that made it go straight) and I would be happy to send you one.

Here is the first sizzle we did

Here is a promotional video

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Tony, I think secretly you work for Santa at the North Pole. Probably one of his lead elves.

You guys are such geeks. LOL. Love it.


Haha look who’s talking:) you’re the geek of the geeks! Living with a real life sized robot that’s something I dream of! My robots are little.

I sure would love a big trak someday. But of course i’d hack it with ARC haha


DJ, I gotta agree! I am a geek! LOL. Having a full sized Lost in Space was always a dream of mine since I was a kid. Thanks to you and your genius work I have one that talks and acts pretty close to what I dreamed of. Maybe you work for Santa also?

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Yes, Dave's B9 is an incredible feat of engineering!! The arms mechanism is pure genius!

DJ if you let me know where you want it sent, I will post you a BigTrak in January. I also have full circuit diagrams that should make any hack a breeze.


Serious?! That would be remarkable!!! Guess I know what my next hack night will be when I return to calgary in jan :)

here’s our address: DJ Sures #10 6120 11 st se calgary, Alberta  T2H 2L7 canada

im so excited :)


Tony seems to always be willing to help and lend a hand. He sent me several packages of parts "over the big pond".

Tony, you were involved in my prototyping of those arms. Not only did you give me some motors that helped move me in the right direction but you lent me support and advice at times I was ready to give up. Just one instance comes to mind when I couldn't get the Sabertooth/ Kangaroo boards to work for me in my robot. You jumped in and offered scripting advice and a pep talk. Thank you my friend! You're just as much a part of my Lost in Space B9 story as DJ and a ton of other people.

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Thanks Dave, but in the end your genius and determination shown through and your incredible B9 fully came to life! I believe that your B9 is the most advanced B9 bot in the World! I certainly have not seen anything better anywhere! Of course we all owe DJ a massive thanks for his incredible work that made these amazing robots possible!


Wow Tony, Thanks.

Your correct about DJ. I fully agree and always have.


Thanks a bunch Tony and Dave - I enjoy watching what you do with your robots and that's thanks enough! I just realized the avatars have santa hats on them - haha web dev is hilarious

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Back in the early eighties (1981), I built my first computerised robot - it was full scale and its "brain" was a hacked Sinclair ZX81 computer which was connected to the robot via a radio link - I managed to give it very primitive speech recognition using a zero crossing algorithm so it would respond to 20 commands. It had 8K battery backed RAM and a Votrax SC01 speech synthesiser - note the early ultrasonic ranger on the robot and the microphone.

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That's so cool. I remember you posting about that before. There were a number of those type of robots that were for sale.  Surprised yours wasn't turned into a product as well. Not sure how many of those robots were sold back then - but it is a shame we don't see those home robots of that size today. If styled right, with a built in vacuum and wet/dry floor clean - it would be pretty cool.

Long as it had a tray to move things around between rooms, it would be pretty useful!


Wow did not know a BigTrak had a near reboot in 2012, I would have bought 1 of those instead of the hugely way too expensive Robosapien V2!