[vcf-midatlantic] VCF's HOPE exhibit

Herb Johnson hjohnson at retrotechnology.info
Tue Apr 26 12:31:58 EDT 2016

> Evan wrote:
> For the [HOPE] exhibit, I would like to show vintage computer robotics....
> fix up our HERO....a Minimover arm  can beg/borrow/steal ...We
> also have a robot kit for the Commodore 64.. Are
> there any other products we should consider for this exhibit? It should
> be limited to 70s/80s (assuming there's nothing for the PDP-8!)
> PS - I found a lot of * computerized * robots -- those with CPUs inside
> -- but for this exhibit I'd like to focus on robots * connected * to
> computers, so we can show the computation side of things.
> end quote.

Well, a quick comment is: show a PDP-8 with a Calcomp plotter. It's 
robotic, and computational, and "has the additional advantage of being 
true". Minicomputers ran robots in the 70's - that's all they had! for 
some time at least. But you're not gonna haul a minicomputer to HOPE.

And certainly the HERO and Minimover and items are fine. But I object to 
your notion linking 1970's micros & "robots connected to computers..
for computation". I'm lecturing deliberately, so you have something to 
say to Hope attendees who would mock what seems like an Arduino on wheels.

I'll remind you - I mean them - there were many more computers in 
private and small-company hands in the 80's than in the 70's - in the 
70's there wasn't so much to connect a robot TO. And a micro board kit 
that ran motors STILL cost a few hundred dollars in the 1970's (when 
that would buy a decent used car). But buying a micro board that 
actually DID something physical, not just "blink lights", was a good 
excuse (to your boss, your spouse) to buy a microcomputer board, to 
learn the technology.

Also, people in the 70's used such micros to run stuff - I don't know if 
you'd call a sprinkler system a "robot", but it's the same sort of 
"computations" and hardware as to move an arm or drive a motor. And many 
small manufacturers (most WERE small, then) bought single-board 
microcomputers, to run production equipment - a KIM could run a printing 
press for instance.

here's such a card, from the late 1970's, a small-company product by Lee 


this could run on solar power! Lee Hart attached motors and switches to 
it, put it in a box, and called it "ITSABOT". I don't have a photo of 
that product. Lee sells the 21st century equivalent board today, as a 
$89 kit.

In other words: the 70's was a different world of microprocessors, as 
the 1980's would be a world where microcomputers became accepted. If 
someone at Hope  is disappointed that a cigar-box robot on wheels "just" 
follows a white line and can avoid obstacles; explain that 
microprocessors  were new technology, not cheap, and these devices 
taught the people who made the smarter/cheaper/faster stuff a decade or 
two later. "People don't mock babies for being toddlers", if you want a 
quicker reply.

But if Hope is not a venue for such things and such lectures, that's 
your decision, show the Hero, it's pretty impressive for the era.


Herbert R. Johnson,  New Jersey USA
http://www.retrotechnology.com OR .net

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