Archive for the ‘The Robots’ Category

1984 – FETAL I Omnidirectional Robot – William H. T. La (Vietnamese/American)



FETAL I had its major public appearance at the International Personal Robots Congress (IPRC) held in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1984.

iprc3-ra-aug84 001-x640

Fetal I, constructed by Bill La, is a three-wheeled vehicle capable of moving in any direction, A later prototype, Fetal II [no picture available], was presented a Golden Droid award at the 1984 IPRC.



FETAL I at the IPRC 1984. Images by Richard Moyle via David Buckley's Historic Robots.


IPRC-Robotics Age Aug 1984.
Sunday was the day everyone had been waiting for, the awards brunch, Nelson Winkless, the official historian for IPRC, acted as master of ceremonies. After his opening remarks and thanks to the many behind-the-scenes personnel, Nels got down to the most important part of the program, the presentation of the Golden Droid awards.
The Golden Droid awards were presented in three categories: the most entertaining going to Bruce Taylor for his robot Henry; the most useful being presented to Reza Falamak and his EZ Mower Robot; and the open award going to Bill H. T. La for his Fetal II [Ed. not shown.]. After the picture-taking and congratulations were over, it was back to the exhibition hall for the final afternoon of the show, Although Sunday's attendance was somewhat less than the two previous days, the enthusiasm was still evident.


Dr. Bill La with his wife.

Venture – Volume 6, Part 2 – Page 88

William H. T. La, 33, was a Vietnamese exchange student and maker of toys when he invented the Alexis while playing with an erector set. He found that by placing castings on three wheels, the wheels could move in any direction.


Patent information:

omni-1 001-x640

omni-2 001-x640

Source: Robotics Age, Feb 1984.





Publication number    US4237990 A
Application number    US 06/000,570
Publication date    9 Dec 1980
Filing date    2 Jan 1979
Inventors    Hau T. La
Original Assignee    Hau T

Omnidirectional vehicle
US 4237990 A
A wheeled vehicle provided with three individually driven wheels rotatable on horizontal axes. The wheels are disposed at the corners of a triangle. The periphery of each wheel is defined by a plurality of rollers rotatable on respective axes which are each at an angle to the axis of the respective wheel. The axes of three rollers, one for each wheel, when each such roller is in its lowermost position, form a triangle. Each roller axis may be at right angles or perpendicular to, or at 45 degrees to, or at some other acute angle to the respective wheel axis, and the triangle may be an equilateral triangle in a typical embodiment of the invention.
According to a preferred embodiment of the invention, no two of the wheel axes are aligned or parallel to each other. In a typical construction, the wheels are at the corners of an equilateral triangle and the wheel axes intersect at the center of this triangle. The vehicle may be driven over a surface, or it may be inverted and an object with a surface engaged on the wheel rollers may be moved with respect to the stationary "vehicle". Controls for motors driving the wheels of the vehicle are provided to produce rectilinear movement, rotational movement or curvilinear movement of the vehicle over the surface.

Alexis, the Omnidirectional Wheelchair.

omni-c2 001-x640

An earlier prototype of the omnidirectional wheelchair.

Source: Basic Robotic Concepts, John M. Holland, 1983
A version of this drive was developed by the Veterans Administration as a transport system for paraplegic persons (Fig. 3-28). This system powers only the axial motion of each wheel, allowing the smaller outer wheels to roll freely. The effect is that these rollers act as force translators. This effect can be seen for the case of forward drive shown in Fig. 3-29B. Notice that only the two rear wheels are powered for this maneuver and that their outward force vectors cancel. This scheme greatly reduces the complexity of the carriage, but some loss of traction will occur. The small diameter of the rollers will also cause difficulty on surfaces that are not perfectly smooth.
•    Efficiency: Good
•    Simplicity of Control: Excellent
•    Traction: Good to fair (for single-axis drive)
•    Maneuverability: Excellent
•    Navigation: Excellent to fair (for single-axis drive)
•    Stability: Fair to good depending on mounting
•    Adaptability: None
•    Destructiveness: Excellent
•    Climbing: Poor
•    Maintenance: Poor to good (for single-axis drive)
•    Cost: Moderate (in production) to good (for single-axis drive)

omni-c3 001-x640


Dr. William H. T. La is the inventor of the Alexis, at the V.A. Institute in Palo Alto. The Alexis is a nonconventional "smart" wheelchair that uses a system known as "metamotion", employing three independently motor-driven nonparallel wheels linked by an on-board computer. This feature, patented by Dr. La in 1980, allows the Alexis to move directly to any point on the horizontal plane by the rider's manipulation of a joy stick that sends an electronic signal to the computer that controls the directions of the three wheels. The Alexis also has a control feature that enables a rider unable to manipulate the joy stick to operate the Alexis by head motion. As a result, any rider of the Alexis, regardless of disability level, could make it "turn on a dime" and maneuver it in cramped spaces.

The world's most futuristic wheelchair was designed and patented by Stanford University in 1982. It's omni-directional wheels made it truly revolutionary for its time. It was named in honor of Kim Alexis.

The Evening Independent – Sep 24. 1984  
'Alexis' the wheelchair called a significant step
As technology advances, entrepreneurs put it to use—quite often, to the advantage of victims of disease and infirmity, On this page, the focus is on a new computer assisted "sports car" wheelchair.
Knight-Ridder Newspapers
SAN JOSE, Calif, — Robert Smith slides into the $1,300 bucket seat of his sleek, computer-assisted wheelchair, fingers the control panel at his left hand and the joystick in his right, then zips off for a quick spin around a local shopping center,
At a top speed of 12 mph, the machine isn't exactly primed for the Daytona 500, But "Alexis," as Smith has dubbed this roadster-like tricycle for the disabled, which he helped design, enjoys advantages unknown to stock car racers.
At the shopping center, those advantages quickly proved themselves, Smith didn't swerve when shoppers stepped in his path because Alexis, unlike conventional wheelchairs, can move sideways as well as forward and backward.
The vehicle is part ballerina, too — it can pirouette within its own footprint, whereas ordinary wheelchairs have a turning radius of about one yard. This gives Alexis the kind of maneuverability that is critical in tight spaces, such as between racks of clothing in apparel stores or between a desk and wall at the office.
And belying the notion that wheelchairs will always be drab, pitiful contraptions, Alexis got some admiring glances as it sidestepped and twirled for the curious shoppers, A list of the world's 10 sexiest machines, Smith knows, wouldn't include present-day wheelchairs — an image he hopes Alexis will shatter so that, eventually, paraplegics and others can pride themselves on what may be their only means of powered transportation.
Indeed, Smith was thinking of Kim Alexis when he christened the wheelchair. She's the stunning blonde who last year modeled a red bathing suit in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit edition.
Smith, 24, who graduated from Stanford University in 1982 with a master's degree in mechanical engineering, and four others designed and built the futuristic wheelchair over a six-month period at the Veterans Administration Rehabilitation Research and Development Center in nearby Palo Alto, Tim Prentice, a high school student at the time, provided rough sketches of what was to become Alexis.
Smith's goal was to innovate, to build a machine that would include a Zilog Z-80A microcomputer to adjust the speed of the three independently powered wheels so the vehicle would move in precise directions at precise speeds. The microcomputer performs this command-and-control loop 20 times a second.
"It's almost as if you were going to build a sports car," Smith said of his design approach. "You can either soup up a Chevy Nova or start with a clean sheet of paper and design a Corvette."
Each wheel consists of eight natural-rubber rollers instead of treads, allowing the wheelchair to travel in all directions without any drag. The Boeing Co, owns the patent on this design for its shop carts.
The wheels — two in front and one in back —and motors are concealed by rounded fiberglass covers adorned with a red racing stripe. Adding to this airstreamed, classy look is the removable bucket seat manufactured by Recaro, the type commonly found in sports and racing cars.
"Actually, I'm kind of tired of that designs" Smith confided, "It looks like a vacuum cleaner,"
Perhaps, but Alexis doesn't sound like one. Its advanced electronics create very little noise. Moreover, the microcomputer won't let Alexis travel so fast that it tips over, and because all three motors are identical, unlike conventional models with left and right motors, parts are interchangeable.
That's important because wheelchair manufacturers don't stock many spare parts.
International Texas Industries of San Antonio has purchased the patent on Alexis and will manufacture it in Wichita, Kan. The first delivery is due Dec, 31. Initially, 500 of the wheelchairs will be test marketed only in the San Francisco area, so engineers here will be able to easily spot and correct any glitches.
The standard model will sell for $4,000 to $5,000, Smith estimates. Wheelchairs currently on the market, which is dominated by a company called Everest & Jennings, vary from $4,000 to $15,000, depending on the number and type of accessories the buyer needs.
Experts in and out of the VA agree that Alexis marks a significant step in wheelchair technology.
"This is the single most important contribution to mobility of the disabled since electric-powered wheelchairs were introduced," said Larry Leifer, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University and director of the VA's research and development center.
"Most offices are inaccessible to wheelchairs. We expect Alexis to give (disabled) people a wider choice of places to live — without modifying that house, which is very expensive — and we expect it to give them broader employment opportunities."
David McGowan, executive director of the Adult Independence Development Center in Santo Clara, agreed.
"I'd say it's a rapid evolution," McGowan said. "It would be a significant change.
"Although federal law mandates that new projects be accessible to the disabled, we live in a reality where most buildings are not accessible. Doorways and hallways are not wide enough, for example. That would make (wheelchair) maneuverability critical."
The VA, according to McGowan, is at the forefront of such innovations because of the financial resources available to it.
As with any new mechanism, development of the Alexis prototype has fostered its share of headaches. Today, the wheelchair — itself disabled — sits in Smith's cramped laboratory near the VA Medical Center waiting for a new joystick. The original throttle was much too stiff for the kind of fingertip control for which Smith is striving.
In addition, the two fiberglass and nylon chassis plates began showing immediate signs of wear, forcing a switch to pure fiberglass to ensure durability while still offering a smooth ride. Another problem was getting parts: Smith often found that, because of the hospital environment, drugs and toilet paper seemed higher on the VA's list of items to be ordered.
The test pilot who puts Alexis through its' paces is Peter Axelson, 27, another mechanical engineer at the research and development center. Axelson lost the use of his legs eight years ago when he fell 180 feet while learning to rock climb as an Air Force cadet.
In subsequent years, he founded Beneficial Designs of Santa Cruz where he designed the sit ski, similar to sled.
"The initial sense of being able to move in any direction in Alexis is incredible," he said. "That's the most profound feeling, I believe that most people would get into Alexis and not try to move in any direction but backward and forward because moving sideways is so unusual."
The wheelchair negotiates tight indoor spaces better than it does curbs, hills and other outdoor obstacles. Yet, all devices have their limits, and Alexis is no exception, Axelson said.
"It's like the difference between a long distance runner and a dancer, Alexis is agile."

Patent information:




Publication number    US4715460 A
Publication type    Grant
Application number    US 06/673,965
Publication date    29 Dec 1987
Filing date    20 Nov 1984
Also published as    EP0201592A1, WO1986003132A1
Inventors    Robert E. Smith
Original Assignee    International Texas Industries, Inc.
Omnidirectional vehicle base
US 4715460 A
An omnidirectional wheelchair base 7 includes upper 10 and lower 20 flexible base plates held in spaced-apart alignment by a pair of front supports 14 and 16 and a rear support 18. A pair of front wheels 22 and 26 are provided, each mounted on the front supports 14 and 16, respectively, and each having an axis of rotation wherein the angle between the axes of rotations of each of the front wheels is less than 180°. A rear wheel is mounted on the rear support and has an axis of rotation less than 180° from each of the front wheels.

Publication number    WO1986003132 A1
Publication type    Application
Application number    PCT/US1985/002281
Publication date    5 Jun 1986
Filing date    19 Nov 1985
Also published as    EP0201592A1, US4715460
Inventors    Robert E Smith
Applicant    Int Texas Ind Inc

Alexis Wheelchair – Last word:
Alexis is an innovative electric wheelchair using a "wheels within wheels" design. It is unique in that it can turn in its own footprint and move sideways. The Rehab R&D Center licensed Intex Industries to make Alexis commercially available in 1987, and Intex made 40 pre-production units for field trials in the San Antonio area. During subsequent redesign efforts, the company filed for bankruptcy, preventing further commercialization at the time.

From the video blurb: Unfortunately, Alexis never made it to market because Jon King, Intex CEO, embezzled millions of investment capital. He was later convicted and spent 10 years in federal prison for his crime.

Mobile Vocational Assistant Robot (MoVAR): 1983-1988.
Overview of project

The MoVAR project used a unique, patented, 3-wheeled omni-directional base with a PUMA-250 arm mounted on it. It was desk-high and designed to go through interior doorways (see Figure 2). All electronics and power components for the motors and sensors were mounted in the mobile base. A telemetry link to a console received commands and sent position and status information. The mobile base had a bumper-mounted touch sensor system to provide autonomy in the face of obstructions, a wrist-mounted force sensor and gripper-mounted proximity sensors to assist in manipulation, and a camera system to display the robot's activities and surroundings to the user at the console. The robot console had three monitors: graphic robot motion planning, robot status, and camera view. It had keyboard, voice, and head-motion inputs for command and cursor control, and voice output.

Omni-directional mobile robot called MoVAR.

Figure 2: MoVAR robot base with instrumented bumpers and joystick; the PUMA-250 carries a camera for remote viewing, a six-axis force sensor and gripper with finger pad-mounted proximity sensors. A wireless digital link allows the mobile base computer to communicate with the user console. A later phase of this project added instructable natural language input capability, coupled to an internal world model, so that typed-in commands such as, "move to a position in front of the desk, and move west when the bumpers are hit" could be executed. Path planning was not a targeted research area for this project due to the many other research groups active in this domain.

This project was stopped in 1988 when VA funding was terminated. The hardware and software were subsequently transferred to the Intelligent Mechanisms Group at the NASA Ames Research Center (Mountain View, CA) for use in the development of real-time controllers and stereo-based user interfaces for semi-autonomous planetary rovers.

See other early Humanoid Robots here.
See other early Mobile Robots here.

1983 – MARVIN Robot – David Gossman et al (American)


1983 – "MARVIN" the Robot by David Gossman et al. (Image source: Robot Tech Talk, 1985 by Ed  Radlauer.)


MARVIN MARK I – "Mobile Anthropomorphic Robot VINtage high tech robot"

Marvin Mark I moves around the room, talks with a synthesized voice using his 500-word vocabulary, moves his head, has sonar ranging on board, and has two 6-axis arms that can be programmed to work simultaneously. Marvin is a somewhat anthropomorphic personal robot that stands approx 4 foot 2 inches tall and has two six-axis arms, an on-board Motorola 68000 processor and a standard disk drive. A total of 15 axes of movement can be operated simultaneously under computer control.


 Text by bill_r:

     "Marvin" appeared on the scene somewhere around 1982 or 1983.  He featured the new (at that time) 68000 processor, and was actually very sophisticated, both mechanically and electronically.  The articulation and strength of the arms and hands were particularly impressive.  At that time, I was working for a small engineering company (Helman Engineering) prior to their relocation to South Carolina, helping to design and built fiber-composite tensioning systems for sale to the Air Force and aerospace industries.  At one time, we were asked to supply a bid on automated traffic control systems for highway construction sites.   (Apparently, the accident rate is fairly high, and holding a sign for hours has to be the world's most boring job.)  We kicked around some requirements, and decided that such a device should be self-contained, durable, capable of communicating with both the foreman and other robots on the job via radio, and equipped with visual warning devices for motorists as well as audible warnings for the road crew, should a car not slow down or otherwise pose a threat.  "Marvin" had recently come to my attention, and he looked like he might be a good place to start, so my boss (coincidentally also named Marvin) and I hopped in his red-white-and-blue stunt plane (he used to be a stunt pilot in an aerial circus, but that's another story altogether) and hopped over to Iowa to visit "Marvin's" home.  The pictures above were taken at the small factory.  The image of a robot assembly line (ala "Short Circuit" or "The Terminator") sticks in my head to this day.  I remember seeing tables holding row after row of arms, hands, heads, wheels, etc., ready to be assembled.  I don't know what happened to "Marvin" and his brothers, because I don't think I've ever seen one, or even a picture of one, outside those I saw at the factory that day.  The advertisement is one of a short series run in "Robotics Age" magazine.  (In case you were wondering, the traffic-control robot fell through; it seems it's cheaper to pay a human being to lean on a shovel all day…)

        Update 9/10/98:  Being curious if there were actually any "Marvins" around that I might adopt, I did some research.  The company is long gone, having gone bankrupt in 1990 due to the fickle fortunes of the robotics market.   They apparently sold a number of robots of varying designs before they vanished, however.  By speaking to the mayor of the town where the company once existed, I was able to make contact with two of the three people who designed and built "Marvin", who are still living in the area, but pursuing totally different occupations.  The 3rd person apparently moved to Minneapolis and later passed away.   I'd still like to give a "Marvin" a home, so if you know of any that are available, let me know!   




Above images also from bill_r.




MARVIN specification from The Personal Robot Book, Texe Marrs, 1985.

Most of the advertisements shown below are from various issues of Robotics Age journal. Some are reproduced by convenience from The Old Robots.




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Press photo of Marvin in Boston. Date and people unknown.


Poor image From IEEE's Spectrum, May 1985.


MARVIN at the IPRC 1984. Image by Richard Moyle via David Buckley's Historic Robots.

Source: The Daily Reporter – Sep 20, 1984

Branstad meets Melvin robot
By Judy Daubenmler, Iowa News Service
DES. MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad got a helping "hand" with one of his office chores Tuesday and seemed pleased that the "hand" wasn't a human's.
The governor signed a proclamation declaring Sept, 30-Oct. 6 "Iowa High Tech Week" and in the spirit of the week, an Iowa-made robot handed the governor the document for his signature.
The robot, a 4-foot-2-inch, 150-pound electronic bundle called Marvin, told the governor, "I am pleased to be here" as he raised his arm and presented Branstad with the proclamation.
"I congratulate you humans on a great idea … and for choosing me to help you. From me and my pals in Iowa industry, thank you. Thank you, Governor Branstad. What a great week," said Marvin,
Calling it a "little different to be talking to robots," Branstad thanked the blue, pudgy, human-shaped machine and then tugged gently to loosen Marvin's
grip on the proclamation.
"Is he going to let go of it?" asked a skeptical Branstad.
A well-trained Marvin relaxed his grippers, surrendered the paper to the governor and then lowered his arm.
The little ceremony in Branstad's formal office was a sort of Iowa debut for Marvin, but his "father" says the little tyke may soon go on to bigger and better things.
David Gossman, chief executive officer of Iowa Precision Robotics, Ltd., in Melvin, said Marvin clones may show up in movies, television commercials and serials, industry and schools.
"Marvin was originally designed and developed to be an educational tool, a training aid, primarily at post-secondary institutions, to facilitate the training of individuals in programming robots for industry and for students on the engineering side of the card," he said,
Marvin's insides are much like the insides of industrial robots, but he sells for around $6,000 instead of $30,000 to $150,000 as industrial robots do, explained Gossman. That makes robotics courses affordable for post-secondary schools, he said,
Marvin contains a computer eight times more powerful than a common personal computer, He can be programmed with the help of a computer terminal that plugs into his back and a computer language the firm developed just for him.
Marvin has a large vocabulary, although Gossman admits his speech is sometimes hard to understand the first time it's heard. More understandable speech synthesizers could have been used but they had a limited vocabulary, he explained,
Marvin's two arms have six movable joints and can lift objects weighing up to five pounds.
He has wheels instead of feet and a sonar system that lets him find his way around objects by bouncing sound off them,
Gossman came up with the idea of manufacturing Marvin about two years ago when he saw that schools could use a sophisticated, yet cheap, tool to teach robotics.
Gossman said he decided to make Marvin have a human shape only because it "tends to attract attention" and not because there is any real need for him to look human-like,
Formerly with the Stylecraft firm in Milford, Gossman incorporated Iowa Precision Robotics in April 1983, So far, $250,000 has been spent in developing Marvin,
The firm now employs 10 people and will expand to 20 to 25 within six months.
Marvin is the demonstration robot, and the first production models will be put together in late September or early October,
Orders so far have come from Westinghouse, which plans to use Marvin as a tour guide, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and Hollywood,
"Six Marvins have been purchased by a prop supplier in Hollywood and we've been contacted by quite a number of people wanting to use the robot in television commercials, Conversations are going on that could mean one will find its way into a television serial, but I can't indicate which one," said Gossman.
Marvin is expected to have a market-life of about five years, and he's likely to be followed by "son of Marvin" after that as American businesses turn increasingly to robotics, Gossman said.
"I really don't know whether robotics is the wave the future, Wave of the future may be a bit strong," said Gossman,
"Obviously, industry is going to evolve into using more and more automated tools in order to maintain its competitive position against other countries.. We're no longer isolated.
"Whether the labor unions like it or not, industry will be forced to use robots. It's an evolutionary change rather than a revolutionary change."

Iowa Precision Robotics, Ltd. principals: David L Gossman (dec.), Matthew L. Plagman (dec.) and Rand Weaver of Iowa Precision Robotics, Ltd.

Iowa Precision comes battling back. (Iowa Precision Robotics Ltd.)

Article from: American Metal Market | July 1, 1985 | Dave Fusaro.

CHICAGO–Iowa Precision Robotics Ltd. recently laid off most of its staff and even had its phone disconnected, but chief executive officer David Gossman says the year-old maker of personal robots is now back on the track to profitability. The Melvin, Iowa, company has delivered its first personal robot–with four more to follow–and has also lined up another $400,000 in financing to keep the wolf from the door. "We've just gone through a really critical period for cash flow," Gossman acknowledged.

Robot Insider, trying to get up to date on Gossman's activities, wasn't the only caller frustrated by the disconnected phone. Joseph Collins, both Jr. and Sr., wanted to reach Gossman to talk possible merger.

Greg Johnson was also a Software Engineer who worked at Iowa Precision Robotics during May 1984 – June 1985 (1 year 2 months).

He developed a custom DC brushless motor with commutation algorithm and hardware. Worked on Z80 code for motor control for motion and articulation of the robotic arm. Fun work and everything was built from scratch.

Patent Info:

Publication number    US5166872 A
Publication type    Grant
Application number    US 07/851,116
Publication date    Nov 24, 1992
Filing date    Mar 16, 1992
Priority date    Jul 17, 1989
Fee status    Lapsed
Inventors    Rand D. Weaver, David L. Gossman, Matthew L. Plagman
Original Assignee    Ability Technologies Corporation

System and method for controlling devices through communication processors and pluralities of address-associated device controllers sharing each communication processor

The system for controlling a plurality of devices includes a central processor that receives information from a user, translates the information into a command and sends the command to a communication processor. The communications processor formulates a device command to send to a remote device processor which is connected in close proximity to a device that the user wants to control. The communication processor also receives status information back from the device processor which has been accessed. The device processor receiving a command uses the command to control the device attached to the device processor. Each device processor is able to monitor the commands sent to other device processors and can be set to use these commands to control their attached device. This method of monitoring allows many devices to be controlled simultaneously with very few commands. The system also allows for different types of devices to be attached to the device controllers so the system can perform a multiplicity of functions.

Publication number    WO1991001520 A1
Publication type    Application
Application number    PCT/US1990/003866
Publication date    Feb 7, 1991
Filing date    Jul 10, 1990
Priority date    Jul 17, 1989
Inventors    Rand D Weaver, David L Gossman, Matthew L Plagman
Applicant    Ability Technologies Corp, Iowa Precision Robotics Ltd

As may be evident in the patent applicant above, the principals 'moved' to Ability Technologies Corp.

From the below article, under the Ability Technologies Corp banner, two more robots were built, "Futura" and "Versa Base." I have not been able to locate any pictures of further information on these.

The Daily Reporter    Spencer, Iowa    Friday, Feb. 9, 1990,    Page 3
Sacred Heart students meet robots
Recently, Kent Lachner gave Mickic Moklestad's fifth grade class (from Sacred Heart School) a tour of his robotics corporation, Ability Technologies Corporation, in Melvin,
While there they met Futura, a robot designed after a woman. Futura will go to Rome, Italy this month to work in a pizza restaurant — she may also be a fashion model, Her sponsors include a soft drink company and a beer company.
Students learned that the black box that controls each motion of the robot is called an "intelligent motor controller," and that a robot can have tip to 64 of them, They also learned that robots can't read, but they can scan and record,
Students learned that robots can weld cars, help paralyzed or handicapped people, pick up clothes in a dress factory, be security guards, deliver hospital trays, deliver mail and cook,
Another thing they learned there is that robots can he made to move in three ways — hydraulics, pneumatics (air) and electronics. Ability Technologies Corporation uses electronics,
While there, students also met another robot called "Versa Base," who danced and did a power demo.

See other early Humanoid Robots here.
See other early Mobile Robots here.

1978 – “Kermit” the Robot – Ron Milner and Larry Nicolson (American)


1978 – "Kermit" the Robot by Ron Milner and Larry Nicolson of Cyan Engineering for Atari Inc.

Owen Rubin Shows "Kermit" Ataris Prototype Robot Pet from Jeri Ellsworth on Vimeo.


Images from Owen Rubin's website here.








Kermit's fabricated security pass.



The Story Of Kermit The Robot by Owen Rubin.

I did not build Kermit. It was originally built by Atari's Engineering group in Grass Valley, California. Kermit was abandoned in the Sunnyvale offices, and I rescued him. I did some electronic work to make it run again (needed some rework on a some parts, and all the motion sensors for the wheels and head needed to be changed) and wrote some new software to make it do different things. As you can see, he is not in the best shape right now. It will power up (the battery is dead, but a desk power supply will work) but one motor has gone bad, and the sensors are out again. He also took a spill down the stairs at Atari in his last few days (my own fault for just letting him run free around the building) and it cracked his head (a plastic bowl) and broke a bunch of the bulbs in the head dome. Some day I may actually get him running again.

The hair was a joke of mine! There is a small button under the hair, so if you pet him, he stops and purrs! I also MADE the name badge, it was not an official badge. The security people were VERY angry that I made it, because it looked so good.

If you look at picture 10, you can see the sensors. The two big ones are ultrasonic, like the old Polaroid cameras. His head can rotate 180 degrees in EACH direction so he can "see" 360 degrees. When he would bump something, or sense an object in his way, he would stop and rotate his head through the full 360 mapping all directions, then go in the direction that had the greatest distance clear.

Next to the ultrasonic sensors are two microphones for sound. At the time, the only sensed sharp sounds like a hand clap. When the heard a clap. He would stop and turn his head towards the sound. A second clap would further define the direction and he would head towards the sound.

Below is a small heat sensor (we wanted him to look for warm bodies, but he would head into fireplaces. Never got that working. Above is a light sensor, "walk towards the light" was the idea. If a room went dark, he would look for light and sound.

Also visible is a small "leash" connector (directly under the dome below his left (our right) mic. This was a pot with a small switch. If you pulled on the leash, the switch would close and Kermit would try and center the leash to go that direction. He would continue to move "forward" or which ever way centered the leash until the switch opened (ie, he got close) and then wait for about 30 seconds before trying to move on his own. His first move was always straight backwards to see if the leash would tighten and close the switch.

He also has an antenna for remote control (used an old Radio Shack walkie-talkie with some tones for remote (required another board to be plugged into the bus slots (there is one empty.)

There are 4 boards in Kermit right now. Photos 2 and 7 show the end board which had all the sensor interface circuits and light drivers for the head. In Kermit 4 you can see the other board in the slots. The next one over is a "mouse brain", which is a small 6502 and EEPROM and RAM. The third board is a sound driver, simple wave circuits for music like sounds. He sounds a bit like R2D2! The last board is the driver relays for the stepper motors for the back wheels.

The wheels are direct driven by stepper motors that are held in by springs against the wheels. The front wheel is simply a castor with a leaf switch attached. The idea was that IF the leaf switch opened, Kermit would do an "emergency back" move. Basically, an R2D2 scream sound and both motors back as fast as possible for a short burst. Again, this was assumed that he was going over a ledge. Unfortunately, his death was in just such a move, as his weight is too front heavy, and he screamed and spun his wheels backwards as he tumbled down the stairs at Atari (seems that the stairs were the longest open space, and while the switch did work, he weight tipped him over head first before he could back up.)

Atari-Inc-Business-Is-Fun-Marty-Goldberg-Curt Vendel-p294 - Copy-x640

Extract from Atari Inc. – Business Is Fun, by  Marty-Goldberg-Curt Vendel, 2012. p259-65.
On May 25, 1977, the entire entertainment industry and our societal culture are altered in a permanent and monumental way. Nearly every facet of society discovers a whole new world brought to the big screen from a 'galaxy far, far away…' Star Wars premieres and takes not just America, but the entire world by storm!
With a storyline that revolves around knights wielding swords made of light, on a secret mission to save the princess from the evil empire, recover stolen plans and destroy the ultimate weapon… a new culture is born and the next generation of technologically advanced cinema lays the groundwork for the complete retooling of the movie theatre environment. All of this is put together with never-before-seen realistic groundbreaking special effects, sounds and a background score written by John Williams and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.
The movie showcases some of THE most realistic spaceship designs, laser pistols and computer terminals seen to date, along with two `droid' robots which are not only pivotal to the storyline, but provide an almost comic relief to the movie. One is a bumbling, skittish humanoid looking droid called C3PO who can speak proper English, among its numerous other dialects. The other is a cute small domed top Astromech droid called R2D2.
This particular character cannot speak any verbal words, but communicates by cute and emotionally toned bleeps and chirps, all which convey its demeanor and tone remarkably well to the audience. Unlike the countless sci-fi movies spanning decades prior, Star Wars created a used universe instead of shiny, clean and perfect objects and characters. Everything appears used, worn and working just as real world common items look outside of the movie theatre. The technologies shown in this movie seem plausible and reasonable, causing the audience to think and wonder "Why not?" So if there are realistic robots in the movie, why not real robots in today's world?
Star Wars would set imaginations ablaze with the burning desire to see those technologies becoming something everyone could own. With the accomplishments of the space race (landing on the moon, walking on the moon and satellites being lofted into space on a nearly monthly basis), space and technology were a real part of society. Magazine and newspaper articles of the day showed a stream of topics about how computers were improving society and were now within the reach of individuals to own in their own homes.
During the two years prior to the Star Wars premiere, people were already connecting high tech video game devices to their home televisions to turn the usual evening of cards or board games into a futuristic battle of skill on the video play-fields. Everywhere within society's gathering places – from bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and more, coin-operated video arcade games were popping up and becoming commonplace. The world was becoming more like the futuristic fantasies of the big screen, so with all of these marvels of technology it was very easy to accept the idea that soon robots would be seeing us to our seats at restaurants and cleaning windows on the sides of tall glass skyscrapers. Who knows – those nights of playing video games on the home TV might soon be played against a personal robot sitting right there holding the controls and battling it out against us in a round of Home PONG… that is, AFTER it had just brought out a tray of snacks and a few ice cold drinks.
Just a few weeks shy of the one year anniversary since the premiere of Star Wars, Ron Milner and Larry Nicolson of Cyan Engineering draft an Atari Inter-office Memo to Al Alcorn, Steve Bristow, Nolan Bushnell and Joe Keenan. Dated May 1, 1978, the subject is: "Proposal – Kermit the Robot." Kermit is actually meant to be an extension or a compliment to the 'Colleen' computer system. In the memo, it's explained that 'Kermit is an inquisitive little fellow who can get around a bit on his own but whose personality develops fully when working with the Colleen system. He can be operated through Colleen to act as remote eyes and ears for the user's program.' How Kermit would 'talk' to Colleen was a rather unique implementation. Instead of a wireless link, Kermit and Colleen would communicate using audio tones; in fact the tones would actually be a part of the robot's personality and provide a low cost means of communication.
As the R2D2 robot 'talked' through chirps and bleeps to the actors on the screen and to the audiences in the theatres, the Kermit Robot would do very much the same thing to communicate with its intelligent home base – Colleen. On May 26th, the Kermit robot project is approved and work commences. The first order of business is a drive train to allow the robot to move and navigate. Surface measurements for starting and maintaining force are calculated for wood, tile, linoleum, shag rug, pile rug and climbing onto and off of a throw rug. (all that was left to check on would be if Kermit could handle the harsh conditions of the planet Tatooine)
An interesting project was piggybacked off of the robot development called `Robot Chess.' Since the Cyan engineers were already deep into the development of a robot, these concepts and designs could be further evaluated and implemented into a board game of chess. The design was created on Atari's 6th anniversary (June 27, 1978), however the idea is never worked on past the concept stage.
In December of 1980, a company by the name of Applied Concepts would release nearly the same Chess game design, called BORIS HANDroid. Retailing for a staggering $1,400, the Cyan engineers believed they could have done a product with a retail cost of under $250 back in 1978 – yet another idea that Cyan prototyped goes out the door to be sold as a product, but unfortunately, not by Cyan.
As Kermit is being developed, the team begins to look at fun and playful capabilities and even accessories for the robot. Up and Down servo's are considered so it can 'dance' by bopping up and down – it could have lights, have the top turret turn, floor reflective sensors to follow paths and of course, what robot shouldn't also have its own super-squirt gun for water fights around the house? Yes, a design is drafted for a mechanical squirt gun to shoot water at Kermit's owner and companions. By September, work is proceeding to the point where the team starts to work on its own language for Kermit (called `ROBOL') to allow simple plain English commands to be entered into the Colleen computer and then translated into Kermit's own language.
Also during September, a second project is spun off from the Kermit design work. Larry Nicholson wants to do a stripped down toy robot based on the early stage design work with a single chip controller onboard and sensors that would include feelers, light and maybe a microphone for detecting sounds. Initially called mini-Kermits, they get their own designations – Varmit, Furmit and Wurmit.
It's finally time for Kermit to stretch his legs, or to be a bit more accurate, spin its wheels. Tethered to a desk control module via a long ribbon cable, Kermit is placed onto a large sheet of engineering drafting paper normally used by Atari engineers to draw out schematics, mechanical drawings and circuit designs. Kermit is fitted with a pen and a test is performed to gauge Kermit's navigational accuracy. Commands are sent to the onboard systems – Run, Turn, Run, Reverse, Turn, Run and Maneuver. Some wheel errors are detected during the turns and the team thinks this can be corrected through the software control. Kermit has taken its first `baby steps.'
Kermit took a walk with its leash (the ribbon cable attached the desktop control module) in October. Unfortunately, it's quickly discovered that Kermit cannot negotiate carpet! This is a serious failing and several major design changes needed to he made including wider drive wheels and a wider front direction castor wheel. The weight will have to be reduced quite a bit and also, Kermit's center of gravity is too far off because of the weight of the large battery behind the main axle.
Meanwhile the mini-Kermit idea has now moved into its own full blown project and a patent as well. On November 8, 1978, an Atari Invention Disclosure Form is filled out and submitted by Ron Milner and Gene Wise for their invention: Toy Robot. In the electronic toys class, the product is called `VARMIT.' On December 1st a fully working Varmit is completed and tested using one-wheel drive and two trailing wheels – the design proves to be very agile and maneuverable. Varmit looks like furry mouse; it even speaks by making noises, using a simple 555 timer chip and a small 4-bit DAC to control pitch and a capacitor to do a frequency sweep. The resulting sounds are cute and pleasant and fit the furry little robot.
Ron Milner notes on December 1, 1978 in his engineering logbook that "Varmit is now off to the Warner's Board meeting with Nolan. Some decision can be expected eventually." Unfortunately this board meeting would be the catastrophic showdown between Nolan Bushnell and Manny Gerard that turns into a drop down screaming match and ends with Nolan being removed as Chairman and CEO of Atari. Varmit never gets its chance to become a new Atari product, however, strangely enough, Varmit does not go away quietly.
By the mid 1980s, Varmit will make its return thanks to Nolan Bushnell. Initially called 'Micro Pets,' the new line of robots are officially called `Petsters' at their release. The Petsters would have all of the same characteristics and features of Varmit, and much more. They will don new personas, coming in all shapes and sizes – from cats, dogs, hamsters… and even a spider which was more of a hardwood floor mop than an entertainment robot.
At Cyan through November and December of 1978, work on Kermit continues and now most of the control and sensor logic are onboard and programming work continues. The team also realizes that the `Robol' language was becoming difficult to check out and may have been a mistake to create and implement, as it's making debugging the routines hard. Also, teaching Kermit things, like how to self navigate out of a corner and how to choose the longest free path were slow to implement.
Making matters worse, pressure was coming down from the top that Cyan needed to show something that demonstrated and worked properly or the project would be terminated. After two weeks, Kermit was now freely wandering the Cyan labs without bumping into things (most of the time) by using its onboard ultrasonic range sensors. Some housecleaning work on its routines were being done to fine tune its ability to navigate and sense its surroundings, and the team hoped to then start to add in some more interesting behaviors. But before they get to the next phase, on January 21, 1979 word comes to Cyan… Kermit has been canned due to Atari politics. Essentially the project was only being championed by Nolan (whose original mandate to the Cyan guys was 'design a robot that can bring me a beer') as well as Joe Keenan, Al Alcorn and Steve Bristow. However by January 1979, Nolan had been removed from his role in the company, Joe Keenan was now the Chairman and Steve Bristow was tasked with spinning down the Pinball manufacturing building and retooling it to build the new line of Home Computers which just debuted at the Winter CES in Las Vegas.
Kermit would still continue to be an active member of the Cyan engineering group though, traveling about the office. Chirping, beeping and happily maneuvering around the lab benches. Kermit even had its own Atari ID badge, only the second of two non-humans to ever have the privilege of being officially 'unofficial' Atari employees – the other was Mitchy, Jay Miner's dog.
Brought down to Atari's engineering building in Sunnyvale a few times, finally at one point after the project is no longer being active, Kermit was given to Owen Rubin to become its adopted caretaker. Kermit would sit in Owen's office until Owen began tinkering with its ROM code, trying to add some additional intelligence to its programming. Through some trial and error with this new programming, Kermit is sent off down the hallway to venture around the offices of the engineering building at 1272 Borregas Avenue.
Sadly, Kermit would ultimately meet with disaster. While some basic safety mechanisms were built into Kermit, they were not quite refined enough for long unattended excursions. On the front wheel of Kermit is a drop switch sensor so that if the front wheel of Kermit were to drop down suddenly, it would let out a squealing sound and immediately back up. However the sensor timing and its ability to react were not fast enough to save the little guy from a final deadly spill. One day Kermit took to his usual roaming of the halls of Atari, joyfully chirping and maneuvering about when he happened upon an open door to the stairwell. Kermit moved to the edge of the top stairs… its front wheel dropped as intended, but momentum and gravity would be quicker then Kermit's sensor and programming. Suddenly a blood curdling robot squeal echoes throughout 1272, followed by crashing, bouncing and breaking sounds.
Owen and others in the Engineering department ran to the stairwell – lying at the bottom of the next landing like humpty dumpty was Kermit, its dome cracked slightly and some components jarred out of place. Kermit's days of roaming the halls of Atari sadly came to an end that day and from then on, he would stay in the office, motionless and chirpless. When Owen left Atari, Kermit was taken home to become a part of Owen's collection of Atari memories.

No, this "Kermit the Robot" is not the robot version of "Kermit the Frog".


See other early Mobile Robots here.
See other early Humanoid Robots here.

1979 – “NUTRO” the Robot – (American)


1979 – "NUTRO" the Robot by Hoffmann-La Roche Inc.




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The Index-Journal, Greenwood, S.C. Sat., April 21, 1979-p7
Robot raves about nutrition

Caption: Traveling companions – Nutritionist Dave Canty serves as voice and remote-control operator for Nutro, a 400-pound robot who tours the country speaking to children on nutrition.
NUTLEY, N.J — Traveling coast-to-coast to visit six cities in six weeks is not an easy trip for anyone, but it's especially complicated if you happen to be a 400-pound, remote-controlled robot.
There's the need for specially designed vehicles, the confusion of traveling in the baggage compartments of airplanes, the inconvenience of batteries that need daily charging, the danger of shorting electric body circuits in the rain, the problems of bolts that come loose over bumpy roads, arid the inability to climb steps.
SINCE HIS FIRST nationwide tour last fall in a rented high-roof van, Nutro, a robot whose name was suggested by a combination of the words nutrition and robot, has solved some of his traveling problems.
For his spring tour of eight cities, he will travel as a U.S. symbol for the International Year of the Child, as it relates to children's rights to adequate nutrition, in his personal, custom-made van.
It features a hydraulic lift to ease Nutro's exit to the street and a special outlet that runs off the van's alternator to provide on-the-road battery recharging.
NUTRO, A CREATION of the Vitamin Education Program of Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., as a public-service, nutrition-education program, is touring as a "guest lecturer" on the subject of nutrition. His message, delivered in schools across the country, is on the importance of proper nutrition and correct nutrition information.
The 5-foot-2, 31-inch-wide, conical-shape robot has a movable globe head, red light-bulb eyes and flexible accordion-like arms. His wood and metal frame is clothed in a combination of yellow spandex and red and blue glittery lurex fabric. It houses over 500 moving parts and 2,000 feet of wire.
Nutro's head moves from side to side and can soar 12 inches skyward when he explains how excited he is about nutrition His chest lights up to emphasize the essential nutrients printed on his chest wall. He can wave and shake hands.
Nutro may be the most heavily insured teacher's aide around. His voice alone is insured for $150,000 with Lloyds of London, and monthly premiums on protecting his body and his program total $600. The construction bill was $25,000, and an identical stand-in cost $20,000.
TRAVELING THE country is rarely easy for Nutro but is never lonely. He is always accompanied by Joe Wilkenson, his technician, and Dave Canty, a Ph.D-candidate nutritionist who serves as his voice and remote-control operator.
In his first tour, Nutro traveled completely assembled inside his original shipping crate. Every night when his companions checked into motels, he went along, sharing a room with his technician, and plugged into electric outlets to recharge his batteries. Meanwhile, his 9-volt voice box was being charged in another outlet and his 12-volt remote-control equipment in a third.
EXITING FROM his van on a makeshift ramp was a clumsy process during last year's 8,000-mile tour. Sometimes Nutro was wheeled down the ramp but at other times, particularly when a crowd of curious children had gathered, he moved down the ramp on his pneumatic tires under his own power, with Canty working the remote controls.
If there are special problems in traveling with a robot there are also special privileges. None of the motels where Nutro stayed charged him for his visits despite all the electric current he used for his batteries.
Although Nutro's favorite topic of conversation is nutrition, Canty admits that the robot has developed into a unique character with a personality of his own during his months on the road.
IN HIS MUNCHKIN-LIKE voice, he teases motel maids by telling them he is the replacement sent to take over their jobs.
And although most of his time is spent in schools and the children's wards of hospitals. Nutro has also found time to try out his John Wayne imitation at a Hollywood party. learn to wolf whistle, and do what he calls a "funky robot disco" at a chic Manhattan nightspot.

Taste of the Past: The nuts and bolts of nutrition. Source: Star Tribune.
Robot helped students understand nutrition.
By RICK NELSON Star Tribune
March 31, 2010 — 2:40pm
Students at Page Elementary School learn nutrition from a robot.
William Seaman, Star Tribune
Students at Page Elementary School learn nutrition from a robot.

Take a look at cutting-edge educational technology, circa 1979. His name was Nutro, and he rolled into Page Elementary School in Minneapolis as a part of a nationwide tour of sixth- and seventh-grade classrooms.

The goal of Nutro's work was to spice up the bone-dry topic of nutrition for tween audiences, which he accomplished with a lively mix of chatter and Q&A. Of course, the sci-fi metal and plastic get-up didn't hurt.

"Although he positively hypnotized the delighted and eager students, Nutro couldn't function without a real, live nutrition expert's help," wrote Beth Anderson, a Taste staff writer, in a May 2, 1979, story. "Dave Canty, a 27-year-old who has finished his doctoral course work in nutritional sciences, was folded up inside Nutro's cone-shaped body."

Turns out Canty — sorry, Nutro — wasn't part of a 1970s No Child Left Behind-style government initiative; his work was sponsored by a vitamin manufacturer. Anderson noted that Canty intended to use "Nutro's educational experiences in his doctoral work, by comparing Nutro's effectiveness with schoolchildren with the same techniques executed by the biochemical unit commonly known as a teacher."

See other early Humanoid Robots here.

1982 – RB5X the Intelligent Robot – Joseph Bosworth (American)

The RB5X is a personal robot manufactured by RB Robot Corporation of Golden, Colorado.
A cylinder-shaped robot with an optional arm, and a transparent, dome-shaped top, RB5X has an RS-232 communications interface and is programmable in TinyBASIC or Savvy. It was first released in 1982. Its inputs include eight bumper panels, a photodiode and a sonic transducer. The robot learns from experience.

RB Robot Corp was founded by Joe Bosworth  (pictured above) in 1982.

Video via The Old Robots.

Con Brown (pictured above) purchased the assets in 1985 from the bank.  He changed the name to General Robotics and enjoyed the fruits of his labor for 20 years.
John Boisvert purchased the remaining inventory and assets from Con Brown [Constant Brown] in 2005.

The RB5X robot has to be considered one of the most durable and longest lasting of all Personal and Educational Robots emanating from the 1980's.

Below images from RB Robotics.


Here we have a picture of the first production Prototype for RB5X.  There were 3 made.


This is the second version made.  These were produced in early 1983.


The  third version came along later in 1983. It featured a redesigned LED board, a different dome and a few refinements to the rest of the boards.  Also added at this time was the Voice/Sound board.


RB5X, a personal robot, standing next to the "charger /nest." When the robot finds the nest, the two metal contacts on the front make contact with the metal strips of the curved surface of the charger and recharge the robot's batteries.

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A vacuum attachment was produced in 1983 and shown off at the German version of CES.  But due to poor run times and navigation problems none went to production. 


This all led to the final product.





Richard J. Nelson of the RB Robot Company sends a model 5X through its paces at the annual Atlanta Computer Show in Atlanta on Dec. 8, 1983 by having it offer a cup of coffee to viewers. (AP Photo/Joe Holloway Jr.).




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RB the robot
The home robot field attracts its share of entrepreneurs. One such individual is Joseph Bosworth, founder of the RB Robot Corp. Bosworth, a former consultant for the Solar Energy Research Institute, had a background in computers but, he says, "I didn't want to get into the same things that everybody else was doing. So I was looking for the next frontier." It didn't take much looking, he says, to see that home robots could be to robotics what the Apple II personal computer was to computers.
The Golden, Colorado, company's first attempt at an experimentor's home robot (they anticipate introducing a pure consumer version later this year) is the RB5X. The 2-ft robot sells for $1,195 for a basic model with additional memory, sonar sensor, and pulsating light options available for $295.
Weighing 10 lb, the unit is equipped with tactile sensors about its body, allowing it to detect and respond to objects in its path. Its basic motivation is to keep moving. When its tactile sensors touch an object in its path for the first time, it will choose from a table of random responses. It will either turn left, right, back up, go forward, or stop for a short time. Successful responses are stored. As the robot's experience grows, it develops rankings or levels of confidence in each of the possible responses. Eventually, it builds up a range of appropriate learned responses to all the objects it may encounter in a room. The unit can be programmed from an external personal computer through its RS-232 interface. It can also charge its four C and D-cell power supply automatically, seeking out and attaching itself to its charger, then uncoupling and resuming its activities.

Source: The Personal Robot Book, Texe Marrs, 1985.

In September, 1982, the RB Robot Corporation of Golden, Colorado announced the introduction of the lovable and functional RB5X, advertised as the "Intelligent Robot." This momentous event was noteworthy because RB5X was the world's first mass-produced personal robot. Since then, the tiny, 23-inch-tall robot has proven to be one of the most reliable and well-made machines on the market. As a result of this reliability, RB Robot Corporation has sold thousands of RB5Xs to customers in the United States. Distributors in Germany, Japan, and the Far East have also sold many units in their home countries. (In West Germany, RB5X is modified slightly and has been redesignated as "Toby.")

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RB5X resembles a high-tech garbage can, with his cylindrical body and a clear plastic domed top. As he scoots along, propelled by two motor wheel assemblies, four randomly flashing LEDs add a touch of brilliance.
RB5X has an optional arm and hand, or gripper, which he cleverly conceals in his body. Like HERO I, RB5X isn't much in the muscles and brawn department. A little less than 1 pound—maybe a can of Coke, your slippers, or the morning paper—is about all the small fellow can lift. The arm has five axes of movement.
A nice feature of the robot is his built-in sonar and bumper switches that help him find his way around a room or area by trial and error. As RB5X moves to and fro groping his way, his memory records the best—that is, the correct—path.
RB5X is a user-friendly robot that has impressed many observers, including robotics and computer experts. The little robot was a big hit at the 1984 Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. At that show, the RB Robot people presented a most unusual display. The centerpiece of the display was a "sculpture" of six, multilevel pedestals, each presenting a robot performing a different task. One pedestal featured an RB5X singing, Daisy, the song made famous by HAL, the computer in the film 1001: A Space Odyssey. Another pedestal held an RB5X that greeted show visitors with a tip of its hat. Another RB5X entertained with the robot version of a carnival barker ("Come one, come all!") In addition, there was a plant-watering robot, and two RB5Xs who passed a boquet of flowers back and forth.
Visitors to the RB Robot booth were able to gain hands-on experience with the RB5X robotic arm and with a software module called "Pattern Programmer" that allows users to program the RB5X to move in any pattern they design by pressing its bumpers. Visitors also saw an RB5X equipped with heat sensors and a fire extinguisher that will soon enable it to detect a flame, seek it out, and douse it with Halon.
About RB5X
RB5X comes with his own programmable microprocessor and also has an RS-232C interface to permit link-up with a personal computer for added memory. Because the robot is gaining popularity and becoming a mobile fixture in more households, independent software firms are bringing on-the-shelf software packages to the market which continue to make the robot more useful and fun. In addition, the company that makes RB5X offers a number of software packages and useful add-ons, including voice synthesis and voice recognition.
Looking through RB5X's clear head, you can see the slot for his National Semiconductor on-board microprocessor, INS 8073. On-board capacity is 8K and can be boosted to 16K. There are also five other slots: one to hold extended memory and four additional slots to permit the connection of other boards.
With the robot you get software demonstration programs on disk, which enable you to give the robot a good workout and acquaint you with RB5X's overall capabilities.
Among the optional items offered is a Robot Control Language (RCL)TM package that uses SavvyTM, a system that lets you program RB5X with common English words and phrases. RCL is available for Apple II and lIe computers. Contact RB Robot Corporation for availability on other personal computers as well.
The voice synthesis and recognition features allow interactive conversation between a person and the robot. Using the 64 phonemes standard on a speech synthesis microchip, the user can create a varied vocabulary in any language. Also, you can command the robot to take actions and hear RB5X respond by voice. New communications packages offered by independent firms, such as Arctec, go one step further, permitting RB5X to communicate with other robots, including the HERO models.
Joe Bosworth, president of RB Robot Corporation, feels his robot is one of the most useful on the market, recommending it for home or school use, for play and education, and for experimentation. He says that one way to view the robot at this stage is to "think of it as an infant." Like a human baby, remarks Bosworth, a baby robot "evolves and changes as it gains more experience and knowledge." RB5X is growing, adds Bosworth, is becoming an adolescent, and within the next few years, may become a full-fledged adult. All of this is to say that RB5X is getting more sophisticated and improved with the passage of time.

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Improvements to Come
Planned improvements to RB5X include several attachments, including a fire detector/extinguisher and a vacuum cleaner. The company has built successful prototypes of each of these devices. The fire detector/extinguisher has a "nose" that smells smoke. Sensing a fire, it then targets the location and puts the fire out with a fire extinguisher it handily carries on-board for just such a dangerous occasion.
The RB5X vacuum attachment includes programming that will allow the owner to preprogram the robot with a knowledge of the room or rooms that need vacuuming. Then after the master of the house has left for work, the robot turns on automatically and proceeds to complete his appointed cleaning chore. This attachment is to have its own motor and batteries. Its replacement bags are standard so they can be purchased at the neighborhood supermarket or variety store.
Two other useful add-on items to come are a communications software package to allow RB5X to "talk" to a remote computer, or even another robot, and a trailer that can be hooked up to the robot. With the wheeled trailer, RB5X can pick up and deliver mail, haul small loads (such as laundry), and perhaps, take the children on a joy ride. Another add-on item available soon is a new programming package for the Commodore 64 computer that features direct, text-to-speech conversion and EPROM programming capabilities.
RB5X Features and Options
Following are the basic features you will get with your purchase of a RB5X. A description of seven options that are currently available is listed afterwards.
On-Board Microprocessor. Unlike remote-control robots, the RB5X has an INS 8073 microprocessor built in, making it completely programmable and independent. Owners use a computer keyboard and screen to write programs for the robot, and then download them to the RB5X's microprocessor.
Self-Learning Software. The RB5X comes complete with Alpha and Beta levels of self-learning software, which enable the robot to learn from its experiences. Developed by robotics author David Heiserman[1], this software allows RB5X to progress from simple random responses to an ability to generalize about the features of its environment, storing this data in its on-board memory.
Space for Additional Electronics. One of the RB5X's special features is an interior card cage that allows for the addition of up to four circuit cards. This flexible design enables users to enhance their RB5Xs with special hardware and to make each RB5X virtually one-of-a-kind.
Tiny BASIC. The RB5X's "native tongue" is Tiny BASIC, a subset of the BASIC language that is both high-level and easy to use.
Sonar Sensor. The RB5X comes equipped with the Polaroid RangefinderTM sonar sensor, which allows the robot to detect objects in its path as it moves. The sonar detection range can be set from 10 inches to 35 feet from the robot and is programmable.
Tactile Sensors. Eight tactile sensors, or bumpers, ring the skirt of the robot, allowing it to sense when RB5X makes contact with another object. Like its sonar, this feature allows the robot to navigate its way through its environment.
Autonomous Battery Charging. A special circuit in the RB5X enables it to recognize when its battery charge is low and to begin using special software that helps it find its charger. The RB5X uses its photodiode system to locate its battery charger, moves against the charger nest, recharges itself, and then automatically resumes its activities.
Battery Shutdown Circuit. RB5X comes with a special circuit that shuts the robot down if its batteries drain close to the point where they cannot be recharged. The robot cannot be switched on again until it has been recharged. A charge indicator on the interface panel shows the battery charge level.
Software Module Socket and Switch. RB5X's interface panel contains a socket for preprogrammed software modules. A switch allows owners to set the robot for modules of either 2K or 4K.
Utility Software Module. A standard feature of RB5X is a 2K utility software module that contains a self-diagnostic routine (which automatically checks the robot's batteries and motors), as well as several of the robot's standard software routines.
Dual RS-232 Interfaces. RB5X has two RS-232 ports for handling communications with computers and with other, future options for the robot.
Options Cutouts. RB5X's upper body contains a series of cutouts, covered by removable plastic caps, that accommodate hardware attachments.
Programmable Lights and Horn. RB5X's pulsating lights not only enhance the appearance of the robot, but can be programmed to correspond to whatever mechanical or electronic events the user designates. This feature, along with RB5X's standard horn, can alert the owner to special circumstances or can be used simply for extra interest.
Extended Memory. The RB5X extended memory option is a circuit board that plugs into the interior card cage, adding 16K of RAM to the robot's standard 8K.
The RB Arm. A robotic arm, which extends from a resting position completely inside the robot's body, turns the RB5X into a messenger able to carry objects weighing up to 16 ounces. The arm can be maneuvered under direct program guidance, using a controller to manually guide it, or using a controller and an arm training software module.
Voice/Sound Synthesis. The RB5X voice/sound synthesis option enables owners to program their robots to speak and to make a variety of sounds. This package contains a speaker and a printed circuit board with pitch and volume control.
Voice Recognition. For owners of Apple II+ computers, there is a voice recognition option available that enables the RB5X to respond to spoken commands through the Apple.
Software Modules. Owners may either program RB5X using a computer, or they may purchase preprogrammed software modules. These modules enable RB5X to do specific tasks as soon as the user switches the robot on.
Robot Control Language with Savvy (RCL)[2]. Robot Control Language with Savvy (RCL, for short) is a software development language that enables RB5X users to program their robots using common English words and phrases. Currently available for use in conjunction with Apple II+ and Apple Ile computers, RCL will soon be available for the IBM PC.
Power Pack. This option allows an owner to extend RB5X's charge life and, thus, the run time of the robot. A 10-amp hour battery that attaches to the robot's existing battery, the Power Pack, can keep the base RB5X running for up to 10 hours or the RB arm alone for up to 2 hours.
The Optional Software Packages
To give you an idea of the educational uses RB5X can facilitate and the fun the owner can have, it is necessary to take a look at a few of the optional software packages available from the RB Robot Corporation. So, let's briefly cover some of these packages, the first being the "RB5X Terrapin Logo Translator," a software system that allows RB5X to execute turtle graphics procedures, making the robot an education tool for demonstrating the physical manifestations of Logo programming. Suggested retail is $34.95.
"Bumper Music" is a limited but interesting program that lets you play musical notes by pressing the bumpers which ring the robot's outer shell. Each of the eight bumpers plays a different note, and you can create music by working the bumpers in different combinations.
Two RB5X software modules, "Hop to It!" and "Math Whiz," are application programs on erasable, programmable read-only memory (EPROM) chips that plug into a socket on the robot's interface panel.
"Hop to It!" is an engaging, educational game that allows RB5X to use its sonar sensor to challenge players to accurately judge distances in feet and inches. RB5X issues a verbal challenge, records and calculates players' scores, and announces the winner. Suggested retail is $24.95.
"Math Whiz" is a math quiz in a game format that may be played by up to eight people at one time. RB5X uses its random number generator to compose a math problem involving elementary addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division for each player in turn. The robot checks players' answers for errors, corrects or congratulates, and calculates players' scores. This program's lights, sounds, and robot motions motivate children to learn important math facts with RB5X. Suggested retail is $24.95.
"Intruder Alarm/Daisy Daisy" is a package for the RB5X equipped with optional voice/sound synthesis capability. With the Intruder Alarm, a Polaroid sonar sensing device picks up movement within its range, and the robot then sounds the alarm. Daisy Daisy is a bit more joyful, allowing RB5X to sing the song made famous in the movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
RB Robot Price List

Table 2-3 is RB5X robot price list effective August 1, 1984.
RB's Robot Appreciation Kit
If you're new to personal robotics and you want to know more about the personal robot field, RB has a kit that may be just the thing. Actually, the kit, called the Robot Appreciation Kit, is an item that even experienced robot hobbyists will find interesting. It's designed to answer your questions about home robots in general and RB5X in particular.
Priced at $19.95 and available from local RB5X retailers or direct from RB Robot, the Robot Appreciation Kit contains an overview of the field of personal robots; article reprints from current periodicals; product literature on the RB5X; a copy of the July, 1983 issue of RB Forum, which discusses Robot Control Language with Savvy; a questionnaire and free RB Forum subscription offer; two RB5X bumper stickers; an RB5X poster; a copy of Isaac Asimov's book, Eight Stories from the Rest of the Robots; and a copy of the RB5X Reference Manual, less the technical appendices. RB Robots refunds the price of the kit to persons who subsequently purchased the RB5X robot.
The Future
RB Robot Corporation merged in October, 1984, with Actronix Corporation, a Dallas, Texas robotics development firm. Reportedly, Actronix has some top-notch management and research and development personnel who will lend their expertise to building the new, combined company into a big success. At the time of the merger, Actronix had already developed prototypes of two personal robots—the Actron Bear, an upright device with a 300-pound lifting capacity, and the Actron Wolf, a low-profile, mobile security robot. It is possible that one or both of these robots will be available soon. In any case, the research and development knowledge and experience acquired in their development may be transferred to future RB5X models and thus mean enhanced technological advancement.
How to Buy the RB5X
A growing number of dealers in the United States and Canada are stocking and selling the RB5X and accessories. Also, RB5X is available direct from the manufacturer. For the name of the RB5X dealer nearest you, to order RB5X, or for further information, write or call RB Robot Corporation.



[1]. David Hieserman had already built "Buster" the robot, but was developing "Rodney" the "Artificial Intelligence" robot at the time. RB5X software utilized "Rodney" technology.

The robot comes with what the company calls Alpha and Beta level self-learning software. This "Artificial Intelligence" software, developed by David Heiserman (well known to anyone interested in robotics) allows your RB5X robot to learn from it's experiences.

Self-Learning Software / Artifical Intelligence
The RB5X comes complete with "Alpha" and "Beta" levels of self-learning software, which which empowered the robot to absorb and employ information from its surroundings. Developed by leading robotics author David Heiserman, this software allows RB5X to progress from simple random responses to an ability to generalize about the features of its environment, storing this data in its on-board memory.
Self-Learning: This small, first step toward true "intelligence" enables the robot to learn from its own mistakes. For example, you could set the RB5X down in a room and let it roam about randomly. It will probably run into walls several times, perhaps a desk, and maybe even a person. As it rolls around the room, it will "learn" in its own computer-like fashion where the obstacles are in a room, thus avoiding them in the future. The self-learning software are on "Alpha" and "Beta" levels, which were developed by the robotics author David Heiserman for the purpose of giving robots a simple way to "learn" from their experiences, somewhat like humans do.

[2] Prendergast, Dan; Slade, Bill; Winkless, Nelson (January 1984). "A General-Purpose Robot Control Language". BYTE. p. 122..

Dan Prendergast is vice-president of research and development at RB Robot Corporation, Bill Slade is operating-systems manager at Excalibur Technologies Corporation, and Nelson Winkless is president of ABQ Communications Corporation (Box 1432, Con-ales, NM 87048) and coauthor of 'Robots on Your Doorstep.

The Savvy Programming Language was published by Excalibur Technologies Corporation, FOB 26448, Albuquerque.


See other early Humanoid Robots here.