Posts Tagged ‘Buster’

1979 – “Rodney” Self-Programming Robot – David L. Heiserman (American)


"Rodney", the Self-Programming Robot is based on the book How to Build Your Own Self-Programming Robot by David L. Heiserman [TAB, 1979].


ByRamiro Molinaon September 18, 2013
 This book is geared towards those that have good knowledge of electronics and are willing to jump into a project that involves CPU based control. It outlines how to build a wheeled robot controlled by an Intel 8085 CPU, programmed by hand in binary using an array of switches that bumbles around a room on its own.


ByBenjamin Graylandon November 26, 2000
If you have an interest in robotics, and a decent knowledge of electronics, then this book is certainly worth reading. Despite its age, the information it provides is applicable today.
Heiserman tells of his own robots, specifically Rodney, who can program himself. One example given was of Heiserman handicapping Rodney, by scratching his processors and removing one of his wheels – Rodney learned to move about efficiently in a short period of time, with no assistance. Similar anecdotes are spread throughout the book.
But most importantly, the book tells the reader how they can construct a robot similar to (or exactly the same as) Rodney. Schematics, wiring diagrams and so forth fill a large portion of the book – providing a clear method for construction.
Overall, this is certainly an interesting book. Even if you don't plan to build yourself a robot, the anecdotes are both entertaining and amazing enough alone.


Classes Of Robotic Self-Learning. Source: here.

It is useful to define intelligence as in robotics according to David L. Heiserman 1979 in regards to the self-learning autonomous robot, for convenience here called "Rodney".

    While Alpha Rodney does exhibit some interesting behavioral characteristics, one really has to stretch the definition of intelligence to make it fit an Alpha-Class machine. The Intelligence is there, of course, but it operates on such a primitive level that little of significance comes from it. ….the essence of an Alpha-Class machine is its purely reflexive and, for the most part, random behavior. Alpha Rodney will behave much as a little one-cell creature that struggles to survive in its drop-of-water world. The machine will blunder around the room, working its way out of menacing tight spots, and hoping to stumble, quite accidentally, into the battery charger.

    In summary, an Alpha-Class machine is highly adaptive to changes in its environment. It displays a rather flat and low learning curve, but there is virtually no change in the curve when the environment is altered.

    (2) BETA CLASS

    A Beta-Class machine uses the Alpha-Class mechanisms, but extends them to include some memory – memory of responses that worked successfully in the past.

    The main-memory system is something quite different from the program memory you have been using. The program memory is the storage place for Rodney’s basic operating programs-programs that are somewhat analogous to intuition or the subconscious in higher-level animals. The main memory is the seat of Rodney’s knowledge and, in the case of Beta-Class machines, this means knowledge that is grained only by direct experience with the environment. A Beta-Class machine still relies on Alpha-like random responses in the early going but after experiencing some life and problem solving, knowledge in the main memory becomes dominant over the more primitive Alpha-Class reflex actions.

    A Beta-Class machine demonstrates a rising learning curve that eventually passes the scoring level of the best Alpha-Class machine. If the environment is static, the score eventually rises toward perfection. Change the environment, however, and a Beta-Class machine suffers for a while, the learning curve drops down to the chance level. However, the learning curve gradually rises toward perfection as the Beta-Class machine establishes a new pattern of behavior. Its adaptive process requires some time and experience to show itself, but the end result is a more efficient machine.


    A Gamma-Class robot includes the reflex and memory features of the two lower-order machines, but it also has the ability to generalize whatever it learns through direct experience. Once a Gamma-Class robot meets and solves a particular problem, it not only remembers the solution, but generalizes that solution into a variety of similar situations not yet encountered. Such a robot need not encounter every possible situation before discovering what it is suppose to do; rather, it generalizes its first-hand responses, thereby making it possible to deal with the unexpected elements of its life more effectively.

    A Gamma-Class machine is less upset by changes and recovers faster than the Beta-Class mechanism. This is due to its ability to anticipate changes.

Robotics: Robot Intelligence: An Interview With A Pioneer
Posted here on 2008-06-06 @ 19:28:20 by r00t.


A short and informal email interview with a pioneer in the field of hobbyist robotics, David L. Heiserman.

Mr. Heiserman is the author of six volumes on the subject, published by TAB Books over a span of 11 years, from 1976 to 1987. These books describe, in detail, several robotics and simulation projects he developed during those years. Each was written and designed in such a manner as to allow the reader the ability to follow along and construct each project themselves.

However, the books aren't plans so much as they are guides. They form a complete encyclopedia for a compelling subject of study, which Mr. Heiserman has termed "Robot Intelligence" and/or "Machine Intelligence":

Build Your Own Working Robot – #841 (ISBN 0-8306-6841-1), HB, © 1976
How to Build Your Own Self-Programming Robot – #1241, (ISBN 0-8306-9760-8), HB, © 1979
Robot Intelligence…with experiments – #1191, (ISBN 0-8306-9685-7), HB, © 1981
How to Design & Build Your Own Custom Robot – #1341, (ISBN 0-8306-9629-6), HB, © 1981
Projects in Machine Intelligence For Your Home Computer – #1391, (ISBN 0-8306-0057-4), HB, © 1982
Build Your Own Working Robot – The Second Generation – #2781, (ISBN 0-8306-1181-9), HB, © 1987

I first read these books as a boy in grade school, and continued to study them periodically through high school. As an adult (now almost 35 years old – where did the time go?), I collected the set for my library. Along the way, I wondered what Mr. Heiserman did with his robots, and whether he planned on publishing anything more about them or his experiments. This interview and other email conversations with him have helped to answer these  questions.

PG: What, and/or who, inspired you to pursue the research of machine intelligence?

DH: I saw the robots in sci-fi films of the 50s and 60s, and I wondered how it would be possible to build one.

PG: Was Buster the initial platform for your research, or were there prior (but unpublished) platforms and/or systems you used prior to Buster?

DH: There was a prior version in 1963. I can't remember the name, but it was strictly radio controlled — vacuum tubes, no less.

PG: During the period your books on robotics and machine intelligence were published, TAB Books seemed to provide a haven for similar authors. Did they provide or do anything special to encourage this?

DH: No.

PG: Were you ever in contact with any of the other robotics experimenters (published by TAB or otherwise) during the period your books were published?

DH: No.

PG: Rodney seemed to anticipate the experiments carried out in "Robot Intelligence" and "Machine Intelligence". Were these projects inter-related?

DH: The books are pretty much a technology-based sequence. I had no idea about doing machine intelligence when I did the book on Buster.

PG: Did you ever bring together the software concepts developed in "Robot Intelligence" and "Machine Intelligence" with an actual hardware platform, or did you view the software environments you created as a better avenue for development of your ideas on machine intelligence?

DH: "Projects" was an attempt at hardware implementation, but I was more interested in computer simulations by this time. I never published my work for several weak reasons; one of which was that I was beginning to catch so much nasty flack from the amateur and quasi-professional AI community. I won't go into all of that, but let's just say I am enjoying some quiet satisfaction today.

PG: Why was the decision made to create the second generation Buster as a "hard-coded" robot, rather than continue with programmable machines as represented by the earlier Rodney?

DH: Well, I think it was because I was losing a segment of people who were not sophisticated enough to do any programming.

PG: What are the major differences between Buster as described in the original "Build Your Own Working Robot", and the Buster described in "Build Your Own Working Robot – The Second Generation"?

DH: Second Generation had better hardware designs.

PG: Whatever happened to Buster (I-III)?

DH: Buster I is somewhere down in the crawlspace of my house. The others were scrapped or given away a long time ago.

PG: What about Rodney?

DH: I gave him to a high school science class. I imagine it is gone.

PG: Do you have any current photos of Buster and/or Rodney (assuming they still exist)?

DH: No.

PG: Were any other later hardware platforms built (but left unpublished)?

DH: Rodney had a short-lived expression as a commercial product sometime in the early-to-mid 80's. It was the RB5-X, manufactured by RB Robot Corp in Golden, Colorado. I was rather well compensated for the work, but the company and my compensation soon evaporated.

PG: Are you still involved in robotics and/or machine intelligence as a hobby or otherwise?

DH: No. But I like to tinker with my own version of artificial neural networks.

PG: Do you intend on writing any further books on robotics in the future?

DH: Not as a hobby machine. Over the years, I've used my models of machine intelligence to play with ideas about extraterrestrial intelligence.

PG: Are there any thoughts or advice you would give to today's robotics and/or machine intelligence enthusiasts?

DH: Let a machine think for itself. Let a community of machines think for themselves and share their knowledge and skills.

But keep your hand on the plug.

I feel that Mr. Heiserman's work is still relevant for today's robotics hobbyist, especially for those interested in machine learning. His techniques and programming methodologies can be easily applied to modern microcontroller and PC-based systems. There are many avenues available to explore in this research, and Mr. Heiserman has forged a path ahead of us to follow. If you are interested in robotics, you owe it to yourself to pick up a volume or two of his books, and explore.

Andrew L. Ayers, March 2008

The RB5X Connection:

Heiserman also wrote some software for the personal robot RB5X.  From an interview …

RN: Did you ever consider taking any of your robot designs commercial as kits or assembled robots?

DLH: I never did it on my own initiative, but Rodney appeared on the market as RB5-X. It was advertised as educational tool, and we had a couple of RB5s running around in the science center here in Columbus. The company was RB Robot, Inc., in Golden CO. When RB when bankrupt, someone else bought the rights and inventory. I don't think the machine is around anywhere these days. I was just a token consultant for the company, anyway.

David Hieserman had already built "Buster" the robot, but was developing "Rodney" the "Self-Programming" robot at the time. RB5X software utilized "Rodney" technology.

The RB5X robot comes with what the company calls Alpha and Beta level self-learning software. This "Artificial Intelligence" software, developed by David Heiserman 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.

See other early Mobile Robots here.


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1976 – “Buster” Robot Animal – David L. Heiserman (American)

Although built using a child's electric car as the chassis, the fully functional Buster was a true Cybernetic Animal, showing reflexes, phototropism, and hunger / recharging modes. He could operate totally autonomously if so desired, but had manual overrides via a remote panel or remote control via an acoustic adapter.

No CPU chips here. Op-amps, TTL digital logic gates, comparators and 555-type timers.


This one-of-a-kind book offers complete instructions-plans, schematics, logic circuits,
and wiring diagrams-for building Buster, the most lovable (and mischievous) mechanical pet in the world! He'll serve you coffee or bring you the morning papers.
He'll forage for his own "food" and scream when he can't find it. His "curiosity" will get him into one plight after another, but Buster has the capacity to get himself out of trouble just as easily as he got into it! Not a project for novices, Buster is a sophisticated experiment in cybernetics. You build him in phases, and watch his personality develop as you add progressively more advanced circuitry to his mainframe. 238 pps., 117 illus.

Build Your Own Working Robot by David L. Heiserman


Buster is rather hard to describe in a few words. Part of the trouble with trying to describe Buster is that he ( or it) is two different things at the same time: he is both a machine and an evolutionary process. What's more, Buster is unique as a machine and quite unusual as a process.
As a machine, Buster represents the highest-order machine that technology can produce today. The lowest-order machine can be represented by simple hand tools such as hammers. screwdrivers, and pliers. The next order then takes the form of slightly more complicated labor-saving devices such as motors and engine-driven vehicles. Basic computer systems represent yet a higher order of machinery—machines that can save humans both mental and physical energy.
Buster is much more than any of these machines. He is much more than a tool, a man-controlled machine, or a computer system. Buster is a machine that is capable of setting its own goals and achieving them within the limitations of its own logical and physical abilities. And unlike any of the lower classes of machine, Buster can be fully operational without human intervention. Of course Buster can interact with a human operator, provided he doesn't have any other needs that are more urgent at the time. The completed Buster system can, in principle, live a long and active life in the total absence of human company. Lots of simpler machines can run without human intervention, too; but they cannot set their own goals.
One of the essential keys to Buster's unique position in the world of machines is his built-in animal-like reflex system. Every animal has a reflex system of some sort that mainly serves as a mechanism for survival or self-preservation; and most animal behavior is motivated by the needs of survival. Buster has a survival-oriented reflex system ; and whenever his energy cells become "hungry," for example. he takes action appropriate for recharging them.
Buster also has a need for activity. His primary goal in life. aside from keeping himself nourished, is to move about. He wanders around for hours on end. poking into corners and running headlong across the floor. If Buster's human doesn't take all the proper precautions, Buster can accidentally disable himself ; but as long as the accident isn't one that causes serious physical damage, Buster eventually gets himself out of the predicament or else begins crying for help.
Of what use is Buster? The question is not really appropriate. It's like asking what use is a puppy. Aside from the technical challenge of building such a system. Buster's real "use" lies in playing with him and watching him at work. Buster can be trained to do tricks and fetch a newspaper. but so can a puppy ( and for less money). The motivation for building such a system must come from the experimenter's own constitution—there must be a desire to work first-hand with the highest class of machine available today.
Buster is also a process. Unlike most other electronic projects. the system doesn't have to be complete before he comes alive. Buster evolves stepwise through this book. each step in the process adding more detail to his animal-like behavior.
This evolution-oriented program has the distinct advantage of letting you. the experimenter, reap some of the benefits of your time. labor. and cash outlay long before the program is completed. Once the basic mainframe, power supply. and power control systems are built. you can add whatever functions that time. finances, and moods dictate. And all the while, you'll have a machine that is fun and educational.
The Buster development program can be divided into three basic phases: Buster I, Buster II, and Buster III. Completing each one of these phases marks a major advance in Buster's modes of behavior; and for the sake of convenience, Buster is named according to his stage of development.
Buster I
Buster I is a wheeled machine that can be driven and steered by means of a simple control panel. Buster I can be run forward and in reverse at three different speeds. and turned left or right at two different steering angles. The control panel is connected to the machine via an umbilical cord. Although the machine is still run by a human operator, he can cause quite a stir among people who have never seen anything resembling a real robot. Besides. Buster I is fun to play with.
Buster II
The first half of the Buster II phase of the program  are concerned with developing Buster's autonomic reflex system and "brain" power. Buster has the capacity for making logical decisions of his own, but he has no way to implement his notions and needs in a physical way.
The first, and most important, reflex system is completed. Here, Buster II is given a set of touch sensors and a control system that lets him make an appropriate motion reflex whenever he blunders into a solid object. This blunder reflex mode takes priority over any other on-going activity, including direct commands from the human operator. Buster II is also given the ability to run ahead at full speed whenever he is not executing a blunder sequence. Buster, in other words, becomes an independent creature at this point in the program. Included is circuitry for sensing low battery levels and signaling the human operator whenever a low-battery condition arises. This is only the first portion of a complete hunger mode that will be completed as part of the Buster III phase. The hunger alarm board also doubles as a special blunder alarm that sounds whenever Buster becomes trapped between two immovable objects.
The umbilical cord is finally cut. You'll spend considerable time and effort working on an up-to-date acoustical data communications system that lets you communicate with Buster via remote control.
Buster III
The Buster III phase of the program opens with a discussion of a generalized tracking function. Whereas Buster II is characterized by some reflex responses and independent activity, the main point of the Buster III phase is to give him an active goal-seeking capability. The tracking interface system can be used wherever Buster is supposed to follow or track down a target object.
The hunger alarm system in Buster II merely sensed a low-battery condition and caused Buster to whistle for his master. With the tracking interface now available, Buster no longer has to call for help whenever his batteries begin running low—he simply seeks out his battery charger and plugs himself in.
Buster III is a truly independent creature. He can wander about for hours on end, blundering away from solid objects and running at full speed across the floor and when the batteries run critically low, he immediately tracks down the battery charger. Once the batteries are recharged, he backs out of his "nest" and resumes his feverish activity. You can take over control via the remote or direct terminals, but Buster III always retains his reflex capability that overrides just about anything his master tells him to do.
Anything added to the Buster II system from this point on is simply icing on the cake, e.g. a line-tracing function that lets Buster follow any sort of light-colored line on the floor and suggests some other tracking functions that can direct Buster to respond when he is called.
The final chapter introduces a proposed Buster IV system: one where a microprocessor brain is added to his basic reflex and goal-seeking modes of behavior. The Buster II system is upward-compatible with just about any sort of modern data system; given the appropriate kinds of sensors, Buster can become as much a mechanical animal as your talent, imagination, and resources allow.

[Note: RH 2010 – The final chapter on a proposed Buster IV with a microprocessor brain did not eventuate. The closest we get to is in the acoustic data link so “the whole Buster system can be placed under the control of a more sophisticated minicomputer or microprocessor system that is too bulky to be included in the mainframe assembly.”]

Heiserman also wrote some software for the personal robot RB5X.

See a transcript of a 2008 interview with David Heiserman here.

See other early Mobile Robots here.


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