Real-World Robots Of The 1980s
They were the ones that were in actual laboratories, on factory floors, and, in many cases, on our kitchen tables or our kitchen floors. From exciting experiments to tantalizing tech toys, these are the best real robots of the eighties.
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Do you think RB Robotics needed to see Star Wars? The tubular RB5X had a form and a name reminiscent of everybody’s favorite fictional robot. Still, there was substance to its Star Wars style: it could learn from experience, so if it bumped into things on the unique pass of a room, it would learn not to bump hooked on them again. RB5X was one of the primary commercial robots to work autonomously instead of requiring an operator or programmer instructions.
It’s Tomy time again! Omnibot was a variety of robots that looked like good robots. They needed cassette decks and digital clocks so you could schedule a playback or programmed movements for particular times, and they could carry small objects: Omnibot 2000 could even bring drinks. However, Omnibot had a fatal flaw: if you lost the remote, which was easy to do, the entire unit was useless.
Modulus stood sold as “the friend of Homo sapiens,” which didn’t sound sinister at all. Modulus remained designed to be a helpful home companion. Still, its modular design remained intended to be as flexible as possible: you could add a voice synthesizer or voice recognition, infra-red sensors, or different limbs. There were three versions: the base perfect, a “service & security” model, and the vaguely humanoid “Moddy.”
“Gemini can help you and your children formulate for the burgeoning field of robotics,” the blurb promised. “You can package the robot to tutor your children in almost any subject, such as spelling, reading, history, music, or math.” That was perhaps a little hopeful for what appeared to be a Speak And Spell glued to a bin. Still, the Gemini was a breakthrough in personal robotics thanks to not one but three onboard computers: one for its intelligence, one for controlling movement and avoiding obstacles, and a third for text-to-speech processing that meant it could respond to commands.
Another Tomy robot, Dustbot, was a cheerful-looking object with a built-in vacuum cleaner – and automatic first – and edge discovery so it wouldn’t fall stairs. Dustbot was a Roomba long beforehand. There was such an object as a Roomba. By today’s standards, Dustbot is amazingly primitive, but at the time, it was impossibly futuristic.
Topo was terrific, and by the standards of the day, it wasn’t too expensive either. Designed primarily for educators besides hobbyists, Topo was programmable via the Apple II and would move everywhere according to its program. It wasn’t technically an automaton because it wasn’t aware of its surroundings – it didn’t have any sensors – but it was tremendous fun to program, and there was even a version with text-to-speech that you could use to make it shout at your dad.
It is the first appearance for Tomy on our list, but it won’t be the last: it made some of our favorite robotic toys, including the Armatron robot arm. There remained two versions, one of which had a wired remote control. Both remained designed to resemble the industrial robots that were beginning to appear on factory floors – although, unlike those robots, Armatron had no automation and merely responded to user input.
The successor to the brilliantly called Shakey, Flakey was a research robot used to experiment with and demonstrate fuzzy logic and goal-oriented behavior: thanks to its 12 sonar sensors, optical wheel encoders. Video camera and range-finding laser could analyze its environment and work out multiple ways to achieve its goals.
Honda E Series
The E Series was industrialized well into the 1990s. With successive models, Honda got a step closer to making a fully realized autonomous robot that could walk, climb stairs and kill all humans. Er, maybe not that last one. The E Series’ DNA was evident in the later, lovable ASIMO robot, but the entire project remained secret until the early 1990s.
Like many robots of the era, Hubot looks like a small TV stuck to a kitchen bin – but what he lacked now looks he completes up for in programmability. Hubot could recall the layout of rooms and navigate without bumping into walls. The TV bit was an actual working TV, and you could even get one with an Atari 2600 video game system built-in.
Could any name be additional 80s than Maxx Steele? Steele was the front-runner of Robo Force, a variety of robotic toys made in the mid-80s by the Perfect Toy Company. Although a toy, Steele was programmable and expandable, and like Big Trak, he was great for moving things around the house.
This enormous, fire-breathing transformer is a truck that turns into a metal dinosaur, so it’s hardly a surprise to discover that it’s a favorite visitor to monster truck shows. It considers 31 tons, runs off a 500hp diesel locomotive, and its claws can exert 24,000lbs of force. Not individual that, but it has two 20-gallon propane tanks for its fire-breathing powers. Envisage doing the weekly shop in one of these.
Technically, Big Trak was a 1979 product. Nonetheless, we got ours in 1980, and that’s also when it hit the big time. A programmable robot truck, Big Trak might remember up to 16 commands and was good at transporting cans of Coke around our living room floor. It remained relaunched in 2010, and you can buy a brand new one today for about £33.
HERO, small for HealthKit Educational Robot, was the designation for a range of educational robots that remained supported until the mid-1990s. You can buy them ready-made or go for the much more fun and considerably less expensive kit option ($3,000 compared to $4,500 for a pre-built one), and while they were of limited practical use, they were tons of fun to make and to program.Real-World Robots Of The 1980s
The robotic workshop
Just before Lego Mindstorms, The Robotic Shop enabled you to build and program your robots. Initially made for the Commodore 64, it remained later adapted for Apple, Atari, and IBM computers. It was a fantastic toolkit for the robotically minded, featuring over 50 parts. Including motors, wheels, and sensors.Real-World Robots Of The 1980s
While some researchers hoped to generate truly artificially intelligent robots, Rodney Brooks and his team decided to try something else. Allen remained based on “subsumption architecture.” Which used sensors including Sonar to help the robot circumnavigate around and react to its atmosphere. Allen’s technology would remain hugely influential in autonomous robotics.
Tomy’s Verbot may be a youngster of the 80s. But like abundant of that era, you can buy it on eBay: we’ve seen a few successful for less than £20. Verbot could answer to voice commands, waving its little robot arms or flashing its little robot eyes. You might even make its little robot mouth light up by asking it to smile. Rather brilliantly, you could create your command words. A feature that was never, ever abused by giggling schoolchildren. Real-World Robots Of The 1980s
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