Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Welcome, Hero Jr

After the AVC, my focus has shifted to four-wheeling my Jeep on Colorado mountain trails, making repairs, getting the fuel injection system tuned, and getting through emissions tests. I'm working on an automotive-ready 5V power supply that I'll be using with some upcoming projects including a Vehicle Speed Sensor Buffer.

I haven't forgotten about robotics, don't worry. In fact, a new robot has come to live at Bot Thoughts laboratories: this slightly dusty, cute, diminutive blue Hero Jr. very generously donated by a local robotics hobbyist, Michael Schievelbein. Thanks, Michael!

They were computer beige and red from the factory.
I think this will be a great demo robot for the Northern Colorado Maker Faire in Colorado or if I don't make that deadline then definitely Robots at the Hangar next April. Let's have a closer look...

That's a Motorola 6808 CPU below. Power board above.
Back in college, there was a Hero 1 in the ECE lab that I fell in love with. From a distance. So needless to say I'm extremely excited to have a Heathkit robot to tinker with!

Remote control receiver board.
So... the question weighing on my mind is do I mod the little robot? It's painted so it's not original which relieves some of the pressure I might feel to restore it. But it's not like there are a lot of these and it is a cool piece of retro-computing history. But this little fellow could do some awesome things with some modifications.

Considering all the advancements in robotics since 1982(!) is enough to make your brain melt. An embedded 8-bit microcontroller could run circles around the 4MHz 6808; Hero came out in the dark days before PIC and AVR, even the 68HC11!

The single Polaroid ultrasonic ranger could be significantly augmented by a slew of Maxbotix ultrasonics and Sharp infrared sensors. Not to mention machine vision--a few OpenMV Cams perhaps? Add an IMU, wheel encoders, GPS, the thing could compete in the AVC.

The chassis is ideally suited to add arms on each side, too. That's an area I've never explored before. The dual lead-acid batteries could be replaced with LiPos.

I could control the robot remotely with an inexpensive 6 or 9 channel FlySky, the receiver of which is 1/10th the size of the factory analog receiver. 

The head doesn't turn. But, it could. It wouldn't be hard if the massive, antiquated power and CPU boards were replaced and relocated.

There's an absolutely cavernous space inside this thing. And that's an understatement. It's unreal how much space is available. I could toss in a Raspberry Pi, PCduino, Beaglebone, or Olinuxino for vision, speech, voice, who knows what else. Cripes, I could easily fit a full-on Mini ITX board in here, no problem.

The mind reels at all the things that weren't possible in 1982. Internet connectivity (then a handful of academic computers, no web, no DNS). I can use OLED and LCD color displays. For status. Or... eyes? Precision navigation. All the compute power we never had then. Remember this robot predates the Apple Mac and PC AT. I was playing with a Commodore 64 (MOS 6510 CPU) circa 1982.

Hero Jr has a front steer/drive wheel. This is it.
I've wanted to build a butler type robot for decades. Now so much is possible that was basically science fiction when I started. Maybe this Hero Jr is the platform to start with. Again, many thanks to Michael for this very kind gift. The other robots and books will find good homes.

What do you think? Mod or restore?


  1. Seeing as you posted this two years ago, I doubt you'll see this.

    What happened to the little guy? Modded, restored?

    1. I did totally miss this comment, sorry. I still have the robot. I repainted it, and got it working. Bought a few cartridges. I demoed at a couple of Maker Faires and at my kid's kindergarten class several years ago and it was a huge hit. Although it tried to escape... I left it totally stock so far. Been thinking about dusting it off to play with it a little again.


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