Spent the day running diagnostics on a 34-year-old Heathkit HERO 1 robot with my friend Tim Schutz. (It’s his robot.) At first this activity felt strangely like Raiders of the Lost Ark (“Behold! This primitive robot was built by the ancient Egyptians!”) but, partly because HERO looks a little like R2-D2 (small coincidence), everything morphed into that scene from Star Wars where Luke takes the droids out to his garage for repairs. We were actually punching in machine language routines on a hexadecimal keypad on the little guy’s head. I was expecting HERO to twitch at any minute and start projecting a hologram of Princess Leia. (Tim observed that if it did, Leia would be about 60.) Another difference from the cinematic original was that we were accompanied by two curious, fierce, and slightly alarmed Ewoks, my Pomeranians Humphrey and Bridget.
We determined the robot was in pretty good shape for being so old. The sensor board must be repaired, but the robot came laden with schematics, and in true Heathkit style, everything was labeled clearly. There was even a flowchart in the manual for the necessary fix. The wheel motors work, so the robot can move around, and the arm basically works, but the claw needs a bit of mechanical repair.
I said the robot was primitive, but really it reminded me of a larger version of a 21st-century LEGO Mindstorms robot, and I am filled with admiration for the Heathkit engineers, who made an interface breadboard available even after the head carapace goes back on. Very makery!
Tim named his robot Maai, a Japanese word he knew from Aikido that means “distance”, so its full name would be Maai HERO. Ironically, the distance sonar is the only sensor working right now.
Photo credit: Heathkit catalog circa 1979, via http://www.hero-1.com/