Give Aging Technology a Chance

Robot Arm with PDA Brain

In our rush to develop new projects, a lot of the time we jump the gun and order new Arduinos and microprocessors, when with a bit of ingenuity you can recycle old tech for new purposes. [Eric Wiemers] has a Lynxmotion robot arm and needed a way to control it — sure he could use an Arduino or something… or he could try to make use of his trusty PDA that never left his side, well, 10 years ago anyway!

In 2001, Handspring released the Visor Neo — an affordable PDA competitor to the Palm Pilot. It had a super fast 33MHz processor, a whole 8MB of RAM and a 16 bit grayscale screen with a whopping 160 x 160 pixels. [Eric] was lucky enough to get his hands on one a year after it came out. Fast forward today and PDA’s are pretty much obsolete due to smart phones — but [Eric] didn’t want to just chuck it, it still worked after all!

At first he thought of just practicing coding and writing some apps for it — but let’s be honest, he’d never use it instead of his smart phone. He dug a bit deeper and discovered it was actually capable of serial output — this realization opened up a world of possibilities! Using a spare charging cradle, he tapped into the serial connections and added a Molex connector to allow him to hook it up to his Lynxmotion. He wrote his own control app with a GUI which means he can now control the robot arm without needing to drag around his laptop — success!

Think twice before throwing out your old tech. Perhaps that disused piece of junk can have a second chance in your next DIY project.


  1. cr0sh says:

    > Think twice before throwing out your old tech

    My problem isn’t throwing out my old tech (I keep everything!) – my real problem is buying old tech.

    The last serious piece I purchased was a Rhino XR-1.

    Maybe I should hook that up to my old Visor as well…lol (actually, I plan on hooking it to my Altair – should I ever get /that/ running as well).

  2. LOL I long for those days when a charge of battery would last you almost 2 weeks of constant uses.

  3. Paul S says:

    The serial port on those old Palm OS devices was awesome. I remember hooking one up to a Motorola StarTAC phone, which would take AT commands over serial and act as a modem. We had a very early DSL line at home, but it came with a complementary dial-up account we never used. I had a local cell phone company’s unlimited plan. I remember sitting at school, hooking up two or three cables to get the connection between the devices. Then I could check email and surf slashdot on that 160×160 screen. It was shockingly usable.

  4. NeXT says:

    I swear to god, the only addon the Visor doesn’t have yet is a geiger counter. It has just about everything else.

  5. Tom Hargrave says:

    I still design projects around 555 timers! And friends ask me “Why don’t you use a PIC?” I do for some things, but why add another $2.00 in parts plus the time to code for a timer based project?

    I also use op-amps and comparators………

    • Humble Servant says:

      I mean what, do you want applause? A pat on the back? Some kind of smug satisfaction of being “better” than everyone else on this site? Or would a chocolate chip cookie ( homemade, of course ) suffice to stand as a monument to your unending contribution of prodigious knowledge regarding the control of electron flow to this website, my liege?

  6. karl says:

    which robot arm is this? is there a project page for it?

  7. John U says:

    Less is more. Old PDA’s like this have plenty of capability for all sorts of things, can be picked up for next to nothing and you’ve got a low-power (as in watts) programmable device with battery, display, serial port ready to go.

    I remember when a desktop PC with a 33MHz CPU and 8Mb of RAM was the dogs danglies.

  8. Old'un says:

    He’s just a show-off. I’m sure it can’t do anything my Apple Newton can’t… given enough time.

  9. Drifton says:

    This really makes me want to stuff a pi or beaglebone into my Casio Casiopia A-10 and i have no idea why

  10. Lost says:

    Meh, I’d much rather see how the robotic arm was built and a parts list then reading an article on how old tech could be reused – something which many people already do.

  11. aoeuidhtns- says:

    How do you even write apps for such a device and get them on there?

    • duh says:

      in the same way they did in 2001? duh.

    • erock2014 says:

      PocketC is just a C-based programming language, so you can write subroutines and functions just like any other programming language. When you’re done, PocketC comes with a bootstrap program that gets installed on the palm that reads the code you wrote. It all gets uploaded through the docking cradle when you sync.
      Take a look at the full article for some more details.

  12. Rob says:

    Maybe there’s a use for my Visor Deluxe after all… I *knew* there was a reason I’d been holding onto it! (or I’m just saying that after the fact in order to try to justify my electronics-hording tendencies…)

  13. old tech I want is the TRS80-100 looking for one at thrift shops and junk shops i just cant find — no way am i paying ebay prices — anyone have one they are not using???

  14. Matt Fluger says:

    I keep all my old tech stuff but get so caught up in getting new devices, I forget to see what the old ones can still do.

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