Big Trak Gets a New Brain

If you were a kid in the 1980s you might have been lucky enough to score a Big Trak — a robotic toy you could program using a membrane keyboard to do 16 different motions. [Howard] has one, but not wanting to live with a 16-step program, he gave it a brain transplant with an Arduino and brought it on [RetroManCave’s] video blog and you can see that below.

If you want to duplicate the feat and your mom already cleaned your room to make it a craft shop, you can score one on eBay or there’s even a new replica version available, although it isn’t inexpensive. The code you need is on GitHub.

The CPU isn’t the only upgrade, as the updated Big Trak has an OLED display. [Howard] plans to add either WiFi or Bluetooth and wire the keyboard up to the onboard Arduino. [Howard] shows the inside and there is a lot of room by today’s standards. Of course, we wanted to see the original PCB, but it was nowhere to be found. Luckily, we found an image of the single-sided PCB on Wikipedia, so if you are like us, you can see it below, under the video.

There’s no wiring diagram that we could see, but from the Arduino code you can back out what the connections are to the sonar, the OLED display, and the new motor drivers for the original motors.

Oddly enough, this isn’t the first Big Trak that has made it to the pages of Hackaday. Of course, we have no shortage of hacked toy robots.

Bigtrak PCB Image – [Sergio Calleja] CC BY-SA 2.0


26 thoughts on “Big Trak Gets a New Brain

  1. The Big Trak drive mechanism needs to be looked at by everyone.

    The left and right motors are inexpensive basic motors. These motors turn about the same speed all by themselves.

    The way the motors were kept spinning at exactly the same RPM (to insure the path was straight) was they had a magnet that spun on the opposite end of the gears. The N pole on one motor kept the S pole on the other motor all lined up. When the motor were supposed to turn at a different speed, there was no problem, the magnets weren’t that strong.

    Simple, and easy to make.

      1. Back in the late 80’s the Boy Scouts magazine ran an article on building a robot from a rectangular plastic trash can and a couple of Big Trak motor/gearbox units. It didn’t say that’s what they were but the source was obvious to me. It listed where to buy each of the parts.

  2. “If you want to duplicate the feat and your mom already cleaned your room to make it a craft shop…”

    “There’s no wiring diagram that we could see”
    Maybe his mom threw it away during the cleaning?

  3. No one else is gonna say it?
    My big problem with the BigTrak is that the BigTrak did lack trek.

    And I want to know:
    Just how big are the track of a BigTrak if a BigTrak did have track?

  4. Steve Ciarcia built an RF link to the Big Trak, it’s in the Vol III book pg 80, and February ? of some yr, search for “Steve Ciarcia byte big trak” into your favorite search engine

    1. I was going to say that he did something with the BigTrak, but I couldn’t remember what he did with it. has a large collection of old computer magazines, so the Byte might be there.

      I seem to recall Steve Ciarcia using cordless drills to propel something, but I’m blank about the specific project, so maybe it was from someone else. About the same period, I’d say.


  5. bigtrak is one of the few memories i still have from my early preschool days in the early 80s, they had one of those and I was absolutely obsessed with it. I probably decided to be a programmer right there.
    Doing a quick ebay search, it seems these have become quite rare.

    1. I remember my bigtrack programming tryout with mixed memory.
      Ok it was fun the first time, after that it was so tedious and frustrating that I wished it had remote controller instead…

  6. Wow… I remember wanting one when I spotted one at a garage sale in the 80’s. I asked for and received a Radio Shack “programmable” Space Tank instead. I was just on the wrong side of too young to fully realize that programmable actually meant using these yellow disks to control the tank. Should mention the tank actually didn’t go straight. It curved ever so slightly even without a disk. Frustrated the hell out of me.

    Put that sucker away and forgot all about it until today.

  7. I Love My Toys Big Time.

    I have a hole fleet of them. I have 5 tanks, 3 cranses, 6 little 6 wheeled cars,( great to start off with with a esp8266 shield)
    estavaging equipment. back up to 6 rumbas, And lots of cars. And some other things that are strang.
    I’ve been playing with the roombas for now.
    It will be so much fun when I get them all going.

    I do have enuf cameras and ESP8266s, ESP32’s, PI types of computers to get then to move see and talk and see each other.
    I’m getting there very slowly but getting there.

  8. I had a Kenner light beam car that had two photo cells on the roof and you controlled by shining a flash light on the roof (forward, left and right only). I took it apart to see how it worked. Unfortunately, my skills at putting things back together were not good and it never worked again. I still have the circuit board in my parts cabinet

  9. Does anyone remember that everyday electronics magazines did a series on the 80’s on rewiring the brains of a bigtrak with a meaty processor, LCD, etc. For the life of me I can’t seem to find it anymore! :(

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