The Robots Were Coming! The Robots Were Coming!

The recent influx of home assistants proves that everything old is new again. If we told you about a life-sized robot that was self-charging, had a map of your home for navigation, and responded to voice commands, you’d assume we were going to point you to a Kickstarter or a new product release. Instead, we will point you to this post about a robot marketed in 1985.

You have to put all this in context. In 1985 the personal computer was practically a solution in search of a problem. Back then it was wildly popular to predict that every home would one day have a computer. But we weren’t quite sure what they were going to be doing with it. Home finance, games, and storing recipes were all popular guesses. A few far-sighted folks realized that music, photos, and even video might one day be major selling points. Everyone wanted a piece of this market but no one really understood what the market would look like.

The post chronicles a range of home robots from decade centered on 1980. The Gemini was by far the most impressive of the lot, although at $9,000 they were not selling. Keep in mind, that’s about $20,000 today. Even at a reduced price, only about 60 rolled into homes. However, there were other contenders such as Bushnell’s TOPO, Heathkit’s HERO, the RB5X, and even one from Nintendo.

Interestingly, the plans for the Gemini are available online. We’d love to hear from someone who’s built a modern version. If you like these old robots, don’t forget the old robot site. Of course, these could have been the mere first steps in the robot race’s plan for world domination.

43 thoughts on “The Robots Were Coming! The Robots Were Coming!

  1. Along with flying cars, I’ve been promised home robot helpers for as long as I can remember. But in both cases, it’s still not clear how I could practically use such a device in a day to day setting.

    For me personally, even the current crop of “smart speakers” (is that really what we’re calling them?) are silly in practice. Yeah I ask the Echo what the forecast is occasionally, maybe how to spell something, but 98% of the time it just sits there idle. I can’t imagine how sad it would be if that same tech was built into a bot that followed me around the house, waiting to “help” me with it’s limited capabilities.

    Reminds me of the xkcd of the Mars rover:

      1. “Make me two eggs, over easy, with some whole-wheat toast. Do we have strawberry jam? Great, some strawberry jam for the toast. I’ll be in the dining nook when it’s ready.”

        1. Careful now, if your car hears you say that, its likely to order each of those from three amazon restaurant affiliates, then call an uber driver to assemble it and deliver it to your smart-unlocked and open front door. Along with a $200 credit card charge and a haircut appointment of course.

        1. Just think, in 10 years time all the boring people will be in self driving cars, and cool people in cool cars and motorbikes will overtake them, eliciting questions from kids like’why can’t we be cool like them, daddy?’
          The father then breaks down and cries

      2. It’s a solution looking for a problem. Just like all those stupid, expensive toy robots that preceded it.

        And since it’s a Google car, it will record and monitor all conversations held in said vehicle, keep track of who is in the car with you, where you go, how long, etc. All that information will then being refined, packaged and sold to 3rd parties including the government.

        Even better they make you pay for that experience.

        It’s a big brother car. Orwell would have a field day with such a evil company and it’s evil employees. It must be something to work for a company whose sole reason for being is to steal peoples privacy and working with dictators.

        1. Well said. People are running ahead of themselves to get their wool cut, like sheep. They are giving their private information away for free on FB and many other social media (big brother) sites.

        2. “And since it’s a Google car, it will record and monitor all conversations held in said vehicle, keep track of who is in the car with you, where you go, how long, etc.”
          Your health insurance company will see how many times it is in the parking lot of a bar, or fast food restaurant and raise your rates accordingly.
          Burger King will see that you frequent the McDonald’s across the street and text you some coupons to get you to switch.

    1. Smart speakers definitely have a future as an assistive technology. For older people with cataracts or macular degeneration even this small level of access to the Internet is better than nothing. The problem being getting more than the adventurous ones to use it, and to understand the limitations.

        1. we wanted to do something for an elderly uncle that couldnt hear so well and in his words “hearing aids wernt the complete solution” we wanted to have a speech to text system but all the ones I could find relied on an internet connection – we live in australia where the telcos proudly claim 90% of the population have broad band access – its just the small detail that 90% of the population live in 3 cities. So no internet = no speech to text

    2. I literally just linked my Tivo to my Echo right before writing this. Now we won’t even get exercise from raising the remote control. We also have a “skill” to play a local radio station, though skill may be an exaggeration because it wasn’t really that hard.

    3. “98% of the time it sits there idle” – no it doesn’t, it listens to *everything* you say, do, watch, or listen to and reports it back to a billion-dollar corporation.

  2. I’d like to see an Androbot rebuilt with modern internals. Those used steeply angled wheels and a low mounted, lead acid battery so they couldn’t fall over forwards or backwards. The wheel angle was a compromise. The mechanical design guy wanted an even lower angle to reduce wobble more and mount the battery even lower, but that would have increased friction and the power use.

    Apply up to date PID control and an Androbot could roll around completely vertical, while still maintaining passive stability when not moving so it wouldn’t be needing to power the motors to stay upright.

    1. Even better if it knows how to use the plunger for its intended purpose.
      And carry a spare roll of toilet paper to deliver to whoever is stranded on “the throne” calling for one.

  3. Where did the robots go, are you asking? What do you think that driverless cars are. :) The driverless car is the ‘killer app’ for the robot, it will finally make having a robot make sense.

    1. Too bad it’s going to take several more decades before they’re anywhere near useable over here. Driving on sunny, clean roads in the U.S. is one thing, and driving on ice- and snow-covered roads where even a human is unsure where the actual road is anymore is an entirely different thing.

      1. Replace them with nothing and everyone just mind their own business. Understanding between the people that if your not interfering with my or anyone elses freedom, we’ll not harm you. Local decision making bodies.

  4. “Back then it was wildly popular to predict that every home would one day have a computer.”

    One could say that IoT is this, times ten. Soon we’ll be asking, what place doesn’t have a computer in it?

  5. Nostalgia. Only met one at a trade show and they couldnt get it to do much. It wasnt what they were selling. Voice recognition was poor with training and a quiet room.. It did travel nice on flat tile. Supposedly AI. Extravagant. Ugly.
    HERO 1 and RB-5X are the 80’s champions IMO. A built HERO 2000 would be the better comparison a year later and at most closer to price range after all the expansions. HERO 2K arm was its best feature despite the 8088 cpu. No arm option on Gemini?. I feel that people got more out of HERO Jr at a fraction of the cost of Gemini with nowhere near the hardware. Jr. Plug in cartridges notably made it personable, fun and easy to use.
    Should help:
    Notice man moving chairs out of the way? Why? Must be the AI training the man.

    My HERO (ET-18) says “Ready” and is prepared to give a severely mild pinching to those who disagree. His arm is still fairly slow so you’ll have to stand still or might suffer absolutely no damage at all.

    1. Yep it was extremely slow and it sucked that it couldn’t really do anything. But I was on the Gemini design team back in the day and it sure was fun to create an “artificial lifeform” based on a few 6502s, a bunch of sensors, and a heck of a lot of machine code! Users could program it in Basic with access to everything on the platform. Most of those we sold went to science museums and schools. It was a great platform to experiment on. And we loved the HERO too–we also sold some add-ons for it.

  6. Thanks for the memories, HAD.
    I have a fully functional, factory built, Hero 2000 in a crate, with all options, books, and courses. I bought it from the Heathkit store in Woodland Hills, CA, as they were closing down. It is a fun robot and was quite impressive in its design given the era. It had 8 or 10 CPUs I think, all working in concert.

    There is/was a Hero 2000 User’s group not far from LAX. Great guys and great fun. We all bought a bunch of RoboScouts to mess around with, too.

    I also have my Heathkit H8 Computer, with teh H89 terminal and H14 Printer.

    I’m hoping to set up a web site to capture photos and share stories about these vintage robots before I sell them this summer to downsize. Good to see fun posts like this on HAD. Brings back great memories!

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