Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Enter the Robots, or... Old Apple IIs Don't Die, They Just Walk Away

Bob had made an arrangement with an entrepreneur (I wish I could remember his name.. Steve, maybe?) who was developing robots. The idea was that a robot could be developed that could tour a factory or other business and move materials automatically from one place to another. I don't know the details of their agreement, but it was probably that Bob would get one of these robots on the cheap or for free for providing the developer with space to work and for providing a real world factory for the robot to be tested in.

The entrepreneur was also the engineer developing the robot technology. I had a few good conversations with this guy because I shared an office with him briefly. He explained to me that the robot had two computers. One was an IBM PC compatible motherboard and the other one was an Apple II+ motherboard. The Apple II+ motherboard would later be replaced with a more generic 6502 card later on. One computer controlled the movement of the robot and read sensors, and it was programmed in C. The other computer had a goal seeking program written a language called Arity Prolog, and this computer controlled the other one.

The robot itself looked kind of like a big R2D2 with a flat top for placing materials to be transported. It had small sonar detectors like you would see on early Polaroid instant cameras, and on the top it had a small dome with a rotating infrared sensor. The robot was taught the layout of the factory, and it would continually adjust its course based on what it knew, what it sensed with sonar, and also by using the rotating sensor to look for infrared senders located in different locations in the factory.

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