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Robotics Toys Education

Heathkit Reincarnates the Hero Robot 119

DeviceGuru writes "Heathkit, which produced and sold mobile robots aimed at hobbyists and students back in the 1980s, is about to reenter the educational robot business. Heathkit's new HE-RObot incorporates an onboard computer running Windows XP Professional on a Core 2 Duo Processor. It stands 21 inches tall, weighs 55 pounds, and has a built-in 80 GB hard drive, IR sensors, bright LED headlights, and lots of space for custom project circuitry." As robots go, it also looks very much like certain models of SGI workstation. Now I'll need to update my 1980 Christmas wishlist -- it's probably lost between pages of Popular Mechanics.
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Heathkit Reincarnates the Hero Robot

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  • linux! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by prichardson ( 603676 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2007 @03:51PM (#21816294) Journal
    I hope the drivers for all the robot parts of this are available for linux. What good is a robot if it doesn't run linux?

    In all seriousness, why would they go with Windows XP? That really doesn't make sense to me. Linux works better as a headless operating system, and would allow for more tinkering.
    • Re:linux! (Score:5, Informative)

      by the_brobdingnagian ( 917699 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2007 @04:06PM (#21816374) Homepage
      The Microsoft Robotics Studio [] is supposed to be really good. And why provide drivers? I hope the interface to the sensors is really simple and fully documented.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by x_man ( 63452 )
        This is a very sad imitation of the original Heathkit Hero robot. The original Hero had a programmable robotic arm. This robot looks more like the Hero Jr, the less expensive, less featured version of the Hero. I built a Hero Jr. in 1985 (worked all summer to save up the $650 I paid for it) and it was a more functional robot than what is listed here. My Hero Jr. had the IR bit but it also had a sound detector, sonar, and speech synthesis. I would expect something made twenty two years later to be a lit
        • The AI? Isn't the point of building a robot to write the AI for it yourself? Being a windows machine, it'd be easy to plug in a mic for sound detection, probably even with voice recognition software. Speech synthesis wouldn't be a problem either (built-in speakers). You could add an arm yourself, although I'll agree that not including one with the robot is a raw deal.
        • by Intron ( 870560 )
          Actually, it looks more like this [] then the old Hero.
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )
      Linux works better as a headless operating system

      I really don't think Linux should adopt that as their public motto.
      • by MECC ( 8478 )

        Linux works better as a headless operating system

        I really don't think Linux should adopt that as their public motto.

        Except on Halloween.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      That's easy.
      They're still stress testing the hardware
    • While I'm a diehard Linux/*BSD fan myself, this machine wouldn't even be improved with a genuine OpenBSD install done by Theo de Raadt himself (apart from that it would probably swear really well). Look at the design: it looks like a watercooler on wheels. Where's the robotic arm?

      Before committing a large amount of money to an overpriced Dell on wheels it really has to stand the 'get me a fecking bottle of beer from the fridge' test.

    • Right now it looks like a typical Windows machine; dumb.

      Its just a primitive roving sensor platform (and I don't think much of its roving capabilities.)

      Until it gets some way to affect its environment, say a mechanical arm with a few axes of freedom, I'm not turned on in the least.

      I think a swarm of small "insectoid" robots is a much better way to go.

      Small, light, mobile, easily trainable, remote camera platform, swiveling head with mounted pincers and able to carry out simple tasks.

      Hey that's what an ant d
    • It looks like the original White Box Robotics 914 PC-BOT Basic Robot Platform [] does run Linux. Heathkit likely went w/ XP because most kids will already be familiar with it... and they hate hackers. ;)
  • by deckert_za ( 837816 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2007 @03:52PM (#21816298)
    Not that I religiously dislike Windows, but if you can run Linux on it, it puts a whole new spin on being able to remotely ssh to your robot and issue the "kill" command ;-)


    • Re:Alternate OS? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 25, 2007 @04:21PM (#21816464)
      Does have Linux, if you go to the White Box Robotics website, they have a version with Ubuntu. That's the "Player" software on their site. Since they're running mini-ITX motherboards, Linux should run OK. Not cheap, the MS version is ~ $8K, with the Linux version at ~$6.8K.
      For my money, I'd spend $350 and get the Pleo, it does run Linux on an ARM CPU. Would be more fun to work with too! []
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Enigma2175 ( 179646 )

        Not cheap, the MS version is ~ $8K, with the Linux version at ~$6.8K.
        WOW, I had no idea they were so expensive. They really don't seem to have much hardware to account for the massive cost. This robot [] has similar capabilities (same sensors, batteries, etc.) and software (runs Linux/Player) and has a 4 axis manipulator arm that the WBR bots lack at probably 1/10th of the price.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by noidentity ( 188756 )

      Not that I religiously dislike Windows, but if you can run Linux on it, it puts a whole new spin on being able to remotely ssh to your robot and issue the "kill" command

      Not to fear, Windows provides an automatic version of this feature where you don't even need to log in to have processes randomly killed.

    • by zeketp ( 888795 )
      So you have a process, lets call it "safety". This process continuously tells the hardware to keep off the trigger. When you issue the kill command for this process, it does!

      *Disclaimer: This is a horrible approach, and should obviously not** be implemented on a Windows based machine. If you are dumb enough to do it this way, use some version of ultra-hardened, enterprise grade *nix. And don't go patching the OS or software until you've done extensive testing on an unarmed model.

      ** Should Not = really reall
  • I didn't know Heathkit was still around.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bhodikhan ( 894485 ) *
      I live in the same town as Heathkit. At one point they were part of Zenith Data Systems. Later on they were spun off as their own company. Since then they have catered mostley to the technical education eTeaching type fare (Macromedia Director Training Curriculum). Given that they've lost all the people that made Heathkit great long ago I seriously wonder what would make them try to sell such a closed dead-end robot. While I'm always happy to see Heathkit alive and kicking this robot endeavor makes me wonde
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 25, 2007 @03:53PM (#21816304)
    The awesome thing about Heathkits was that it was just some components you soldered together. You could understand each piece of it, and then see how they get put together into something that actually worked. (I still use my Heathkit stereo receiver at home.) There was no magic black box. I've never seen a permanently broken Heathkit: if you can build it from scratch, you can fix it. Anything else electronic tends to just get thrown away, because there's no way for us mortals to know how to go about fixing it.

    Now it's a PC running Windows XP. It's a blue PC on wheels. It doesn't even look like you get to assemble it. It's "Heathkit" in name only.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by cjsm ( 804001 )
      Well, I think the cool thing about this, to some people (not necessarily me) is that its a PC in a Robot. Assuming you can also use this as a regular PC, this might have appeal as a novel gaming PC or whatever.

      But like others, I'm surprised Heathkit is still around. I built a Vox Combo Organ from scratch that Heathkit offered in kit form back in the day. Wasn't very reliable, though. Some of the springs on the keys broke off after I had pounded on it for a year or two. Not Heathkit's fault, since th
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by noidentity ( 188756 )

      Now it's a PC running Windows XP. It's a blue PC on wheels.

      Oh come on, Windows doesn't crash that often!

    • Heathkits of old...

      I have a Heathkit stereo pre-amplifier with two 12W stand alone valve power amps.

      Built by my Dad in 1964 ish.

      As I had the original construction manuals I knew the circuits down to component level and could rebuild / refurbish these with ease. They work superbly.

      The matching Speakers which stand four feet high and three feet wide, were not up to the standard of modern speakers, so I gave these to my Son who uses them as PC speakers. They go pretty loud with a tiny 2W amplifier!


    • Yup. My dad had a heathkit clock in the 70's/80's. It was very pretty, and much nicer than what you would buy pre-built at the store back then. It was always fast, though.
      • Heathkit were one of the first to overclock their products :-)

        Actually a Heathkit clock sounds great. I bit you could tweak the oscillator to bring it down to speed, or change the xtal.

    • The awesome thing about Heathkits was that it was just some components you soldered together. You could understand each piece of it,

      There was no magic black box.

      Sure there was - Heathkit simply labled it "Resistor R1" or "Capacitor C17" to make you feel like a real electronics tech. Except you weren't - any more than someone who uses a paint-by-numbers kit is the equivalent of a Matisse or a Picasso.

      if you can build it from scratch, you can fix it.

      That's true - of something you build from

      • A Heathkit is the electronic equivalent of Hamburger Helper.

        In a world of takeout and TV dinners, Hamburger Helper is a step up.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by fotbr ( 855184 )
        But the components all had their standard markings, and the kits provided actual schematics as well as the "this piece goes on the board at location A" instructions. If you wanted to learn as you went along, you could. If you didn't want to learn, you could get by with just blindly following the instructions.

        I dabble in electronics as a hobby. I enjoy amateur radio, again, as a hobby. I do not have the knowledge to sit down and design a 1.5 KW CW & SSB HF amplifier starting from a blank sheet of pap
    • I had an AA-35 with linear controls that was a constant pain because of the linear controls. fixed four times, had to reorder the volume pot once. when it went again, I winged it.

      everything else Heathkit I built, a dozen of them from three amplifiers to a touch light control to the ET3401 microprocessor trainer in 1976, worked until I sold it or set it on the shelf. came back to my AA-14, which I had sold my sister and was in mom's paint closet for 25 years untouched, and it worked right off. I just bou
      • by fotbr ( 855184 )
        They gave you the engine in one piece? You didn't have to build it? :)

        Actually, the airplane kit is a new one to me, thanks for giving me something to do today instead of work (its dead at the office today)
        • Not only did Heathkit start out selling airplane kits, but the founder, Ed Heath, was killed when one of them crashed during a test flight in 1931.

          The reincarnation as an electronics company came after WW2, when the new owner, Howard Anthony, bought up a boxcar full of military surplus radar parts, and repackaged them as kits to build your own oscilloscope.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Heathkit, which produced and sold mobile robots...

    Heathkit is not in charge of Gundam.
  • If it was good enough for Mr. Wizard, it was good enough for us.

    We had a small army of those at my high school. We used to take entire classes to program it to swear phonetically.
  • So it runs XP, which with the release of Vista is now supposed to be really not that bad, but it is still running Windows and this is Slashdot, so that is bad, but it's not Vista, which is good, but I want to make a "bot net" worm joke, but with Vista the joke wouldn't be right, but it has XP which is supposed to be better, but you know the whole security thing, but, but, but....


    Who knew that making smart ass comments about Windows could get so complicated?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Stanislav_J ( 947290 )

      So it runs XP, which with the release of Vista is now supposed to be really not that bad...

      Kinda OT, but...did you ever stop to think that maybe the whole Vista mess was a calculated debacle to make XP look better? I mean, people used to fuss and cuss at XP all the time, and now when Vista comes stumbling along, XP suddenly seems (comparatively) wonderful. (Kinda like how Americans have become so obese, that even I with my 30-40 extra pounds feel like an anorexic model when I look at the other hogs at t

      • If there wasn't Vista, i wouldn't have asked for an XP when buying a new computer (i would have used a pirated version dual booted with linux).
        But with Vista around, I somehow felt compelled to buy XP! I really did that!
        So, yeah, these MS overlords are really, really tricky.
  • 55 pounds? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2007 @04:01PM (#21816340) Homepage

    That's heavy for what's essentially a laptop with wheels.

    Apparently its main sensors are just little IR ranging devices. Those things are basically non-contact bumpers. Not too impressive. It really is a rehash of 1980s technology. I don't see much use for a 55 pound dumbbot. Robotics is way beyond that point.

    This thing ought to have at least two cameras, stereo vision, and SLAM software. [] Wouldn't add that much to the cost, and they have the needed CPU power onboard. A pair of webcam chips mounted rigidly to the same frame, so that they stay aligned within a pixel, would make stereo vision work. You can buy stereo camera pairs for robotics [], but they cost too much because they're made in tiny quantities. Made by a toy manufacturer, they'd be no more expensive than two standard webcams.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The ptgrey stereo cameras are probably so expensive because they contain two industrial firewire IID cameras. Those are quite expensive in anything higher than 640x480 resolution, and their smaller model already has 1024x768. I suspect (or at least hope) that the two cameras are somehow synchronized, so there's probably some additional electronics on top of just two cameras involved.

      In addition to stereo cameras, I'd have hoped for this thing to have ultrasound range finders, and at least some kind of plat
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Animats ( 122034 )

        Those are quite expensive in anything higher than 640x480 resolution, and their smaller model already has 1024x768.

        Actually, Unibrain "consumer" (about $100) and "industrial" (about $400) FireWire cameras are the same electronics in different packaging. Their industrial camera has the voltage regulator further from the imager, so its heat doesn't add noise to the image. That's about the only difference in the electronics.

        Synchronizing two FireWire cameras is straightforward, too, FireWire cameras

  • The biggest evidence is that the robot does not run Linux. Heathkit was beloved of inveterate tinkers and people who play with technology. Such people may run Windows at home, but I suspect most of them would rather play with Linux. The core user base of Linux is made of those kinds of people. Heathkit as lost touch.

    • The division of the company that once sold kits to ham operators and electronics geeks no longer exists (hasn't since the 1990s, IIRC).

      The name lives on, being used by "Heathkit Educational Systems", which sells overpriced technology training equipment and materials for classroom use. With the educational market firmly in the grip of M$, the fact that this thing runs XP rather than linux should be no surprise at all.
      • That's depressing to learn. :-(

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Y-Crate ( 540566 )
        Growing up in the '80s and '90s, I saw that half of my Dad's electronic equipment had been custom-built from Heathkit plans, and I longed for the day when I could finally get into the action and start ordering kits myself.

        Thanks to Heathkit, that day will never come.

        I really can't believe that no one has stepped up to replace them. You would think that there would be a decent-sized market out there.
        • by fm6 ( 162816 )

          You would think that there would be a decent-sized market out there.
          You would be wrong. Do you think Heathkit would have shut down their core business if they had any customers? Once integrated circuits made it possible to buy cheap, sophisticated gadgets, people lost interest in do-it-yourself kits that were less powerful and more expensive.
        • by grumling ( 94709 )
          Except that Heath is largely unnecessary nowadays. Yes, it would be nice to get the catalog, there are plenty of great kit available. From some guy who puts together a circuitboard in his basement to the basic stamp guys and even Ramsey Electronics. Don't like solder? Spend hours custom building PCs.

          And as I recall, their ham gear was the only somewhat affordable stuff in the book (compared to Colllins and Hellicrafters). Everything else was way overpriced, including their lousy computers.
        • I really can't believe that no one has stepped up to replace them. You would think that there would be a decent-sized market out there.

          What about Ramsey Electronics []?


          • Ramsey's BEST offerings can't hold a candle to the worst of the old Heathkit, particularly in terms of the quality of the assembly manuals.

            There is one modern company that comes pretty close, but they are solely in the ham radio market, with a very small (but wonderful) product line.

        • My introduction to computers came on a Heathkit H-89 my dad built, which I wrote a Pac-Man game using 8080 assembly. In todays world, I probably would have never got started.
      • by fm6 ( 162816 )

        The division of the company that once sold kits to ham operators and electronics geeks no longer exists
        To be precise, the marketplace that the old Heathkit sold to no longer exists. Its may be fun and educational to build a gadget from a kit, but it's hard to sell such a kit when the factory version is a fraction of the cost, smaller, and easier to use.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Dachannien ( 617929 )

      Heathkit was beloved of inveterate tinkers
      Maybe they're trying to appeal to invertebrate tinkers now.

  • by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2007 @04:05PM (#21816364) Homepage

    Does anyone else think it looks more like a vacuum cleaner?

  • I see no mention of battery life anywhere... Is this a dumbed-down version of iRobot Roomba on XP?
  • so wheres Dewey and Louie?
  • All these articles about the wiimote and IR and whatnot made me connect some dots and now I can't stop thinking about the possibilities of using this robot's IR sensors to make it mimic human motion.
  • ...a beowulf cluster of these.
  • Wither Heathkit? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Snorpus ( 566772 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2007 @04:20PM (#21816456)
    Last I heard of Heath(kit), they'd been purchased by Zenith. I think the name is still used on motion-sensor fixtures, sold as "Heath-Zenith", in places like Lowe's, Home Depot, etc.
    I suspect the only connection to the Heathkit we love is the name... somebody probably bought the rights to use the name.

    Now, if the instructions (yellow cover mandatory) include a 200-step procedure for aligning the RF and IF stages, using the S-meter as a VTVM and the BFO as a signal source, then we know we're getting somewhere.

    Provided, of course, that the robot only comes in a two-tone green color scheme.

    • by jbengt ( 874751 )

      "I suspect the only connection to the Heathkit we love is the name"

      Zenith bought Heath way back in 1979.
      The only connection of that Zenith to the current Zenith is the name, as they hit hard times, sold a majority stake to LG in the 90s, went bankrupt in '99 and were absorbed by LG. About their only "product" at the time was HDTV patents. []

  • by Sergeant Pepper ( 1098225 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2007 @04:21PM (#21816462)
    Did anybody else read this as "Heathcliff Reincarnates the Hero Robot"? I had imagined some bastard child of Wuthering Heights and Snow Crash...

    Heathcliff: "Wait a minute, Cathy. Make up your mind. This Love thing--is it a virus, a drug, or a religion?" Cathy shrugs. "What's the difference?"

    Or, alternatively:

    Y.T.: My love for Hiro resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Juanita, I AM Hiro!
    • I was hoping for Heathcliff's robot to launch his fists in a Rocket Punch as the dog watched from his Pilder.

      Shame that it instead looks like a wheeled PC tower with headlights and a set of ports embedded in what appears to be a pouring spout without the hole on top. At least I could mod the drive bays to do Breast Fire...or at least add a flashy ineffective square fan or something.

  • How is it going to bring me a beer? Seriously, what is this thing good for other than torturing the girlfriend's cat? I can do that with a Roomba off Woot! for a lot less money.
  • "Heathkit Reincarnates the Hero Robot"??!

    that brought a mental image of a mad scientist with frizzy white hair in a lightning storm between two massive jacobs ladders screaming...

    second the other posters, if it does not come with linux, an SDK, circuit diagrams and full specs then I am not interested.
    • No no. That crazy, white-haired scientist can be found attempting to scale a clock-tower on an industrial-strength extension cable. In a lightning storm.
  • Alternative (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 )
    I like the approach that Evolution Robotics took: use your existing laptop as the brain and control panel of the robot. Their robots are basically Erector-Set-like stands that hold a laptop and have sensors. Pretty cool idea.
  • It does run Linux (Score:2, Informative)

    by cozytom ( 1102207 )
    This robot is maybe made by Heathkit (a subsidary of Zenith, which is really LG, at least in the US for TVs and such), but the design is Whitebox. The top of the line Linux one is $1000 less than the windows version: []

    It does seem the Heathkit is out of touch, but it is more likely some school administration that would want to buy some of these. Since the administrators don't do any real
    • "Even many teachers are afraid of anything they can't buy at WorstBuy or the Apple store."

      Question: Suppose you have a class to teach and you're using a device that you already know backwards and forwards. Then, suppose, I come up to you and say you need to use this other device you've never heard of before. Are you going to be afraid of my superior device and keep using the tried and true?
  • Whitebox (Score:3, Informative)

    by Pedrito ( 94783 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2007 @05:09PM (#21816712)
    This is basically a repackaged White Box 914 PC Bot [] which is priced at over $5000... Unless Heathkit can get the price to a reasonable range, it's probably going to be out of the price range of most hobbiests. Still, a very cool gadget. Wish I had a lot more disposable income...
  • RB5X robot kit (Score:3, Interesting)

    by oaklybonn ( 600250 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2007 @05:52PM (#21816888)
    For a vintage kit from the same era, you might want to check out: []

    The kit was about $1000 for chasis and boards. Lots of discrete components here, lots of hackability. All that its lacking is a time machine so I can actually get a chance to work on the one I bought two years ago...

  • Screw that (Score:2, Funny)

    by l00sr ( 266426 )
    Screw the HE-Robot. Call me when they release a SHE-Robot.
  • I, SGI (Score:3, Informative)

    by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2007 @07:43PM (#21817476) Homepage Journal

    As robots go, it also looks very much like certain models of SGI workstation.
    Actually, it only looks like one, the O2 []. Which was, I suspect, designed to look like a robot!
  • Whoa - I remember mis-reading the resistor color codes for a couple of boards my Dad let me work on (for a 1970's era color TV kit). . .

    Damn good thing by the time I joined the Air Force and started working on ECM pods they only trusted us to swap circuit cards or the tax payers would have been out a few tens of thousands of dollars.

    • Ha. I remember the Hero 1. Some geniuses in my high school electronics class soldiered the IC chips into the circuit board instead of the sockets the chips were supposed to go in. I don't think anyone ever got that thing running.
  • I spent a few hours today StumbleUpon'ing through the "writing" channel. I read this headline and my first thoughts ran to "Hero Robot" as a character archetype :D
  • I shall name mine Erwin.
  • Windows XP? WTF? If there's plenty of space for tinkering, then give the 'space' to people who know what they're doing, namely, the Linux community.

    All we need now is a virus or other exploit that turns these harmless 'iRobots' into killing machines...

    The Terminator said 'I'll be back', apparently, so did Heathkit.

    'nough said.
  • Have not read the entire article, but this new robot does not seem very impressive. I have a HERO1 (complete but needing restoration) which has speech capability, programmability, a grasping arm, sonar, battery charge, remote control and even a keypad and breadboard for extending his capability and all of 32K RAM! No hard drive or Microsquish OS needed.
  • now that's a name I've not heard for a long time.

    I guess somebody must have reincarnated Heathkit.
  • But, like Daleks, only while you're looking at something else.
  • Anyone else shocked to hear that Heathkit was still in business? I just thought they would have faded away with all the goodness like "Creative Computing" and other neato cool stuff of that generation.

    Efston Science was another classic company, that still exists, but in my opinion only as a shadow of its former self. It's kits used to be *seriously* cool. The three stage water rocket was a classic. My favorite, though, was an optics kit, that let you build things from telescopes, up to an actual working
  • Google buys Heathkit
  • If this isn't R1-D1 (the first model off the drawing board), I'll eat the m/b.

  • READY!
  • 1) Shall not allow a human to have any actual fun.

    2) Shall not teach any actual knowledge, unless it is the knowledge of not having fun.

    3) Shall protect itself by running Windows XP.

  • The Heathkit robot runs linux. No problem. It isn't designed for hobbyists, it is designed as an educational tool for classrooms. Some day maybe it will be more appealing to the general public, but not today.

VMS must die!