HE-RObot: The Next Generation of Heathkit HERO Robots
By James Grahame
Heathkit is back with a brand new personal robot platform dubbed the HE-RObot. Technology has advanced considerably since the original HERO line was offered in the 1980s, so this blue beast features a Core 2 Duo processor as its soul, along with Windows XP Pro to enable its robotic delusions of grandeur.
Heathkit released four different programmable models in the 1980s, and they proved quite popular with hobbyists and educators. Just imagine R2D2 crossed with a mid-1980s Epson dot-matrix printer and you'll have a fairly good idea what they looked like. HERO Jr. (right) included a 32K ROM of "behavioral utilities" to control sensors, movement and even speech.
The modern HE-RObot is a rebadged version of the Model 914 PC-Bot by Canadian manufacturer White Box Robotics. It features multiple IR sensors (5 in the bumper and 3 in the drive bay), a Logitech webcam, CD/CD-RW drive, speakers, precision stepper motors, a 12 V battery pack and four LED headlights. It's capable of manual or autonomous navigation. The robot's software is based around an extended version of Microsoft Visual Studio 2005, which ensures that many programmers will be able to code for the platform "out of the box." Hopefully, there will be a slightly less demanding control app developed for non-programmers.
Until now, the most advanced robots available to many of us in the 21st century have been Roombas - glorified electric floor mops. I long for my own C-3PO to manage the household or a phalanx of battle droids to pillage backwards solar systems, and I'm hoping that the HE-RObot will be the gateway to my dastardly plan for galactic domination.
HE-RObot will be available in early 2008, and I'm guessing it'll cost around the same as the Model 914 PC-Bot, which starts at $5595.