From page one, the book is memory filled. I’m glad to have it because there’s no other way I could remember the details.
Published 1976, Buster the robot is described as “one of the most unusual machines possible in the context of modern technology” and that he “Represents the highest-order machine that technology can produce today”. And I believe it.

It’s a strong contrast to the book itself, as the glue holding the pages in is cracking and the first 14 of them are threatening to come away entirely.

Buster is set out in a three-stage project (accordingly titled Buster I, II and III), in which the same machine is further added to and modified, increasing it’s abilities.

The Buster I phase warns that it will be the most expensive, dealing mostly with converting/building the driveframe, power supply, control systems and so on. Basically building Buster up as a tethered remote control vehicle, going up through the stages of; going from brute-force power switching to logic-level control, adding speed variation control, self-centring steering, and finally converting the controls over to binary.

The Buster II stage starts working on the autonomic reflex system and “brain”.
I’m rather excited that it talks of them separately, indicating lifelike concious and autonomic motivators.
The section also adds sensors and reflexes, as well as low-battery self-monitoring and an alarm to alert the owner of this, which is also used if Buster gets stuck somewhere.
After this comes the cutting of the umbilical controls, and making some form of audio control system (though it mentions the transmission format being compatible with then-current regs for data links between telephones and CB radio systems. This seems rather esoteric now! I had no idea CB radios were often hooked up to telephones.).

Buster III starts by adding the impressive-sounding “tracking function” which ties in with giving him goal-seeking abilities. This then ties in with the hunger alarm, and allowing Buster to seek out his charging station to plug himself in.
I seem to recall from the first time I read the book that this had some sort of contacts on sprung arms. Guess we’ll see when we get there.

Yes, I’m not re-reading the book up front, I’m taking it as it comes (well, chapter by chapter).

By this point Buster should be able to run around by himself, bumping into things, hurtling into empty spaces, and charging himself up when needed.
Beyond this point it talks of the icing on the cake; optional extras and so on. Things like line-following and other variations.

There’s also mention of a theoretical Buster IV, adding microprocessor control on top of the reflexes and goal-seeking. Perhaps these would be analogous to reflexes, instincts and concious learning?

The staged construction and review layout of the book sounds perfectly manageable.

And ultimately it points out that you need to choose some of the design choices at each stage yourself. It’s a recipe, not a design.

It also notes that “despiking” capacitors are omitted on all schematics. Will have to remember that.

[20/06/2010: Amalgamating old posts from “Dreamwidth Creative Blog” into sci-fi-fox.com to re-purpose DW blog account.]

So here’s the lil fella I picked up for £3..

This little mock quad-bike is pretty lightweight. There’s some metal framework for the axles, but the rest is all a moulded plastic body. I’d be worried about it taking the weight of extra parts if it wasn’t designed to cart around reasonably large children.
The rear drive wheels are pretty worn, and all are the cheap hollow plastic variety.
They’re a lot wider and with less grip than the ones on the original Buster’s frame as best I can judge from the few photos. I’ll keep it in mind as it may have issues with drive and steering.

The rear wheels have separate drive motors, driven together on a static axle. Cheapest design, but running the motors together should be fine.

Controls are pretty simple. Two sealed 6v lead-acid batteries, a two-button toggle for forward and reverse, another for fast and slow (seems to switch the batteries from serial to parallel connection, so 6v to 12v) and a foot pedal switch to make it go.
The controls on the handlebars are purely for show. There’s nothing in them beside a horn powered by a separate set of AA batteries.

I should be able to strip off a few odds and ends, but as it’s a monocoque they’ll be a limit. And since I’m running out of space here, my Buster will need to be able to be stored outside.
I suspect the control electronics may be a bit smaller, even using as close to 1970s parts as I can. Maybe if I upturn a plastic bin on them that’ll be sufficient rainproof housing.

I was quite excited to find it used two 6v batteries, as that’s what Buster was designed to run on. However when I measured them they only read 2.27v each.
Lead-acid batteries are also not meant to be concave.

My charger wouldn’t read it as needing the charge. Rather wish the charger gave out more information on battery status. Charging complete has the same indication as being unable to charge.

As a last-ditch effort I pried the sealed cover off one of the batteries and found three rubber caps. On pulling one off there was a characteristic sucking noise. All the cells were under vacuum. So I suspect the car may have been left out in hot sun for a long time, and literally boiled the batteries dry. So when they cooled the covers were sucked on.
With nothing to loose I grabbed a bottle of demin water and proceeded to refill the cells with a syringe through the tiny vent holes.

Sadly, that didn’t work. Even after a few days for the plates to re-wet, the readings didn’t change at all. Due to construction there’s no way of getting electrolyte back out again to check the gravity. At this point though it’ll just be simpler to spend the £20 buying a new set of more powerful batts.

[20/06/2010: Amalgamating old posts from “Dreamwidth Creative Blog” into sci-fi-fox.com to re-purpose DW blog account.]

Currently got a bunch of things on order, and a nicely full order book. Hurrah.

Yesterday though I spotted something outside a local charity shop. A Fisher Price ride-on electric car.

When I was a child, I used to get a book out from the library over and over again. “Build your own working robot” by David L. Heiserman, published 1976 (ISBN 0-8306-6841-1). The hardback, it was bright orange and missing it’s dust cover. I read and re-read it, fascinated by the diagrams that were inexplicable yet tangibly logical. I must have been 8 at the time.
I wanted my parents to get me a pair of those electric kids cars just so I could make the robot in it; Buster.
At £100 each though, that never happened. And one day some git took the book out and never returned it. I was gutted for a long time.

Last year though, I found a paperback copy on Amazon. And now, for £3 I have the perfect electric car to do it.

After 21 years, I can finally build my own Buster. I have the chance to fulfil a childhood ambition.

I, of course, will blog it. :)

The tech involved is pretty crude by modern standards, being started in the mid 70s. I’m sure it’d be easier to redesign it with modern parts. But I’m going to see how closely I can do it to the original book. Wooden PCB racks, reed-switches and all.

[20/06/2010: Amalgamating old posts from “Dreamwidth Creative Blog” into sci-fi-fox.com to re-purpose DW blog account.]

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