Building 8-Bit Bots

The Vintage Computer Federation is the world’s largest group of collectors and restorers of historic computing systems. Member activities include hands-on exhibitions conducted at all manner of tech-themed gatherings around the United States, in addition to the federation’s own Vintage Computer Festival events. At the World Maker Faire in New York City, in October, two of our mid-Atlantic chapter members born in the 1970s decided to demonstrate computers and robotic kits from the 1980s, using programming languages developed in the 1960s.

The results were Charlie and Artie.

Charlie was built using the Capsela construction system. This system was first sold by the Mitsubishi Pencil Co. in Japan in 1975 and later licensed by toy manufacturers in other countries (and can now be found on eBay). Capsela was designed around interlocking plastic spheres with various functions—one sphere might have a motor, another a set of gears.

Charlie uses three motors: The first drives a pair of wheels forward and back, the second steers the wheels left and right, and the third turns a decorative propeller. We used a Capsela gear unit that reduces speed but increases torque, …[Read more]