Building “Rodney Robot”

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to build a vintage robot. For inspiration, I decided to start with a classic and iconic design, which was quite a showpiece in the late 1970s and early 1980s. “Rodney,” as he was affectionately called by robotics hobbyists 40 years ago, was a rolling R2-D2 type device that could self-learn and move around using simple machine intelligence. The textbook for building “Rodney” was produced by David L. Heismerman, the prolific hobbyist and writer of over 40 DIY and technical interest books from the era. 

I like Heiserman’s frankness and candor in approaching the construction of Rodney. In chapter 3 of his book, he admits his rather “unorthodox” take on the topic. He pulls no punches and admits that the project is going to be hard. 

You must read through this entire book at least one time before you start ordering parts and putting things together. Building Rodney and getting him running around the floor is a tremendous task, and if you don’t have a complete view of what is happening every step along the way, and if you cannot see how each step fits into the overall plan, you are bound to get lost and, perhaps, discouraged.

Heiserman’s reader should be ready to invest a significant amount of time on this project. Before doing anything, the builder should invest in a notebook to use for taking notes, logging problems/solutions, and anything on your mind. 

One can almost feel the bravado of this pioneering hobbyist soul whose no holds-barred approach is so out-of-character with today’s more “play-it-safe” DIY approaches that try to make things as non-threatening as possible. 

At the same time, Heiserman is optimistic about the rewards for those who persevere and succeed at building Rodney. 

Let me suggest you consider one more question before you launch this program. Are you a gutsy person? Do you have a sort of psychological makeup that is required for mastering a real challenge? If you think you are a wishy-washy sort of individual right now, you are certainly going to be a different sort of person when you finish this project! Master the challenge of the Rodney project, and you can take on anything. What is that kind of education worth in terms of dollars and hours?

Heiserman was way ahead of his time and almost prescient in his understanding of human psychology. As he showed, the key to self-help wasn’t about taking the easy path but rather by blood, sweat, and tears.

I’m happy to report that I’ve purchased my copy of Heiserman and have a notebook in hand, ready to go. This will be the launching pad for my own journey into robotics. I plan to keep you posted on progress!

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