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At 12 I built a rudimentary, 4-relay controller which I attached to my Commodore 64’s user port. This allowed me to create irritating light shows with colored bulbs on the relays, in addition to controlling volume and channel selections on a half-dismantled stereo set. Triggering these at times when I was away from home was highly enjoyable – from my point of view, at least.

I was always fascinated by radio controlled (RC) aeroplanes and helicopters, but due to their high prices I was only able to negotiate a couple of simple toy-grade RC cars. Controlling a car wirelessly with a dedicated controller was a fun thought, but turned out to be boring in a few days.

When the other RC car’s motor let out the holy smoke (as I had installed an additional, way too powerful battery pack) I was left with one working car and a bunch of spare parts, including an additional radio control set.

Having seen Star Wars, I wanted a thing that could control itself (Yes, I really like(d) R2D2), so I attached the radio set to the relay controller of the C64. Four relays were just enough for forward/back and left/right commands. This initially enabled me to drive the car from the C64 keyboard and save and replay its routes. Cool, but not enough.

Installing the second radio transmitter to the car enabled me to add front and rear collision sensors, made from bent copper. The receiver was connected to the C64 joystick port, as it was easy and fast to read in software.

The end result was a car that was capable of mapping a room and avoiding obstacles by itself. I coded for weeks to make the thing as autonomous as possible, within the constraints of 64 kilobyte memory. Looking at the car I felt it was ‘thinking’, as the 1 MHz processor took quite some time to iterate coordinates in memory.

It was the coolest thing I had built that far. I do have a few cassettes and 160 kilobyte floppy disks remaining, but I doubt those are readable any longer so the software is probably lost forever. Now 30 years later I’d like to understand my thinking back then.

That software, or the essence of its algorithms, could now be run in the BaseN Platform, with access to terabytes of memory and thousands of processors. It would be the car’s spime. And I would make it way cooler that R2D2 ever.


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